Archive for July, 2008

Why I LOVE Teaching ESL/EFL Students (Part II)

This blog entry is a continuation of yesterday’s culling out papers from my old files of what students have handed in to me.  Some are pretty hilarious. The following reference letter was written by A.K.’s teacher from Turkey.  Apparently A. thought it might be a good example to follow for a native writer of English who has done many reference letters for her students.  A.K. wrote this in very good handwriting so I’m not questioning his ability as a student of English.  I’m simply wondering about his teacher back in Turkey? I don’t think any of my Kazakh students would presume to think I can’t write a reference letter for them.  I think A.K. was trying to accommodate by speeding up his application process. 

Hi! This is A. I have put an example of reference paper.  Maybe you would like to change something.  When you change something and sign, please send me my address…Arlington, VA…because I need to make copy of your reference paper…


Mitchell Building

University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland 20742-5235


Dear Sir Madam,

I am delighted to write this recommendation letter for A.K.’s application for admission to your program.  This happy task, however, presents an unusual challenge to my command of the English language, as it will require a variety of effective adjectives to describe A’s qualifications as a person.  My additional concerns it that, even if my command of the language were sufficient, I will still suffer from the infirmity of the language itself.  I am further concerned with the prospect that you may find my praise of A. too good to be true.  I will, just the same, give it a try.


I have know A. for about (3 months, 4 months…Kendin bunu yaz). He is my one of the best students.  His performance in these courses have been nothing less than excellent.  A. has shown to be pragmatic in his approach to every assignment in that he is cognizant of the overall objective at all times and, at he same time, pays sufficient attention to details. He is thorough and results oriented, pursuing his objectives until achieved.


In A., one finds a person who, in earnest , is a man for all seasons, as he is very versatile and capable of adapting to changing circumstances with a flair.  He is kind and caring beyond words, intelligent in true sense of the word.


Give A. a chance in your program, regardless of his apparent qualifications, you shall not be disappointed.  I would stake my reputation on that, but my reputation would not do justice to him as a guarantee.  If you give this young man a chance in your program you shall enjoy the privilege that I am talking about.  I very strongly recommend A. for admission to your program, as I am sure he will prove to be one of the best students you admit.  You should be glad you did.  Society shall be grateful to you for it.




Instructor’s name







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Why I LOVE Teaching ESL/EFL Students

I will make a HUGE disclaimer before I quote an essay from one of my Sierre Leone students from 1995, it is just too good to pass up.  As I’m going through papers to file, to keep, and to burn, there is a reason why THIS descriptive essay is a keeper.  Also, this will help to explain why I LOVE teaching.  I taught ESL (English as a Second Language) classes soon after I was married while living in northern Virginia for three years.  We lived about 5-7 miles from the Washington D.C. and we could see the Washington monument from our upstairs bedroom window.  I had writing and grammar classes with students from ALL over the world, it was like a mini-United Nations.  Maximum class size was 25 students and in one case I had a class where there were 23 nations represented, it was an amazing experience!!! 

Quite different from when I taught in China where I had students who all looked alike and had the same linguistic problems. Here’s another reason why I like teaching non-native speakers, I was a judge for an English speaking contest in Harbin, China in in 1987-88.  I had one student who had memorized his piece and the title was something like “Why I LOVE to Smile.” He used the word smile about 20 times in his speech but when he pronounced that word it always sounded like SMELL.  So, it would sound something like this:  “I love to smell when I am with my friends…I love to smell when I win at a game of ping pong…”  You get the idea, I may just dig that out of storage where I saved the hard copy version of this Chinese student’s speech.

Just so you know more about this particular writer, he was a BIG, black guy with a booming voice in the back of the room.  He was a politician from Sierre Leone and will remain nameless because it is not written on his essay, I will keep the spelling as he wrote it. I really think he was trying to butter me up for a better grade, it may have worked. You be the judge.  Also, it just has the title of the essay as my name, Mrs. G. (I will remain nameless)

Mrs. G. is an indiginous inhabitant of minnsota, one of the State in the United States of America.  She is married to a Russian Mr. G. and according to my observation, she is a middle age woman and very presentable in public.
To be honest, she is very beatiful. In supporting this fact, she has a long black hair whic is one of the contributing factor indicating the beaty of a woman. Additionally, her straight nose sitting in-between her doll eyes and small mouth, beatifies the entire upper section of her smooth body.
Furthermore, it is unfair if one doesn’t mention the way she dresses, which truely portrays her beatiful image. In polishing her beaty is her hight which is appropriate for her structure.
In addition, to this already beatiful woman described, is her character. As a teacher, she is having all the qualities, that students are looking for. For instance, she is soft spoken, pontual in class, helpful, and at the same time very friendly.  To be specific, nor matter what student does in class either intelligently or stupidly, she is always there to assist.
Moreover, this charasmatic woman’s status in society is excellent.  To start with, she is highly educated.  In clarifying her Educational Standard, she is a masters degree holder. Therefore has the quality to teach both home and abroad. Due to this quality of her’s she has been not only to the then Soviet Union, but also thought in People’s Republic of China. For such a woman, beaty is part of her daily life.
Finally, it is necessary to note that, beaty is compose of a lot of contributing factors put to gether in a possitive way, which includes interlectualism, possitive character and imagery of beauty itself. All this factors are present in a single human been known as Mr. G.

Now I ask you, what kind of a grade would you give this student?  He DID have the transition markers in place, he just didn’t use spellchecker which might have only discouraged him.  I saw his heart and I love to see my students’ heart in Kazakhstan, I’m looking forward to being back with a new crop of writing students.

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Everyone Fun: Fireworks, Bonfire, Firey Sunset

In no particular order I’m showing the photos from yesterday’s family event.  Misha, my dear little nephew from Russia, went with me early in the morning to find the Habitat for Humanity bikers who are biking from East Coast to West Coast.  They got an early start so we missed them but I got a good laugh at how ridiculous Misha looked in my yellow jacket. 

We had the family come out to the farm for grilled chicken last night and had fireworks with a bonfire and SMORES, of course.  Misha was into everything from old farm equipment to the fireman’s pole which he ably climbed up and also eating gooseberries.  He was THRILLED to find our bush because he remembers loving them back in Russia where he grew up the first six years of his life in an orphanage.   When we were all played out, the family went back to town and I followed on my Cannondale.  Then I turned around to get a photo of the firey sunset above our farmyard, the sky kept changing and I kept biking.  A fun time was had by everyone.

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Boys Only: Water Fight, Treehouse and Canoe

water fight

water fight

Nephew's Treehouse

Nephew's Treehouse

Uncle Ken and Misha

Uncle Ken and Misha

canoe fun on river

canoe fun on river

View foursome from bridge

View foursome from bridge

Yesterday was a brilliant day with a picnic of shashlik at our place.  Afterwards a requisite water fight, adventures out in the woods to plan a new fort, treehouse and finally canoeing down the Red River.  The four launched from my Dad’s shop in town and then we picked them up at a public access landing about 45 minutes later. The boys had a good time, so did us women folk (my Mom, sister and me).

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Six Stages of Personal Power in Organizations

The following about stages of power is something I learned several years ago which is taken from Janet Hagberg 1994 book having to do with the above title.  This might apply to my institution of higher learning in Central Asia, or maybe to the political chaos created under Stalin, or perhaps to our American democracy as it is existing now.  See what you think about leaders and their defining characteristics while in power:

Stage One – Powerlessness – They lead by domination, force; they inspire by fear of being hurt; they require blind obedience.  Characteristics: secure and dependent, low in self-esteem, uninformed, helpless but not hopeless.

Stage Two – Power by Association – They lead by seduction, making deals; They inspire by using dependence; they require favors returned. Characteristics: learning the ropes, learning the culture, dependent on supervisor/leader, new self-awareness, stuck but moving.

Stage Three – Power by Symbols – They lead by charisma and personal persuasion; They inspire by a winning attitude; they require loyalty no matter what. Characteristics: ego-centric, realistic and competitive, expert, ambitious, charismatic

Stage Four – Power by Reflection– They lead by modeling, integrity, generating trust; They inspire by hope for one’s self and the organization; they require consistency, honesty. Characteristics: competent, reflective, strong, comfortable with personal style, skilled at mentoring, showing true leadership

Stage Five – Power by Purpose – They lead by empowering others, service to others; they inspire by love and service; they require self-acceptance, purpose. Characteristics: self-accepting, calm, visionary, humble, confident of life purpose, generous in empowering others, spiritual.

Stage Six – Power by Gestalt – They lead by wisdom, a way of being; they inspire by having an inner peace; they require anything, everything. Characteristics: comfortable with paradox, unafraid of death, powerless, quiet in service, ethical, on the universal plane.

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Democracy and Unchecked Power

I enjoy reading British authors C.S. Lewis and also G.K. Chesterton but for today I’ll use a quote from Lewis because politics have been on my mind a lot lately.  One can’t help it while being back in the U.S. with the constant bombardment of updates about the presidential candidates (I still think that Hillary is not entirely out off the picture yet).

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man.  I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason.  A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.  The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they are not true.  And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure.  I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself.  I don’t deserve a share in governing a henroost, much less a nation.  Nor do most people – all the people who believer advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumors.  The real reason for democracy is just the reverse.  Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows…”

I wonder if C.S. Lewis was referring to a particular “fallen man” named Stalin and all the slogans he promoted during the Five Year Plans in the 1930s.  I’m just curious. Sadly, C.S. Lewis died on the very same day that President John F. Kennedy was shot, so there was little fanfare about Lewis’ passing.   JFK was an ardent anti-communist, I wonder what HE knew about the USSR people under Stalin?  Of course, you wouldn’t know from reading today’s history books that JFK was so vehemently opposed to communism except for the little incident that happened at the Bay of Pigs and the build up to that scenario with the Cuban missile crisis. 

Yes, I am a fallen creature as Lewis himself admits yet I am proud to be a part of the American democracy.  However, we seemingly are on the threshold of maybe losing the battles for our cherished democracy that were so hard fought to preserve our freedoms.  Lord, may that never be.  However, I think the unchecked power is the mainstream media and what lies they continually promote. I rejoice that the Old Grey Lady is tanking as are other tabloids that promote themselves as unbiased newspapers. Hopefully the Internet will continue our freedom of thought and speech, a luxury people in Ukraine and Kazakhstan did not have under communism.

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Two Worlds Have Come Together

Amazing what names of authors pop up while using the research databases such as J-Stor, EBSCOhost, et al. While helping my Ukrainian students with their research papers in Kyiv, Ukriane I ran across some very thorough writing about the Holodomor done by Dr. J. Otto Pohl.  Serendipitously, I met Otto last fall when I went to visit him and talk to his class in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.  He teaches history at the very university I taught at 15 years ago, back then it was known as Kyrgyz American University Faculty. The university has gone through several name changes since. 

Now Ken and I are teaching in Almaty while Otto is in Bishkek which is about a three hour drive away (counting the arduous border crossing).  Several days ago Otto wrote the following in his blog which fits with what I’ve been writing about concerning Ron Vossler’s writings.  The two researcher/writers have not met yet but have written and reviewed each other’s work in the past. 

Funny how my two worlds have come together with the people I meet simply because of knowing about the tragic event of the Holodomor. Maybe there are so few of us who really know the impact on millions of peoples lives of such a terrible event that happened 75 years ago. May it never happen again!

Displacement, Diasporas, and Descendants


Lately I have been reading and thinking a lot about diasporas. In particular I have noticed that many diasporas are the result of multiple displacements and thus have multiple homelands. The connection to the “original” homeland thus becomes attenuated considerably. The Afro-Caribbean diaspora in the UK is an example of one such multiply displaced group as are the Sephardic Jews expelled from Iberia.

The ancestors of the Russian-Germans now in Germany originally left Hesse, Baden, Wurttemburg and other states in Central Europe to the Russian Empire during the 18th and 19th centuries. In between their initial settlement in the Russian Empire and the migration of their descendants to Germany in the 1990s these families often experienced as many as five or six displacements. For these people homeland has variously referred to not only Germany, but also to areas in the Russian Empire and USSR. These homelands have ranged in size from individual villages to the entire Russian Empire. For most of the Tsarist era the primary geographical identification of most Russian-Germans remained on the local level of the village. But, other larger geographical affiliations also developed and co-existed with this identification. On the largest scale, most Russian-Germans considered themselves loyal subjects of the Russian Empire and later loyal citizens of the USSR.

Exactly how various Russian-Germans have over the course of generations viewed themselves variously as villagers of Norka, Volga Germans, Soviet Germans, and Russian-Germans would be an interesting subject to research. The existence of multiple geographic identifications due to both the displacement and modernization of internal diaspora groups in the USSR would make a fascinating comparative study. How for instance do the Russian-Germans differ from the Russian-Koreans in their emotional connections to specific territories?

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