Friday, July 20, 2012

What it means to stay in touch

It's easy to say, of course, that one will stay in touch. It's much harder to do.

On our end, the motivation is clear and relatively strong - having left a host of friendships and relationships behind, we are the far-flung ones, and in the relative absence of strong social networks and engagements in the here, our strong desire is both to communicate to people 'back home' (even though 'home' is kind of here), and to hear from home.

But on the other side, for those 'back home', that desire is not strong, nor is it in the front of the mind. For those we have left, life continues, and the everyday happenstances are shared and communicated with others, and our absence gets closed over, little by little, but very quickly. Perhaps only when a distinctive moment reminds you of the absence, "oh Seumas would have liked this", "oh Rachel would have said this", will the prompt come.

I want to disown the idea that I write this to guilt anybody, or in response to anything in particular. I'm just taking note of the phenomenon, and perhaps trying to raise your awareness. The internet is a tool that creates certain forms of communication, it bridges distance, and creates immediacy, but it also creates illusions of closeness and engagement. Particularly, the ability to 'post' can create the illusion of sufficiency. I have written, therefore I assume you have read. But that is not true, broadcasting is not conversation.

In our age, it's the intentionality of communication that is under a certain kind of threat. That one might communicate in order to communicate, rather than broadcast in order to share. That conversation might actually be for the other rather than for myself.

Of course, this whole post is ironically a form of broadcast, not conversation. But that is exactly why it is what it is, I want to broadcast this, because it's not for anything or anyone in particular. For that, you'll hear from me.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

English Teaching with Koreans

It's well summer here, and most things are on holidays, except us!

Last week was Naadam, a three day festival in which the three manly games of Mongolia are celebrated and contested. Those are archery, horse-racing, and wrestling. We didn't get along to see anything, partly because we don't like crowds, but mostly because we (somewhat reluctantly) agreed to teach English over this period. We did, perchance, watch the wrestling final on tv in a local Mongolian diner, wherein a new national champion emerged.

22 Korean students, mostly 17-18 year olds, came to Mongolia for a 10 day summer English-language camp. They arrived sometime around midnight on a Tuesday night, and had to front up for classes with us the next day at 9am. Poor things! It didn't particularly help that we're not trained English teachers, and the help we received in the lead up was not overwhelming.

But God is good, and takes care of all such things in his own good way, and things went much better than they might otherwise have. We had 4 days teaching 2 hours a day, trying to encourage these students to speak English. From the start it was hard to gauge exactly how much English they knew, and our instructions were to focus on speaking practice.

Seumas' class ended up doing a lot of work with sign language, thanks to a wonderful technique called Where are you keys? which he will happily teach you anytime. There's a short video below of what it looks like in action.

Rachel took the class of slightly more advanced (or maybe just more confident and outspoken?) students, which worked out well for everybody. They learnt idioms, played games, and even had some phonetics (thanks to Rachel's ongoing Master of Applied Linguistics).

Even with our rough pastiche of teaching techniques, the students seemed to have a good time, and they also got to see all sorts of Mongolian things in their non-class times. We turned up on their last day again for a certificate ceremony, a curious mix of Korean formalism and disorganisation, and enjoyed watching a slideshow of all their fun.

We're not crying out to be English language teachers, but it was nice to help out and we're glad for the ride.

2 more weeks of Mongolian class for us and then holidays in August...