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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Pulling Weeds and 1932-33 Holodomor in Ukraine

Today was THEE day to pull out vicious weeds from my various flower gardens.  Since we got a blessed 4/10ths of an inch of rain last night, the thistle and itch weed were extracted easily.  The 4-5 hours I was outside playing havoc with those evil weeds, I was thinking about American education and what they “intentionally” leave out of world history books.  I believe not many people in the U.S. or other western countries really know what happened in Ukraine 75 years ago. (Sadly, many don’t care.) Ten years ago I honestly had NO idea what tragedy Ukraine went through in 1932-33 with the Holodomor (Terror Famine). We simply know from our history books that American farmers were focussed on poor grain prices and the rest of Americans were mired in the Great Depression.  Or for that matter, even less is known by many westerners about what Kazakhstan and other countries of the former Soviet Union endured during collectivization. 

I don’t normally put in links on my blog but this one about Ukraine and their memorial of remembering those who died of starvation is something I couldn’t resist inserting.  I hope my reading audience has a better understanding of my passion to get this information out so that more people are aware of what bad government can do to good people.  Turns out that after the 1917 revolution those communist elite who mimicked Lenin’s words of “religion is the opiate of the people” did not have a clue what a relationship with God was really all about.  Yes, admittedly religion can be dried out and oppressive if going through motions and rituals. However, many of those Ukrainian farmers mowed down by Stalin’s edicts to eradicate “kulaks” who owned small plots of property and worked hard off the soil of the land were merely God-fearing peasants.

Those professors in academia who want to suppress this truth about the evils of the Soviet Union in their hallowed halls of our American institutions are not being intellectually honest.  They are trying to promote their socialist, Marxist agenda once again but now this time they are trying to vilify Christians who may have a simple faith in God and are just ordinary citizens.  Instead of “kulaks” who were persecuted 75 years ago and starved to death, now they are going after the big corporations as the evil entities.  If those who in power had their way, they would want all those entrepreneurs and others who are in business to make money through the capitalist system to be punished.  However, if that were to happen those lower in the chain of command would lose their jobs and we would eventually have another Great Depression.  That is, if the intellectuals had their way and wanted to start a class warfare which seemingly worked in the 1930s.

These very people in the ivory towers who want their young students to believe in Utopia little realize they are trying to preach a certain poisonous opiate of their own concoction.  “Opiate” and “Utopia” share many of the same letters (can you tell I’ve been playing lots of online Scrabble?) These dishonest professionals are attempting to drug the younger generation in believing that Christians are evil and that their hardsell for Utopia or the nothingness of postmodern de-constructionism is the right way to think.  Ron Vossler has a new book he is working on which, of course, he says it way better than I ever could.

The following is one of the many projects from Ron Vossler’s website: Communist East Dakota: How Twenty Years Teaching at a Midwest University Turned Me into a Republican. This irreverent book—a Hunter Thompsonesque account of a fictional adjunct teacher perched on the lowest, dung-smeared rungs of a backwater Prairie University —portrays an academic Don Quixote, who after discerning the deep Marxist bias prevalent in American higher education, wages a humorous battle against the dark forces of left-wing propaganda that pollutes both his colleagues’ and students’ minds.

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Photos from our MN Farmyard

I don’t have much to write on Kazakhstan obviously being back home on “vacation” in NW MN.  Today I should have quoted from Ron Vossler’s latest book “Wedding of Darkness” but I already gave it to my Mom for her to read.  Quick read of three riveting accounts of what happened to Ron’s relatives who were left behind in Odessa, Ukraine area.  A misnomer to call them “Germans from Russia” really because geographically his relatives were living in what is today called Ukraine, they just happened to speak German. Back then when they immigrated to Dakota, their orientation was Russia because that is what the czar in Russia expansively referred to Ukraine as, Southern Russia.  Therefore, Ron has a difficult time explaining that whatever the Ukrianians went through with the Holodomor (Terror Famine of 1932-33), his ethnic group went through it as well just because they happened to be in the way of the great Utopian ideology touted by Marxists.

This year the Ukrainians are memorializing 75 years since the “Great Sadness” where families were tragically torn apart.  Good lines in Ron Vossler’s book as he poetically weaves together pieces from interviews he did with his “Germans from Ukraine” relatives who left for the U.S. after the 1932-33 starvation period together with primary source material and what Ron read from old Dakota newspapers he translated from German. 

Ron’s life work is tied up with resurrecting what happened to his dead relatives and the mystery of silence that prevailed in his Wishek, North Dakota surroundings.  Finding out about his relatives tragic past, changed his life.  Ron wants reconciliation, as do I, in our current history books about what REALLY happened under a despotic government that went more than haywire, it went crazy against families and personal property.  All in the name of collectivization and the great Utopia.  (BTW, Utopia does NOT equal heaven, it’s true meaning is “nothingness”)  The Ukrainians and the Germans from Russia who happened to be good, hard workers and owned property were targeted first under Stalin’s purge in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  They were reduced to owning nothing and even their lives counted for nothing!!!

Currently I’m reading a book on Holiness by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, simultaneous to that I’m reading the No. #1 bestseller “The Shack” by William P. Young.  The latter was a self-published fictional book and it describes a man’s “Great Sadness” of losing his young daughter to a sadistic serial murderer.  I’m half way through and can see why it has fallen through the cracks and not published by the Christian circles or the secular ones.  Simply, it is NOT smarmy enough with sex scenes but also it is not orthodox enough in its theology for Christian publishers.

However, the main character in the Shack apparently works through his sadness and I think that Ukraine and other countries like Kazakhstan can work through their “Great Sadness” if the truth of the atrocities are brought out in the open.  Similar to a rape victim never quite healing by keeping silent, so too have history books worked against the millions of victims and their families by not exposing what communism actually did to ordinary people while the Soviet Union existed. 

Then I reflect on holiness and what Kazakhs, Latvians, Estonians, Russians, Germans from Russia, Ukrainians and a host of other nationalities had to go through under the bloody hands of Stalin.  He and his cohorts were all about materialism and accruing wealth and power.  Stalin forcibly had thugs seize what possessions had been in families for generations, but namely love, communication and trust were destroyed. 

Getting back to Ron Vossler’s short account in “Wedding of Darkness,” the village church bells were taken down from every steeple throughout Ukraine.  Also, from a local newspaper account I read of that era a western observer witnessed church bells sitting on a wharf in Odessa (port city on the Black Sea).  These bells were about to be melted down to be used for machinery and equipment.  Holiness vs. Materialism, it is a war we all wage in our hearts and I’m reminded that my MN farmyard is not my home, heaven is.

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Rare “Dacha” Moment Sequel

What I forgot to mention in my last blog posting is that the evening we watched the ORANGE full moon come up, fireflies were also something to behold.  Once it was dark, they glowed brightly against the backdrop of our densely, grassed woods.  So, to look at the sky above with stars glittering and then look at eye level to see miniature stars twinkle was part of our rare moment.

Also, I neglected to add that we have a wren or two who warble their happy melodies, always a welcome sound.  Now that we have the thistle seed up, we have our regular, bright yellow finches back.  Of course, without us they have plenty of wild thistle to eat from but it is like the birds “fast food haven” to go to our feeder.  The other night as I went out to see how the wild raspberries were doing that some birds “planted” out west under the western shelterbelt trees, I saw some raspberries were already ripe.  Our domesticated ones are not that far along yet but it won’t be long that we will enjoy raspberries on our breakfast cereal.  What got me really excited to not only watch the remnants of a spectacular sundown but also to HEAR the howls of the coyotes out west.  I tried to call Ken out to hear but he had already retired to the house.

We have some pocket gophers that are playing havoc with our raspberry patch.  These varmits dig up beautiful rich, black soil but when they start getting into the lawn, we must put a stop to that kind of ambition.  I don’t know if flooding them out will help or what to do.  I remember my grandpa would sit out on the front porch and use a BB gun to get the little rascals that were creating mounds in our front yard.  Not sure what animal rights people would say about that but once you let a gopher family in, the rest of the colony will arrive post haste.

Ken has been watering with a hose our Braeburn apple trees as well as our grapes, hopefully we will have some grapes to harvest this year from the oldest vine.  I’m not sure how much we can harvest and make into jelly of the apples and raspberries since we have to be back in Kazakhstan by mid-August.  I have rhubarb I could make into sauce today.  Last night we enjoyed some store bought blueberries on our ice cream thanks to our good friend Ron Vossler.  We three enjoyed a picnic outside by grilling chicken shashlik and catching up.

It has been about a year since we saw Ron and he had just returned from a Ukrainian Holodomor/genocide conference in Dickinson, ND.  He told us stories of his recent trip to Ukraine where his relatives were from.  He has been to Ukraine about seven or eight times before.  He is a prolific writer concerning what he has unearthed about his own people (Germans from Russia) who left the Odessa, Ukraine area to settle as pioneer farmers in North Dakota.  His own relatives of two generations ago were starved out by the communist regime in 1932-33 when the Holodomor (Terror Famine) had labeled industrious farmers as “Kulaks.”

On my early morning walks along the gravel roads I look around the perfect beet fields and impeccable grain fields that surround our little hobby farm, no weeds!!!  I ponder what our German farmer neighbors would do if they were forced to join the collective.  What if these prosperous farmers were told they had to hand in all their equipment to the government because they were NOT supposed to own their own property or work for their own profit?  That is precisely what happened 75 years ago in Ukraine and also in Kazakhstan to the nomads who happened to be good shepherds and owned large stock.  The Kazakhs did not fare as well with collectivization due to their lack of experience.  However, Russian and Ukrainian farmers, who were sent down to Kazakhstan to take over the open spaces fared much better with their collective farms.

Our God-given freedom is a very precious thing, our freedom to earn money by hard work is rare.  That is why I am enjoying my moments in Minnesota especially since it is mosquito free.  Wonders never cease.

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