Posted on Sunday, March 10th, 2013 at 2:06 am
When I tell people I am teaching English in a foreign country many people respond with, “Wow, you’re so lucky!” They are right, but for the wrong reason. They assume that somehow I luckily happened upon a lottery in which the winner gets to travel the world and live anywhere they want. Well, no… that part just took a little hard work and determination. Both attributes everyone can have and does not require chance.
I'm lucky to be a native English speaker!
The luck came in 1980 when I was born in one of a few countries where English is the native language. The world population was about 4.4 billion in August of 1980. The population of all the native English speaking countries was roughly a combined 330,000,000. That left me with a 7.4% change of being born into one of those countries. That’s luck. That’s chance. And a day does not go by that I don’t thank the universe for the opportunity to be able live the dream.
So, if you’re sitting at home reading this and you are also a native English speaker, don’t call me lucky. Stop making excuses and get off your ass and join me! Your lucky chance came the day you were born.
Posted on Monday, October 1st, 2012 at 9:47 am
This is a great activity to get the students engaged through interaction and competition. Let’s face it, there is very little interesting about grammar so I’m always trying to figure out a way to get them to understand the topic with out realizing they are learning. It’s called the Superlative Olympics but you can also use the comparative to compare students with each other. The students will compete in several events to win gold, silver and bronze medals based on their performance. I’ll explain in more detail in a moment.
After just a brief introduction to comparative and superlative adjectives it’s time to set up the activity. Divide the class into groups of about 3-4 students. Let them choose a country they are going to represent in the Olympics. Try not to be offended if no one chooses your native country. Next, hand out a prepared work sheet that should include a table with four columns. First column will have the events and the other three will be for the names of the gold, silver and bronze winners in each category. For each event each team will elect one student to participate and they will come to the front of the class and either sit or stand depending on what the event calls for.
You’ll want to create events that contain a variety of adjectives that can then be later used to compare medal winners. After each event have the students fill out their worksheet with the names of the students who came in first, second and third winning gold, silver and bronze respectively. Here is a list of some that I’ve included with a short description for any that aren’t self explanatory.
Tallest student: self explanatory
Shortest student: self explanatory
Oldest student: self explanatory
Youngest student: self explanatory
Highest jumper: have the students jump one at a time and judge who jumped the highest.
Funniest: Have each student tell one joke and see who is the funniest or see which student can make you laugh the quickest.
Longest hair: self explanatory
Fastest reader: One at a time have the students read a short passage out loud and time them with a stop watch.
Quickest mathematician: Prepare a short math quiz of 4 questions and see who can do them the quickest.
Fastest drinker: Give each student small bottle of water and see who can drink it the fastest. (this one is the biggest hit)
Best basketball player: Crinkle up a few pieces of paper and have a basketball shooting competition into the dustbin.
Best drawer: self explanatory
Most intelligent: Prepare a 10 question quiz based off vocabulary, general knowledge or grammar from prior units. (great for review)
Best memory: I use flash cards and show a series of animals and have the students try to remember the order.
After the events
You can actually do this at the halfway point so that you keep the fun/study balance because depending on the class the events might take up a full hour. Whenever you feel it’s a good point for a break you can go back and start asking the students to make superlative statements about the gold medal winners and comparative statements about the others. For example if Jane wins gold in fastest reader, Steven wins silver and Marcus wins bronze you can elicit a superlative statement from those results. Students should be eager to state that Jane is the fastest reader while Steven is a faster reader than Marcus. You can even challenge them to compare Marcus to Steven and they must use the opposite adjective, in this case, slower. Here they are learning and probably not even realizing it!
There are a few things to watch out for when doing this activity. For example, the basketball game. Throwing crinkled up pieces of paper into the trash and then quickly picking them out is something that westerners probably don’t think twice about doing but I learned my lesson on the first shot when I pulled a piece out of an empty dustbin the entire class said “ewwww.”
Also, if you’re teaching in Indonesia or any Muslim country, don’t do the drinking competition during the fasting month of Ramadan. That won’t go over well.
This is quite an active lesson so it has the potential to get out of hand if you have an especially active class. From the beginning you can state that teams can be disqualified from events or lose a medal if they are too rowdy. It’s nearly impossible to get them to stay in their seats so give them space.
Posted on Thursday, September 20th, 2012 at 1:36 am
It seems like I’m teaching the past perfect every week in at least one of my classes. Since I love to incorporate geography into my lessons it can often be interesting to find out where students have been and also get to talk about my travels with them.
Here are the rules:
You can split the students into small teams or do this individually depending on the dynamics of the class. I write a number of categories on the whiteboard such as food, cities, shops, countries, activities etc. Have them list 5 things from each category that they can say they’ve had experience with. Encourage students to choose more unique things such as strange foods or adventurous activities.
Once the lists are prepared you can start the game. Have one member of a team ask “Have you ever…?” about something on their paper. It can be whatever they choose.
Student A: “Have you ever been to Singapore?”
Then any student who has been to Singapore can raise their hand. The first one who has their hand up must reply with proper grammar and also add a say something about it to prove they really did it.
Student B: “I have been to Singapore, we went to Marina Bay and saw the Merlion.”
If the student does not reply with a full sentence or can’t provide some follow up detail then they are not awarded a point.
Student A: “Have you ever eaten sushi?”
Student B: “I have eaten sushi. I ate it while I was in Japan with my family last year.”
Points are rewarded to both the student answering and asking the question. You can award more points to activities that are more unique or adventurous.
Specific to Indonesian students
If you’ve ever taught Indonesians you will know that they commonly misuse the word “ever.” So this is great practice to fix that problem. In Bahasa Indonesia “ever” is “pernah.”
Example: “Saya pernah ke Singapore” becomes “I’ve ever been to Singapore”
This is a mistake that so many Indonesians make even if they are not students and is just a habit that needs to be broken. I usually start this game out by explaining this grammar point to them with examples on the board. I also tell them that misuse of the word, “ever” will be a penalty of -1 points. It’s a great way to get repetition doing it the right away and the best part is you don’t usually have to point out their mistake as other students will correct each other.
Posted on Tuesday, September 18th, 2012 at 7:11 am
It has been awhile since I’ve posted. I’ve been busy with teaching and just life in general in Medan. Just want to give some information for anyone who has found my blog through searches about the situation here. I do not think the media has been showing the reality of the protests. It is such a small number of people gathered around the consult to protest the anti-Islam video that was posted on YouTube by an American and then later translated into Arabic by an Egyptian and shown throughout the Arab world. There are 250 million people in Indonesia and 200 million which are Muslims. A total of about 250 people showed up today at the consulate in Medan to protest via flag burning and speech. While I do not agree with the rhetoric, they do have a right to express their opinion. This however, does not excuse the violence that has occurred in other parts of Indonesia, especially Jakarta and Makassar. But, among the many protesters throughout Indonesia only a very small handful have turned to violence.
Perspective needs to be shown here. If you were to zoom out on any of the number of scenes that the media is feeding the public you would see how insignificant the protests are. Again, I’m not excusing the violence that has been going on but by the sheer number of people living in Indonesia, they are in no way represented by the acts of these few.
Indonesians burn American flag outside US Consulate in Medan to protest anti-Muslim film
MEDAN, Indonesia – Indonesians continue to protest an anti-Islam film, torching an American flag and tires outside the U.S. Consulate in the country’s third largest city of Medan.
About 200 people from various Islamic groups gathered Tuesday. Some unfurled banners saying, “Go to Hell America,” while others trampled on dozens of paper flags in North Sumatra’s provincial capital.
They demanded that Washington punish those involved in the privately produced American-made film “Innocence of Muslims,” which ridicules Islam and depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a pedophile.
On Monday, violence erupted outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta when hundreds of protesters mostly from hardliner Islamic groups gathered. Some hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails in the first violent demonstrations over the film in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
Posted on Thursday, December 29th, 2011 at 5:06 am
The last couple of years have been some of the best of my life so far. 2010 saw the completion of my BA from University, my 30th birthday and the breaking free of a job I didn’t like but kept at for the entire decade. I managed to complete my degree in the amount of time I planned once I decided to go back in 2007.
2011 was even better but for different reasons. I set off in January around the world on an adventurous trip through the Horn of Africa and a Middle East journey that fell short due to the Arab revolutions early in the year. I got my TEFL certification in Thailand and did some volunteer work before settling down in Sumatra. I wrote a post back in 2010 trying to predict where I’d end up living this year and Medan, Indonesia wasn’t even a place I knew anything about other than it was a port city in Sumatra. Now here I am finishing my first full year abroad and just getting going!
Here is a look back at some of the things I’ve accomplished and planned to accomplish but fell short as well as an outlook for 2012. Enjoy!
Things I set out to do in 2011…and did
Learn to iron
Learn to tie a tie
Learn another language (in progress)
Learn to play the guitar (in progress)
Drive a motorbike
Get TEFL certified
Become a teacher
Travel to Somalia (Somaliland)
Travel to the Middle East (Lebanon)
Things I didn’t specifically set out to do but happy I did
Live somewhere that I can see mountains from my house
Have an article written about me by ABC News
Volunteer in a small village
Cut back immensely on drinking alcohol
Lost 35 lbs (15 kg)
Have a proper party week in Thailand with old friends
Motorbike road trip through Northern Sumatra
Things I wanted to do but didn’t do
Learn to cook
Live completely alone
Goals for 2012
Have a close friend or family member visit me
Learn to cook
Return to the U.S. at the end of 2012
Survive the end of the world
Get to see one of my best friends get married
Travel to a nearby country
Visit Java, Komodo or Flores
Some of my favorite photos of 2011
Grand Mosque at Banda Aceh
Orangutan in Bukit Lawang
Batak children on Samosir in Lake Toba
Getting into it during teacher practice at TEFL International
Royal Temple, Bangkok
Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Tank leftover from the Somalian civil war
Camels grazing on the beach along the Gulf of Aden
Hand and mouth feeding of hyenas outside of Harar
Posted on Sunday, December 18th, 2011 at 11:17 am
Blue line indicates the route with a one night stopover in Beratagi
In about 7 hours me and a couple of mates are going to head south out of Medan for Lake Toba for a week-long road trip through North Sumatra. I plan on leaving the laptop at home. The camera will be with me but it’s unlikely I’ll be making any posts before I come back.
One of the biggest reasons for moving to Medan to teach English was that there is easy access to amazing places for short holidays. Christmas break is here, classes ended last Friday and the next 8 days will be spent driving our motorbikes through the Karo highlands of north Sumatra.
We set out first for the city of Brastagi which is overlooked by Mt. Sinabung. This volcano hadn’t erupted since the year 1600 but in 2010 it woke up from its long sleep with quite the fury. It erupted several times in a few months and is now quite active. We plan on resting one night here and then on to Lake Toba on Tuesday morning.
The three of us will be taking our time meandering slowly through the mountains. The journey by bus from Medan would normally take about 5 hours but we plan on spreading that over a couple of days by stopping in small villages along the way.
Samosir Island on Lake Toba
It’s easy to forget just why we moved to North Sumatra to begin with. Medan is a big bustling city with lots of shouting locals, traffic jams and pollution. It’s important that we make it out of town as often as we can to recharge and get up close with the locals who welcomed us when we first arrived.
Northern Sumatra already doesn’t get the tourists that other places of South East Asia get. On top of this, we’re taking a route rarely traveled by foreign tourists south through the mountains. We’ll get to come across adults who rarely have seen foreigners pass through their villages and children who may have never seen a white person before. Of course this means we might have to veer even further off the main road but we’ve all agreed that we’re going to wing it… play it by ear… and see where the road takes us.
I told myself I want to try at least 10 new things this week. Horse milk? Monitor lizard? What else? Things that are taboo back home can be quite normal in these parts but I’ll talk more about that later.
We’ll end our journey in Lake Toba on the island of Samosir. I was there earlier in 2011 but this time I’ll have my own bike giving me the freedom to move about, as well as a pretty decent handling of the Indonesian language. The lake itself is about the size of Singapore and it forms the cauldron of an ancient and massive super volcano. If you look at the map you can see how all of the North Sumatra province builds in elevation until the lake a the top. The island in the middle is Samosir which was formed after the last great eruption 75,000 years ago. There are hot springs on the island where we plan on doing some swimming. The island has since been inhabitant predominantly by ethnic Batak Tobanese people who practice Catholicism and animalism. This is in stark contrast to the roughly 86% Muslim population of Indonesia.
So, it’s off to bed now, a big day tomorrow.
Posted on Friday, December 16th, 2011 at 11:49 am
I’ve only had two heroes during my adult life. While Captain Jean-Luc Picard will never die and can always live on through replays of Star Trek: The Next Generation, my other hero, Christopher Hitchens, has died of esophageal cancer at the age of 62. However, he too can live on forever through his words. He so eloquently illustrated this when asked why he would not want to believe in a God and heaven which would allow him to one day meet William Shakespeare. His response was, “The only reason I might even want to meet Shakespeare is because I can meet him anytime because he is immortal in the works left behind. If you’ve read those, meeting the author [in heaven] might certainly be a disappointment.”
"Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it."
That’s just one of the many examples of the inspiring and thought provoking statements from Hitchens. Luckily I live in a time where access to debates, speeches and documentaries is possible on Youtube at any hour of the day. (Hopefully it stays this way… who knows given the new internet censorship legislation that has recently passed under the Obama administration) Around the middle of last year I was turned on to Hitchens through debates on religion and anti-theism scattered throughout the internet. I never looked back. I was drawn into his speaking style. He is direct and often harsh but he never speaks just for the sake of a reaction. His provocative attacks against beloved public figures such as Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict XVI are always grounded in truth. I don’t agree with everything he has said and that’s just the thing that made him such a good writer and speaker. He urged people to always question, always doubt and always challenge what is accepted as “right,” even if it meant disagreeing with him. This is all done without the need for baseless conspiracy theories or ad-hominem attacks (although he occasionally straddled this line.)
I’ve strayed a long way from the Church since my adolescence and there had always been a discomfort within me, but Christopher Hitchens, through his books and debates, has helped open my eyes. I might not go as far as he would in saying that there is nothing good that can come of religion but he has argued over and over that any good acts that might come in the name of religion are not born of the religion itself but rather the innate goodness in humans to work together to survive as a species. When faced with the argument from theists of where our morality comes from, if not from God, he asks how would Moses have made it to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments without roughly 100,000 years of modern humans working together and having a strong moral code built within. Did we really learn the right way to live that late in our development as modern humans?
Like him or dislike him, Christopher Hitchens made you think. I never really understood why he would agree to go on shows debating hacks on cable news networks such as CNN and Fox News. I guess everyone has to sell a book sometimes. His lowest points for me were when he was engaged in debate with people who were clearly intellectually inferior. It’s similar to Richard Dawkins having a debate about religion with Bill O’Reilly. It just ends up making the more intellectual of the two look like a bully and in the end no side has really said anything meaningful.
What was also very inspiring about Christopher Hitchens was his ability to blur political party lines. People on both sides, republicans and democrats, would always try to claim him for themselves but being along any party line is impossible if you truly think for yourself. Being a free thinker doesn’t mean identifying with the republican party, going down the check-list and forming your system of beliefs based off of what is expected of you as a republican. He has liberal beliefs in some aspects and conservative beliefs in others.
For now though, I’ll pour a glass of Johnny Walker Black Label scotch on the rocks while I finish up this entry and then watch a few Hitchens videos. According to him Black Label is the best valued scotch the world has to offer and he often would tell people this who asked. This day was coming. The man hit the booze and cigarettes hard his whole life. I’m glad I found out about him when I did because he’s opened up my eyes. He has always been a champion of realism, honest debate and intellectualism. For that I thank him and the world has lost a great mind today.
Anderson Cooper: “You said you burned the candle at both ends”
Christopher Hitchens: “And it gave a lovely light…”
Posted on Thursday, December 15th, 2011 at 10:31 pm
It has taken a long time but I’ve finally found pizza in South East Asia that at the very least, does the job. I won’t begin to try and convince you that this holds up to American standards as far as pizza goes but it’s by far the best pizza in Medan that I’ve found and definitely the best pizza I’ve had in South East Asia.
It could stand to be bigger. An 18 inch pie would work better
The key is simplicity. So many pizza places try too hard. I think they are going after the Italian Neapolitan style which IS the original however I’ve grown accustomed to the thinner sliced New York style pizza with cheese, sauce and crust with a bit of oregano. They had crushed red peppers and Parmesan cheese and the only thing missing was some garlic powder. (Luckily my mom sent me some from home so I can always bring that along in my pocket)
Out of the three main parts of the pizza the crust is the weakest. It’s tough to get that right apparently because even back home the crust is usually what pizza places screw up the easiest. I’m not sure what they’ve done with the sauce because there is usually this very typical sweet flavor of all red sauce here in South East Asia. They must have not included too much sugar because the sauce does its job. It adds flavor but doesn’t over power. Then finally the cheese. It’s not perfect but again, it doesn’t over power the rest of the pizza. You can still tell it’s not the real deal but there is not too much of any one ingredient causing the pizza to taste funny. It’s just the right amount so that the sauce, the cheese and the crust work together to make a very tasty pizza.
So there it is, if you’re living in Medan or just passing through check out Pisa Cafe which is joined with M Box Karaoke on Jln. Thamrin in Medan, Indonesia. (just down the street from Thamrin Plaza)
Posted on Friday, December 9th, 2011 at 7:45 am
There are few foods in this world that make my tongue dance the minute it touches them. Back home in the United States it’s definitely a nice thin slice of New York style pizza and maybe BBQ pork doused in delicious sweet sauce. As far as international cuisine, there is green curry chicken in Thailand and flour tortillas dipped in hot white Mexican cheese. (Although I suspect that is more of a Tex-Mex thing) Alfredo sauce just about rounds out all of my favorite foods in this world.
Indonesia doesn’t have the most internationally renowned food in the world but there is one item that is the monster of all dishes here, and it’s rendang.
Like most of the good food in Indonesia, rendeng comes from the province of West Sumatra and the Minangkabau people in and around Padang and Bukit Tinggi. I think rendang is an acquired taste as the first few times I ate it I wasn’t sure of the hype around it. It takes a few times to really understand the flavor.
Rendang is slow cooked much like a pot roast and seasoned with all kinds of different spices such as lemon grass, chillies, or ginger and made with coconut milk. It’s most commonly made with beef but rendang is also made with chicken and duck.
Also like other Indonesian dishes it doesn’t look like much to the eye. Prepared, as usual, on banana leaves it’s widely available throughout Medan. The best I’ve had so far is at a small warung (small restaurant) near my house. I plan to try several more locations. It’s often quite spicy but not so much that it takes away from the flavor.
If you’re in Indonesia try to break away from the common menu items in the tourist restaurants such as mie and nasi goreng and hit up a food stall that has rendang. I noticed rendang isn’t often on the guest house menus around North Sumatra possibly due to it’s degree of difficulty in cooking.
It’s easily my favorite food now over ayam bakar. Don’t come to Indonesia with out trying it.
Posted on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011 at 4:52 am
This is one of my favorite games from back home. If it is fun for 20 and 30 somethings to do on a Friday night it’s sure to hold the interest of ESL students. I’m still trying to find ways to make a variant of the game myself but the version I play in the classroom is pretty much the same as the Milton Bradly game of the same name.
I’ve started out with 10 very simple categories.
6. Past tense verbs
10. Subjects in school
I have students call out a page number from the text book and use the first letter on that page as the letter for each round. So for example, the first letter is T then the students have 3 minutes to fill out the list 1-10 using words that start with the letter T. The object is to score points by using a word that no other team uses. For example: The categories is countries so team 1 writes Thailand, team 2 writes Turkmenistan and team 3 writes Thailand. Team 2 gets one point for writing Turkmenistan a word no one else used while the other 2 teams get no points. (This example just happened in class and I was impressed the students knew Turkmenistan)
Made for adults but fun for students
The good thing about this game is that it encourages students to think of uncommon vocabulary rather than the easy stuff. I usually play 3 rounds with 3 different letters and then the team with the most points wins. It’s a good go to game if you need to fill time at the end of a lesson after going through the material. The first few classes I played this with really to enjoyed it. It seems to work best with the older students and they have a fun time trying to figure out the tougher ones. The best part about the game is that with one list of categories you can play many times and not have the same letter so it doesn’t get boring.
Eventually I’ll make up lists with more complicated categories and will probably steal from the board game itself. Other examples include:
Things found in the classroom
Things at a picnic
Things found at the beach
Things that use a motor
Past continuous verbs- ex: “was reading” for “R”
Even more difficult
Names of athletes
Bodies of water