Tag Archives: writing

Things my students wrote: Love letters to strangers

Earlier this semester I was working with my students to craft class newspapers and quickly found that they had never really been taught to write concisely. They were used to writing long, flowery (read: bullshitty) prose that went on and on for days and days about very little.

At a loss for what to do I asked my old Wisconsin State Journal co-worker, George, what he would do to help explain writing compact news articles.

George suggested having them write love letters to strangers. He explained, “When I was learning Norwegian, I had difficulty writing because I was trying to translate in my head as I went along from English to Norwegian. I should have been simplifying everything, because the whole point of communication is to have someone understand your message. There is nothing worse than a misunderstood love letter. So I used it as an exercise in explaining to students that if you think of presenting your message in a foreign language, that is one way to keep it simple.” Continue reading Things my students wrote: Love letters to strangers


Finding the teacher groove

My life seems to be divided into chunks of time and people. Growing up in Wisconsin, where I was ferried from one sports practice or school activity to another; Des Moines and Drake, in which I lived and breathed newsprint and rowing; a spell in Australia, with long ago memories of Vegemite and my host families goose farms; a semester in Italy, a blur of gelato and cinema studies; Texas, a summer of road trips, romance, and magazine internships; and Madison, a brief taste of a quasi-adult life. Now there’s China. So stark in how it stands out.

No move is easy, but no move has challenged me like China has. Part of it was the (many) cultural differences. But another part was the difficulties of adjusting to a new gig.

I’ve been working or interning for newspapers and magazines for over seven years — writing is something I get. Like a bartender who constructs cocktails without measuring, or even really looking, I was self-assured. I was confident that I could ask the questions that were needed to get good responses; could weave nouns and verbs together well to create a mosaic of evocative quotes and facts.
Continue reading Finding the teacher groove

Things my students (re)wrote: The 12 Days of Christmas

By this point, our students pretty much expect that if a major Western holiday falls on a day they have class with any of their foreign teachers, the focal point of the lesson will pertain to that holiday. For instance, on Halloween I had my students write ghost stories.

Christmas was no exception. One teacher had this students create plays spawning from tacky holiday songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth.” An art teacher taught her students Christmas vocab by using random art supplies to turn her students into living Christmas trees. For part of my Christmas lesson, I had my students rewrite the lyrics to the holiday jingle, “The 12 Days of Christmas.”   Continue reading Things my students (re)wrote: The 12 Days of Christmas

Hong Kong protests

Cross over the bridge near the Admiralty station in Hong Kong and growing division in the city is obvious. One on side: the normal bustling city. On the other side: a massive tent city with hundreds of multi-colored tents stretching across the eight-lane highway.


This was day 55 of protesting. The protests, which started in late September, followed an announcement from China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress that proposed an electoral reform that would limit free and fair elections in Hong Kong. Under the agreement made between China and Britain when the latter returned the colony to the former, the island would be “one country, two systems,” meaning Hong Kong would be able to keep many of its freedoms. The reform goes against that.   Continue reading Hong Kong protests

Mid-semester musings

I’d originally planned on writing monthly blog posts dedicated to whatever I had been musing about as of late and the (many) questions about my adopted city that I have been trying to figure out. I did it the first month, but between grading papers and projects, traveling, and generally making a home for myself here, the second and third months slipped on by. Granted, this country wasn’t hit by the tide of pumpkin flavored everything that washes across America this time of year, so I guess I didn’t realize so much time had slipped away. Anyway, here we go.

Walking around in China opens up a whole new world of catcalling, particularly if you are a woman, and even more so if you’re a fair-faced foreigner with golden-colored hair. Wherever I go people will yell – either from a distance or literally inches from my face – “waiguoren,” “laowai” and “Ha-looooo!” It’s always a little jarring – especially when I’m running or reading outside. I’ve taken to pointing back and responding with “zhongguoren” (Chinese person), which either results in a laugh, a look that says, “well, duh,” or a dumbstruck look that says, “Holy shit, it speaks Chinese.” I’ve yet to figure what possesses people to call out. Sometimes it’s obviously mocking – while people are outwardly really sweet, racism is rampant. Sometimes I think people want to show they have some English education. Sometimes I think the shock of seeing a laowai genuinely causes the words to slip from them. Continue reading Mid-semester musings

Things my students wrote: Children’s books

Three red pens, 20 quai in rubric printing charges, and more than 24 hours spent. Those were last week’s grading casualties.

As the culmination of our creative writing unit, I asked my students to create their own children’s books.

I set only a few parameters. The books needed to be creative and they needed to be at least 500 (grammatically correct) words. Continue reading Things my students wrote: Children’s books

The illiterate journalist abroad

“What is that character? Ok, what does it mean? And that one?”

It’s a conversation I have multiple times every day.

It’s funny that in America my career path was dedicated to the written word. Communication was easy. Like a chef who knows just what spices to add to enhance the flavor of the dish or two dancers effortlessly lending themselves to each other to create one flowing movement, English writing made sense. Continue reading The illiterate journalist abroad