Thursday, August 1, 2013

Contentment


Only one more week in balmy California, the best state ever!! One of my prayers for the summer was to be rejuvenated and refreshed in my mind and re-focused and re-excited about my studies. And thankfully God has already refreshed me and encouraged me on three separate occasions, reminding me of my “vocation” he’s given me, the vision I have for my life, and made me more excited that right now I’m working towards doing exactly what I want to be doing, so I can endure this next year of school.

One of my summer reading books is called “Awakening the Quieter Virtues”, by Greg Spencer, a Westmont communications professor. There is a chapter on Contentment in the book, which really spoke into my life at this moment. Toward the end of the chapter Spencer talks about the skill of dying to yourself, or certain ideas that you have, telling the truth about your life, re-naming and framing your situations, and detaching yourself from certain ideas or comparisons you have about life and the lives of others around you. These are all great helps with contentment, but there are two below that I think are especially relevant to Graduate students and to my life:

The principle of “detachment” is the “freedom from obsessing over results.” By detaching ourselves from the results of our actions, as they are not usually in our control, we are free to focus on our faithfulness to the task in front of us and not the results. An example of this would be as a teacher in the classroom, sometimes no matter what we do, a student is not learning. By detaching ourselves from the results, we can focus on just being as faithful as possible to the job of teaching that we have been given, and then be content with our faithfulness to the task, instead of discontent with the non-learning students. Or if we don’t get the grade we wanted on an assignment. As long as we are faithful to the work and to the “duty of the situation”, we can be content no matter what the results end up being. Contentment then will come as long as we are faithful to our tasks and detached from the results of our tasks, which may vary. 

Re-framing the situation is also a huge factor that helps with contentment. In my own life this past year, I’ve been around a lot of negative people who complain about the conditions they are forced to work in, the people they work with, the students they have in their classes, and the stresses that come with being a full-time student AND a full-time Graduate Assistant. Instead of saying, “These responsibilities are so hard and they stress me out all of the time, I have no free time,” you can re-frame the situation by saying “This is an opportunity for me to learn all I can about teaching and my area of study, and a challenge for me to learn how to manage time well.” Or instead of saying “My students are so slow and give me such a hard time in class,” you can say “this is an opportunity for me to learn how to teach and interact with certain types of students.” This is not just an annoying optimistic trick, but a counter to the poison that complaining brings into your life. 

Reading this chapter was really refreshing to me (i wish everyone I worked with could read it!) and even though I thought before that I was doing pretty well with contentment, I look forward to practicing contentment in my life and responsibilities this coming school year.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Changes


My summer class is over! Last class today and then the Oral and Final exams next week! It has just flown by and I am so excited to get on a plane and go back to California!
As this has been my 4th time teaching Spanish 101, I’ve been thinking about all the changes and growth that have happened in me as I’ve been a teacher: 

- I’ve grown leaps in my ability to interact with different kinds of people. There are people of all types that take your classes, and I feel now that either in or out of the classroom I can be confident, self-assured, and gracious in my interactions with all. 
- I’ve gained so much more self-confidence! I have learned how to be myself and say what I want to say without worrying what people will think about it. If they don’t like it, that is their problem. 
- I have learned how to be better at public speaking. Sure, its classroom public speaking and not speech giving, but being in front of people used to scare me so much! Now I am more comfortable with it. 
- One of my strengths is a Relator, says the StrengthsFinder, and I’ve realized how much this really is true! The best part about being a teacher for me is the relationships I make with the students and watching them make relationships among themselves. 
- I have learned the importance of having a vision for yourself in a certain situation and striving to complete it. 
- I have learned how to be a better rule-imposer. In my first semester I was pretty lenient and felt bad for certain students if they told me of a situation. Now I am stricter with deadlines, rules, and grades, and I think its a good thing. 
- I’ve learned how to be a good tone-setter for people, and learned by experience how awful a class can go if you are a bad tone-setter. 
- I have learned that everyone has something that is good about them and to be more accepting of and less scared of people.
- I have learned how to interact with guys better! I used to be really scared of and not know how to interact with guys, but now I prefer guy students to girl students!
- I have learned to think of myself as a professional, and as an expert in a certain area, because to the students I’m teaching, I am the expert. This helps so much with confidence in the classroom. 

Then of course there are so many things I’ve learned about  teaching, but its kind of boring for those who aren’t teachers. These are just a few of the changes that have taken place in me this past year! I was praying the other day that my two years here change me for the better and in addition to the rest of my life, make me into the person that God is changing me to be. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Advice for future grad students


Week 2 down of summer class, 3.5 left to go! I have a pretty great group of students, they’re super smart, efficient, and ask the best questions. I have one student who comes to my office hour before class every day and asks super mechanical questions that I have never though of before. The class is pretty intense and only once have I actually filled up the entire class period and gone until 4:10. Hopefully they’re all ok with that! 

As I was talking with a friend who just started grad school recently, I found myself trying to encourage and counsel her through a situations she’s going through that is pretty similar to my own situation as I moved out here on my own to a different place, and not only had to adjust to the rigors of my new school and job, but also adjust to everything being different and unfamiliar, and expending energy on the tiniest of tasks. 

Here’s some advice to those new graduate students, or those considering grad school: 

Be sure you have a career path you aspire to in mind before you start. Many people go to college to get the “college experience”, but the “grad school experience” is not an experience you want to have unless you have a tangible goal to work towards. You won’t make it if you don’t. 
You need to get into the habit of saying no to things. There are so many things you may want to get involved in, like church ministry for example, but when you are in grad school, its SCHOOL time. Not balanced life time. Saying no to good things is hard but it will keep you sane. If you really want to minister to people, figure out how to minister to those God has put in your life every day, like lab mates, fellow teachers, students, those you interact with all the time. 
Think of life as Rhythm, not balance. (See a previous blog post for more information on this). This is the time for school, and with that comes certain opportunities you need to take advantage of if you are to be a good steward of time. Maybe that means throwing yourself into certain work, learning all you can about something, making relationships with certain professors. There are also things that don’t fit into this period of life, like taking fun day trips, sewing, or reading for fun. You can resume these hobbies after this period is over. 
Give yourself a break. Before I came here, I thought that I was pretty good at managing stress. Usually I would go out to exercise and come back feeling fine. My usual stress methods have not been working. You really need to get away, far away, from your daily places in order to give your mind and body a break. Set a day where you don’t answer any emails or do homework, and do things you enjoy doing that rest and fulfill you, spend time with God. Even though this is the period of life for Grad school, as per the previous two pieces of advice, you also need smaller, weekly cycles of work and rest in order to give your work your all when you do work. Rest periods ARE OK and very necessary in order to survive. 
Get to know as many people as you can: people come from all over the place and all walks of life to grad school, and have really interesting stories. 
Don’t expect to have the same community feel as undergraduate school, get used to being on your own and creating your own schedule. 
Start to think of yourself as the young professional you are: and take advantage of all the professional development seminars offered to you. 
Stay connected to those you love, who speak truth into your life and give you life, even if it means you have less time for your own work. Relationships DO matter, and work is not all that matters in life. Attempt to be less time, work oriented and more relationship oriented. 
That being said, time management is extremely important! Learn how to get things done and get them done quickly. Learn efficiency and don’t waste time, even on extra school reading that is interesting if you don’t need it right away. It will always be there and you can come back to it when you have time later. 
Remember that all knowledge is from God. Even if you are not in a Christian school, God is the ultimate source of all knowledge and you are studying under him even if your professors don’t believe in him. In addition to teaching you about your field of study, he will guide you in wisdom and insights into your field of study. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

One year down, one to go!



I can’t believe that I have now officially finished this first year of Grad school! Going to the grad school graduation this past Wednesday was a good reminder that being here IS a dream come true for me, and I need to remember that when times are hard! I’m excited for graduation to come next year! Its been fun but sad as well to celebrate with dear friends from this past year that won’t be here next year. 

My papers are turned in, my students' final grades are all entered, and as this school year comes to a close I’m preparing for a summer of teaching a 6-week Spanish 101 class, heading to CA for a month for a dear friend’s wedding and to visit family, and then heading back to Baltimore for the tail end of the summer and preparation and help with the orientation for the new teachers and students in the program. I’m really scared yet also looking forward to the new challenge of teaching a summer class. Thankfully its the same material i’ve covered 3 times now, (kind of boring actually!) but SUPER condensed. I’ll be teaching twice a week for 3 hours each time, each class period is equal to a week worth of material in a regular semester. Yikes! I was trying to plan the first class this weekend, and the lesson seemed to go on forever  . . . . 

I took a retreat day this week and went to a beautiful park with a lake for some prayer and solitude, and thence (I just HAD to use this word) to Panera Bread for lunch, journaling, and reflection. Some of the thoughts from that day are in this entry:

This year has been one of the most formative and difficult years I’ve had, I think, if not THE most. I don’t think I have ever been SO stressed, SO busy, SO stretched, and SO much “on my own” as I’ve been this year. Its been a year of firsts: First trip by myself to the mechanic, first big move, first time teaching, first time at grad school, first time figuring out bills by myself, first time in a hurricane, first time arranging housing and dealing with the rental office, first time going to a conference, first time writing papers over 10 pages, etc. 
Its also been a year of incredible learning and change: learning how to plan a lesson, learning even MORE about intercultural communication,(in school AND in everyday life), learning how to drive and get around in a new area, becoming more comfortable with myself in interactions with all sorts of people, and not caring what people think of me (acting words out “Guessture” style in front of 30 students will rid you of this!), starting to eat total-vegetarian and losing a ton of weight, and learning that people DO actually still drive when its snowing cats and dogs outside.

Some of the best things about this year have been: success in teaching and the good relationships with students (and seeing them make relationships with each other), UMBC ‘s atmosphere feeling so different, in a good way, from Westmont’s, being recognized as an independant researcher, finding a great, small, warm church family and getting involved with singing there, and finding a fun and inclusive group of international friends have just been a few of the good things this year. 

Some of the hardest things about this year have been: struggling with my foot injury and having to teach with the boot (I almost fell over in front of the class one day), being thrown into a classroom with almost zero training and guidance, multiple incredible house problems, struggling with the new and unpredictable weather, being incredibly more stressed than I’ve ever been in my life, being so busy that I didn’t have time to think my own thoughts (the first semester), and being so far away from my friends and family. 

Even though its been a hard year and I wouldn’t want to go through it again, I almost would just because of how I have seen God at work this year. Especially the first semester when everything is new, he proved himself faithful. It is incredible to see the very tangible answers to prayer that he gave me. When I prayed about finding a church and that he would show me one Sunday if Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church was the right one for me, he gave me not only 1, but 4 confirmations that it was. When I prayed each day before going to teach, he gave me and amazing group of students, strength, and ability to teach, such that I knew it wasn’t my ability that was performing, but his. Because of my utter lack of knowledge about anything last semester and lack of connections in the area, I was forced to depend on him for everything and he gave me everything and more than I needed. He has been faithful indeed, and I look forward to seeing what he will do next year as I will be battling an extremely heavy course load as well as teaching 2 classes of the next level of Spanish, and trying to finish up the program and all that that entails. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Teaching Vision


Spring is here! Its so nice to go outside and be warm! I keep expecting the weather to turn hot though, I´m not used to having such long spring. Summer is going to seem super short for me =)

Yesterday was a super-emotional day of teaching for me. Many different things happened in both classes, but my second one was especially hard. Sometimes class dynamics can get to be too much for me. I actually got pretty annoyed/mad yesterday and I think they probably could see that . . . whoops. And then I am more annoyed that the students make me feel immature like that and it just becomes this whole escalating cycle of madness and annoyance. You may think I’m overreacting, but you haven’t met my 1pm class! 

As I was thinking about everything yesterday, I just couldn’t believe I didn’t have these problems with my first class last semester. They were so good and so bright! Its almost like they all agreed that since it was my first semester of teaching they wouldn’t give me any problems! 

Last semester was rocky because it was my first and everything was new, and on top of teaching/lesson/class issues I had to deal with my own security and comfortableness in front of the class. I have none of those personal issues to deal with now, AND I feel like I’m a better teacher but somehow it seems both my classes are just not turning out as smart as my class last semester. My students have certain points they just DONT understand and my second class is so slow that they make me feel like I’m racing through the material. 

I keep trying to figure out the difference and why. Last semester I invested quite a bit of emotional energy (too much I think) in thinking about my students, correcting their papers and writing helpful notes on their quizzes, thinking about class activities and such. This semester I have not invested almost any emotional energy. I actually don’t think about them outside of the class too much except to complain to other teachers about them. Perhaps this makes the difference.

Anyway, after yesterday I decided it was time for a teaching vision statement. I already have a personal one that I wrote for the Cross-Cultural Communication class. One of the topics we have been reading about this semester is Personal Leadership. PL contains many practices, but the main idea is that you are taking leadership of your person: controlling your reactions and changing your ingrained way of dealing with things into more creative solutions and letting your vision statement guide you to being the best person you can be. Needless to say, its not easy! 

Here is my teaching vision statement: it still might need some work but its what I have for now. Let me know what you think! 

As a teacher at my highest and best, I am myself, approachable, present, peaceful, enthusiastic, and engaging in prayer for my students so that they notice a difference from their other classes and I create a safe, supportive, engaging, and communal learning environment to motivate them to higher knowledge and love of the Spanish language.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reflections about Pragmatics in Verbal and Non-verbal Intercultural Communication


Don't let the title fool you - this blog should be super interesting and give you a glimpse into my scholarly life this semester if you decide to read it! The following is the majority of a reaction paper I wrote earlier this semester for my Cross Cultural Communication class. At the same time, I am taking a class on Discourse Analysis and Pragmatics, a topic which shows up in this paper as well. Pragmatics basically is how words are used in conversations and the functions that words or phrases have: 

Stella Ting-Toomey talks on page 90 (Communicating Across Cultures) about how certain speech communities have certain pragmatic rules which govern people’s interactions. Misunderstandings come about when the pragmatic rules of one person are violated by another person with different pragmatic rules. A common example of this is the ubiquitous question “How are you?” used in greeting interactions among white US Americans but which shocks so many international students and sojourners. I believe that pragmatic “shock” can play a large role in culture shock, or even function as culture shock in its own right. 
A personal example of this is when I recently moved out to Baltimore from California. Although people speak English out here, they do not necessarily follow the same pragmatic rules that people in California follow. If I am in a doctor’s office or a post office in California, I know the “scripts” for interpersonal interaction while standing in line, in the waiting room, or talking to the person at the desk helping you. I know what to verbally say and what to non-verbally convey. When I moved out to Baltimore, I passed through “culture shock” not only from the culture but also because I didn’t know the pragmatic rules for interpersonal interactions in such situations. I felt like I was being way too friendly most of the time, too smiley, and too open. After a while I responded to the uncertainty of not knowing what to do with silence, I wouldn’t look at people or talk to people even though that is probably not the right thing to do either. Before the recent Christmas break, I remember remarking to a friend, “I can’t wait to go back to California because I know how to interact with people out there! Here I am always so uncertain how to approach people.” I’m happy to say that slowly I am learning, although interactions are still hard for me. 
Another overlap between MLL 601, 625, and verbal and non-verbal communication is the idea of overlap, or interruption as Americans might call it, in group conversations. We had just read an article in 601 about New-York Jewish conversational style, and then Ting-Toomey brought up the idea as a non-verbal communication element in chapter 5. I believe it is both verbal and non-verbal, as it is done with words, thus making it verbal, but it is a style of interaction, thus making it also non-verbal. I have just had a very salient example of this happen to me and it also contains some interaction uncertainty. 
I was meeting with a group of friends who were also TAs here figuring out what we thought of one of the books up for selection for the Spanish department’s lower-level classes. Every single one of my four friends were Spanish-speakers, and I was the only non-Hispanic person. As we were perusing the book, loud, fast, and constant conversation was happening. Before one person finished their thought, another person started talking. Because I am not super good at speaking Spanish, I remained quieter than the rest as it was hard for me to follow exactly what was happening, but also I was waiting for a chance to say what was on my mind. The longer I waited, the more I doubted that the chance would ever come. I was taught that it is polite to let the other person speak their mind and that interrupting is rude and shows a lack of respect for the other person’s ideas as well as a lack of interest in what they are saying since if you interrupt you obviously think that what you have to say is more relevant or interesting than what they are saying. I was trying to show my involvement in my constant looking back and forth at the speakers and head nodding. I guess they were showing their involvement with the conversation by overlapping and speaking over each other. I did realize that once when I started to talk, they all stopped and let me talk. To them, overlapping was not rude but a way of showing interest, participation, and involvement in the conversation. Once one person starts to talk, they give them their attention for most of the time, then start talking again. I left the event feeling a bit bad because even though I had come with good intentions of being involved in the conversation and helping and supporting my friends, I felt like they might think I was not completely on board with them because of my perceived “lack of involvement” in the conversation. 
I need to remember this and start adjusting my behavior to start overlapping a bit because I end up frequently in meetings with all Spanish-speakers as a Graduate Assistant, and I almost never end up communicating what I have to say because I am waiting for a chance to speak. Hopefully if I just can get myself to start speaking, even if it feels rude at first, they will listen and I will be seen as a smart and more active participant in department functions and meetings. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Identity with Christ


I found this passage while doing a reading for my Cross-Cultural Communication class about Gay and Lesbian life/culture in the US. The reading is talking about identity and how one person can function in many different identities.

 For example, my many identities are: daughter, sister, friend, graduate student, Spanish teacher, babysitter, woman, etc. You can really have as many as you want to have I suppose. In different situations, you are operating on and defined by different identities, you make choices based on it and people view you according to that identity.

 For example, when I am teaching in the classroom, the way I interact with students and the choices I make in the classroom are all according to my Spanish teacher identity. Imagine the problems I would have if I interacted according to my identity as a woman, or worse yet, as a daughter! 

You can have one identity that you feel is your “core” identity. This one trumps all the other ones and is the one that is always with you, you are always acting on and basing your decisions off of, even if you are operating at the same time on one of your other identities. 

For Christians, this should be your identity with Christ. 

This is the passage, I have taken the liberty of substituting some of the original words with different words. 

“If our identity such as being a Christian (or identity as a child of God or our identity with Christ) is considered “core” it will shape our decisions about friends, social activities, and employment. A core identity will be a key part of one’s public presentation; it will carry over to diverse situations and remain part of varied social roles. It will be a chief way you want friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and kin to see and respond to you.”

Note: Its nice, even though I’m in a secular school environment now, to see God in different readings and different courses I take. He is the author and creator of intercultural communication, and knows everything there is to know about it. I am really studying under him, not under UMBC. I love seeing how his truth can be found everywhere, even in a reading like the one I had today. He truly holds preeminence in all things!