Seriously - would you give up your phone - for not one, but five days? That question was posed by Upper School English teacher Ms. Erin Griffin to her fourth bell 19th Century Lit class. Currently the class is studying transcendentalism and the Walden Pond social experiment of Henry David Thoreau. Griffin thought the best way to teach the students about the concept was to invite them to participate in a mini-experiment by giving up their phones for a few days. Of the 23 students, 10 brave souls offered up their coveted devices.
"In order to put the theory into practice," Griffin said, "we can’t live in a cabin in the woods, but we can give up necessities that aren’t really necessary - our phones. And in solidarity, I do it too. Every year I'm amazed at how happy the kids are when they do it. It's liberating."
How did they fare? Watch this short video to find out!
VOLUNTEERS SHARE EXPERTISE WITH STUDENTS
By Gail Smallwood
“My idea of teaching is that it’s an exchange between my students and me, where we both come to appreciate each other’s ideas, cultures and values.”
That is how Tassos Barises, a 2016 Wyoming Seminary English Language Institute teacher, described his teaching experience while serving as a member of the Sem STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) faculty. Tassos taught about 26 students from Nepal, Thailand, Czech Republic, China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam, helping them to improve their English skills while building their abilities to analyze and interpret scientific data, create computer coding, and design and build robots that could carry out a series of tasks in a mock natural disaster recovery.
“I really enjoyed meeting all of the ELI students in class, on weekend trips and at Sem’s family style dinners,” he said. “It was wonderful to visit museums with them and get into these terrific conversations about American culture and their cultures. I was very impressed with their creativity and talent.”
Barises, a graduate of Pitzer College, was one of two Sem ELI teachers who, through his experience as a Fulbright Scholar, brought an international flavor to his teaching at Sem. A native of Stamford, Conn., Barises worked for a year as an English language teacher at the National University of Laos in Vientiane, where he taught English writing, pronunciation and phonetics. He also served at the American Embassy where he taught English to the public.
“My Fulbright experience helped me build confidence, in both lesson planning and in the classroom,” he said.
Joining Barises in teaching English at the National University of Laos was Courtney Vaughn, a Roanoke College graduate who also received a Fulbright Scholarship grant to teach in Laos. Vaughn, who taught the high intermediate English classes in the ELI program, now has an opportunity to serve for two years in the Peace Corps in Armenia, where she will live with a family and teach English in a neighborhood school.
As a counselor and ELI teacher at Sem for two years and as a teacher in Laos, Vaughn says she is looking forward to sharing her talents with her new students in Armenia, and to learn their language and customs.
“My Fulbright year was the most challenging and rewarding year of my life, and I am now looking forward to the next level of challenge,” she said. “I really enjoy teaching students, serving people in need and traveling. I am very excited about this opportunity to live in Armenia and to collaborate with other teachers there.”
Fellow Roanoke College graduate and friend Mathilda Nassar also is taking the skills she honed as a Sem ELI teacher to Ukraine, where she will serve as a Peace Corps English teacher at the secondary school level. At Sem Nassar, who holds dual American and Palestinian citizenship, has served for three years as a senior counselor and high intermediate English teacher. She also has worked as a communication advisor for a peace project in Palestine which her family organizes, called “Tent of Nations.” She said she has long dreamed of serving in the Peace Corps and is excited about going to Ukraine, where she can help students learn English, broaden her own language skills by learning Ukrainian and develop her understanding of Ukrainian-Russian relations.
It’s teachers like these that make Wyoming Seminary’s English Language Institute summer program unique and perfectly suited to helping students from many different countries feel at home while building their English language skills and preparing for further education in the United States. For more information about Sem’s 2017 ELI program, contact Gayle Sekel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STEPPING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE AS AN AMERICAN IN SHANGHAI
By Christian Rickrode ’17
We began our journey from JFK Airport to Shanghai the Saturday after the end of winter term. As Robinson Lu ’16 and I boarded the plane, I had no clue what to expect. Robinson had talked with me in the weeks prior to our trip, telling me of all the things we were going to do and eat, but I knew that the minute we arrived everything would be new again. I knew that this trip was going to involve a lot of confusion because of my not knowing any Chinese, but I don’t believe that Robinson had any idea of the amount of work he was going to have to do to translate nearly everything for me.
Robinson’s family was most kind to invite me to live in their house for two weeks, and in a few days they grew very fond of me as I grew very fond of them; they began to call me their second son, which always made me smile. His mother and I got along particularly well because she speaks English; she is an English teacher and a calligrapher. Robinson’s father used to serve as a judge and he holds a government position now. He was constantly cracking jokes, which Mrs. Lu had to translate for me, and he is an exceedingly funny and interesting man.
When we arrived I was given slippers and showed to my room. After I unpacked, showered and changed, Robinson’s mother prepared dinner. The first night’s dinner highlighted a trait of mine which was apparent for the entire trip – my inability to use chopsticks. In all honesty my chopsticks skills improved over the next two weeks, but mostly because I was too stubborn to take the fork that they were always trying to convince me to use. The food was also very interesting. I ate many things that I would have never tried had they not been put on my plate, such as jellyfish and animal organs, just to name a few. Some foods were strange, and I could deal with trying them only once, but some other foods are things I still crave to this day, such as many of the fish dishes and spices that I tried. After one day I wanted to try everything.
One of the best nights that I experienced in Shanghai was the night that a lawyer, one of Robinson’s father’s friends, took us out. We first went to dinner. By the way, I should describe the style in which we ate almost all of our meals away from home. That style was a large rotating table in which many different appetizers and entrees are ordered, and then the table spins so everyone can eat everything. I think this way of eating is absolutely awesome.
It also turned out that dinner was the time in which Robinson’s translating skills would be most put to the test. Every dinner we attended was filled with my whispers to Robinson saying, “what is going on?” or, “what are they talking about?” or a phrase that Robinson’s father found hilarious, most likely because it came out of my mouth nearly every two minutes, “what’s he saying?” Anyway, the lawyer took us to dinner and then took us around Shanghai, which lights up at night. The view from where we ate dinner was absolutely amazing.
My trip over spring break was the experience of a lifetime. I am so fortunate to have gone to China and to have had the opportunity to try so many new and interesting things. Shanghai is an amazing city and I hope to be lucky enough to return some day and see all the things that I missed on this trip.
My advice to anyone who plans to go to China, or anywhere for that matter, is this: try everything you can, refuse that fork, eat that jellyfish, take a lot of pictures, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
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