I usually go to the NGO that my Peace Corp friend, Rachael, used to work at several times a week to download movies, television shows and music. Over the course of several months, I got to know the staff. One lady in particular, Maya, I got to know because she instructed an English class daily. She asked if I could assist with facilitating a week long camp on American culture. That’s what I have been doing this past week.
The camp is from 10:30 to 5:00. Which is an extremely long time for kids to spend in a summer school setting (and long compared to my school year schedule). Add to that, there is no air conditioner. Add to that, the materials and structure of the camp was not put together well.
We have a couple of Native English speakers still in Ozurgeti even with so many leaving. So the NGO decided to use three of us to split the responsibility of the days. I had Tuesday and Thursday.
Monday there were 24 students (that number has slowly decreased as the days increase). I am unsure of the focus of the camp. Whether it’s teaching English or exposing them to American Culture. After the first day, I decided for myself that it was to expose to American culture. Topics include Patriotic songs, history and symbolism of the Flag, American sports, government system, famous landmarks, etc.
Several things I noticed at the start. 1. People trained to teach are noticeable levels above those who have no training. 2. I am still a pretty good teacher. 3. I have low tolerance for people who shouldn’t be around young people and are impersonating as a teacher.
The students are on a wide spectrum in terms of English proficiency. Some barely speak where others are able to hold a conversation (if they had the confidence). As said before, I chose to focus on exposing them to American culture. That meant using my Georgian counterpart as a translator more then anything. And the discussion questions I generated were meant to be answered in Georgian by the students, and then translated to me.
The unfortunate part of the week was the videos we expected them to watch. The prime example being, the History Channel series, ‘America– The Story of Us.’ This series is daunting for American native English speakers, much less poor speakers of English. I tried to do my best to stop and translate, but there was so much that escaped them.
An instance that irked me the most though, had to do with another teacher. Working in an educational position in a foreign country is an intrinsically powerful thing. You are the example which they derive their point of reference. And you are the mouthpiece of the country from which you came from. That always needs to be kept in mind as you voice your opinion or try to express generalizations of American culture. For example, the American Flag. Another native English speaker had the assignment of discussing the Flag. She did a great job in telling about the symbolism of the flag. But she veered off course when talking about disposing of it. She went off on an obvious tangent by saying, “…Americans take great offense if the flag is used for anything other than a flag, for example, shorts or a jacket.” Now I understand where she was going with that train of thought. But in my judgment she projected her opinion instead of taking the opportunity to discuss a broader American ideal of ‘freedom of expression/ speech’. She also pushed the envelope with our country in reference to and with the influence of God. All that to say, those of us living outside the borders of the US have a profound influence regarding how non-Americans understand us.
On a positive note, the kids are great! They are funny, smart, curious, and happy to be alive. They power through the hot, boring spells with wit and a sense of humor.
The highlight of the week for me was when I taught them how to play baseball. I think the dynamic of learning a group sport is underrated and downright complicated. And explaining it in a non- native language is like putting skates on a cow. I first drew up the rules on the board with my counterpart translating. Then we went out to the field. I first gave everyone a chance to try to hit the ball with a bat (whiffle ball set). After they got the hang of that, I divided them into teams and crossed my fingers.
I was eager to teach them the correct form of this sport…. at first. But after the third student ran the bases with the bat in hand, I relaxed and laughed my ass off. The three things that simply could not be corrected were: running with the bat, running ALL the bases after hitting the ball…no matter what, and slinging the ball in any direction after picking it up like a hot potato.
We laughed and laughed.
Although there are several other native speakers and two other Georgians involved on a daily basis, I have become the de facto head of the camp. Which wouldn’t bother me so much if I had had more say beforehand in the development of the activities. But all in all, it’s been a great week getting to know more students in my town.