Category Archives: Language

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 29–Meetup

About a month and a half ago, my colleague from Switzerland, Kerstin, was here on Long Island for a business trip. We spent a good amount of time together, both working and hanging out. We were talking about my life on Long Island and the usual blah blah blah of how challenging I find it to meet people with similar interests as me when she suggested I try Meetup. She explained that Meetup is a website and an app that you can download that you plug your interests into and it finds groups of people in the area who come together around their shared interests.

I’d never heard of the app, and I was curious to find out more so I downloaded it and proceeded to tick off my interests in this order: hiking and outdoors, spirituality, yoga, reading, meditation, politics, and languages. Hundreds of Meetup groups around the area popped up and I could choose to RSVP to any of the gatherings.

One particular group that peaked my interest off the bat was the “Center Reach French Club,” which meets at Panera in the Smith Haven Mall every Tuesday night from 7-8:30pm. It seemed do-able and safe and if worst came to worst I could always get a soup and baguette and pretend that it never happened. I joined the group, RSVP’d, and then didn’t show. The other day on a Skype call with Kerstin, she asked me if I’d gone to a Meetup group yet. I gave her all my excuses and then told her that I planned to go to the French Meetup this Tuesday as long as nothing else came up. Today she sent me a friendly reminder via Skype and so I right then I pulled out my phone and RSVP’d before I could change my mind.

This evening I hopped in my car and drove 25 minutes to the mall, all the while telling myself that I had absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. I was welcomed by a small, yet diverse group of francophiles of varying language level, age, nationality, sex and race. To my pleasant surprise, everyone was dedicate to speaking in French, with the occasional Franglish sentence thrown in to make up for lacking vocabulary. We held a lively conversation that touched on subjects such as issues with the Common Core Curriculum, differences between American and French schooling theories, favorite places we’ve traveled, and then the usual stuff, like introductions, occupations etc. I was quite pleased that I hadn’t lost my French completely…though frustrated with how rusty it has become after being back in the US for over a year and a half. But I felt good about my grammar, conjugations and my accent….and in general I just felt SO good to be speaking French again.

Beyond the explicit function of this group being to practice and upkeep our French language skills, there is also a strong element of community involved. This small but mighty group has been in existence for over two years meeting once a week to speak in French. I immediately fell in love the idea of having a weekly friend group consisting of an Indian mathematician, a Guadalupian middle school teacher, an Italian immigrant police office, a retired high school French teacher and a young American woman who was also a former English teacher in France like myself–such a diverse group of people, all of whom shared my passion pour la langue Francaise.

I felt the accueil chaleureux (warm welcome) of the group as a whole, and also an immediate bond with the young woman, Audrey, who taught for a year in a French school near Versailles. We stayed after the group left and ate dinner together, getting to know each other a bit more and sharing our similar experiences teaching abroad in France. It was a monumental moment for me to connect with another female in general, let alone someone that I have something in common with! Honestly, I could snap my fingers and have a date with a dude around here in two seconds, but meeting girls to be friends with is another story completely.

Tonight was a homerun, and I’m super grateful for all of the pieces that fell together to make this night happen so beautifully. I’m grateful to Kerstin for introducing me to the concept and then pushing me to join a Meetup group. I am grateful to have spent an hour and a half using my brain and practicing my rusty (but functioning!) French. I’m grateful to the group for their warm welcome, wonderful conversation and diverse perspectives, and finally I am grateful to have met Audrey, a young, smart, and interesting woman with a brilliant handle of the French language and my newest official friend crush.

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Attitude of Gratitude — Day 13 : Letting Go and Letting Long Island

Today I was given a very valuable insight, which came in the form of an improvised mantra–Let go, and let Long Island.

For a little bit of context, my recent move to Long Island is probably the biggest culture shock of my life. I’ve traveled to, and lived in places that many people can hardly pin point on a map, let alone pronounce. Ouagadougou anyone? However, the contrast of my lifestyle and where I am now living  has never felt more stark and pronounced as I feel it here. Pretty much everything from the accent to the driving etiquette is a foreign to me.

I can honestly say that I am SO grateful for my new job and all of the opportunities for self-growth that it is affording me. However, I have felt myself resisting this culture shock deep down in my DNA. Upon analyzing it, I see that the resistance is coming  from my ego.

What do I mean? I mean that my whole story, everything that I identify as me, contradicts the Long Island stereotype. I wear my travels like badges of honor and boast my Vermont roots proudly.  Seriously,  I’ve been drinking my water from mason jars since before it was hipster, and today I wore my clogs because they are comfortable AND I think they’re cute.

Something about being here has brought out the crunchiest granola parts of me, as if my identity feels the need to hyper exert itself as a defense mechanism against the drunk Rangers fans on the train, the inconsiderate drivers and the mile long strip malls filled with Starbucks and nail salons.

So this evening, when I wound up with my colleague, Caitlin, at a Miller’s Ale House chain restaurant in an Outlet Mall, I could feel myself about to go all judgmental on the place. Intuitively sensing this within me, she said, “Let go, and let…. Long Island.”

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I laughed, partly because it was really funny, but mostly because the mere thought made me incredibly nervous. To be honest, though, I was instantly humbled by the advice. So much of me has been actively trying to make myself feel at home in my new apartment and with my new staff, but I hadn’t quite accepted the fact that Long Island (in all its glory) is going to be my home for the next few years. I kind of just assumed I’d delve head first into my job, make friends with my staff and escape to New York City  when I needed a healthy dose of culture and entertainment. No part of me had even considered giving Long Island a chance…OK, well maybe some vineyards on the North Fork or a swanky day in the Hamptons, but aside from that, no way.  Fortunately, as we pulled up to Miller’s my ego awareness switch flipped on and I realized that if I wanted my life here to be pleasant, I would need to nip the ego in the bud,  drop the judgement and adopt the mantra, “Let go and let Long Island.”

So today, I am grateful to Caitlin for the humbling, to my awareness for recognizing my ego and actively choosing to let go of the judgement. Furthermore, I’m grateful for the reminder that resistance to change amplifies negative energy and that it’s healthier to go with the flow.

I’ve learned this lesson a million times over, and somehow throughout every period of change in my life I have to continually be reminded to let go. Let go of your ego, let go of your story, let go of expectations, because if you can you can approach each situation from a place of higher consciousness. When we are in tune with the Self that is within all of us, there is no limit to what we can achieve.

So I am going to get down with Long Island and embrace all of its quirks. The non-judgement will be a practice, but I think I can honestly say I’m up for the challenge of going with the flow, and of course, adding some Lizzie flair to Long Island!

ImageOk, not judging starting………………………………………………now.

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Ici, on parle français

Upon leaving Morocco and landing in France, I found myself stumbling to produce the appropriate words to complete my sentences. There were instances when my vocabulary would scramble, for instance, shukran to replace merci or feen? to replace où?  There were also the cultural slip of the tongues, so to speak. Expressions that had become commonplace in my speech, such as the humdillahs and inshallahs, used to express gratitude and uncertainty respectively, which would smuggle their way into my sentences.

For a few days my brain seemed like it was totally scrambled and confused, and to add a degree or two of socio-political unease, the current relationship between Maghreban immigrants in France and the French could be described, from my point of view, as “rather intolerant.” Thus, I was a loaded gun ready to offend not only the French with my shukrans, but also the Maghrebans who would inevitably look at me and assume my mix up was mockery. Awesome.

It raised some rather poignant questions for me, however, about the fluidity of languages across borders, especially concerning the hot topic—immigration. As a third party, neither French nor Arab, how would those around me take my use of the Arabic language? Would it be taken with malice? How would my Caucasian appearance play a role? What is it like for immigrants and their descendants living in France? What languages do they speak? Where? When? And WHY?

A small anecdote so as to not bore you with my linguistic identity obsession:

While riding the metro I witnessed a rather loud disagreement take place in Arabic. Admittedly, it’s rather annoying in any circumstance to listen to people shout at each other in a confined space, but this peaked my interest the moment it became a attack on the two Arab men’s choice of language. From the other side of the train a man shouted aggressively,

“Ey oh, on est en France, ici on parle français!”

“Hey, we’re in France, here we speak French.”

This marks the stereotypical viewpoint of the French towards foreign languages in their country, especially towards immigrants from the developing countries of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

To be specific, I don’t claim to be a specialist on matters of European immigration. My interest is merely how people identify themselves by their language, and how we (and others) identity our social status within society based on our language. But as our world becomes increasingly more globalized, it is inevitable that we will hear Arabic in France, Wolof in Morocco, and Spanish in the USA… Our borders are porous, and as much as that might dismay some, it’s the future and we better get ready to embrace these cross-cultural/linguistic exchanges as opportunities for learning and growth.

Perhaps the publicity for the Paris Museum of Immigration says it best,

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Our ancestors were not all Gaulois.

We are who we are, and should be allowed to identify freely without fear or hesitation and with respect for all peoples and all languages.

*So much to catch up on! More to come very soon!

Open your eyes and “C”

Crossroads, conjuncture

Carrefour, crissing, crossing

Calamity

Calm

ACCESSible Inspiration

For the past four months I have been teaching a group of exceptional Moroccan students as part of a US State Department English Access Micro-scholarship Program. The program provides English instruction to under-privileged youths in the Rabat-Sale area, as they follow our high school level curriculum.

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At AMIDEAST, most of our students are upper-middle class Moroccans, who have the means to pay for English instruction. Therefore, the Access program is unique in that it strives to open educational doors for exceptional students who would otherwise not be able to pay for their classes.

My students are all stand outs, and in comparison to my other high school classes, their motivation and determination to master the English language is actually inspirational. They are thirsty for knowledge. They ask poignant questions. They are appreciative of their educational opportunities.

Not all my classes are like this, however. Last term, I taught three sections of Inspiration 3 (the name of the 3rd level high school course). I would frequently refer to it as un-inspiration 3, or constipation 3, or kill me, I can’t stand this class 3. My (paying) students would come to class and play with their iPhones, chat with their friends, and take all sorts of liberties with their break time. I would leave work on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s after a grueling 3 hours of blank stares and snotty girls with raging teenage hormones, and crawl into my bed exhausted and disappointed.

Finally, I decided to stop wasting my energy on those who were killing me softly. I decided to focus on the students who showed up prepared and ready to engage…… and I’m a better person and teacher for it.

I believe that students need to take responsibility for themselves. Especially high schoolers. I don’t want anyone to fall through the cracks, but at a certain point I had to realize what was effective and what wasn’t. What proved effective was to cater my classes to those who wanted to learn.

My Access class was (and still is) the uplifting end to my work week. They continue to amaze and motivate me to be a better teacher. They demonstrate time and again that education is the most valuable thing a person can possess. Nobody can take it from you. It’s yours forever, and you are responsible for cultivating it.

Education is like a tree. If we plant firm roots in rich soil, we can grow our branches and blossom beautiful fruits and flowers and leaves. What’s more, trees are also active participants in the well being of the rest of society. They transform CO2 into O2 so that we may all breathe clean air. A responsible, well educated person can also do something of the sort.

I think we all need to ask ourselves more often: in what ways can our education serve as our foundation for service. How can we help to create a more healthy society for everyone to live in? What are our talents? How have we honed them thus far, how can we continue to hone them in the future?

** This post is not an official AmidEast or Department of State website. The views and information presented are my own and do not represent AmidEast, the Access Program, or the Department of State.

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En silence avec ton ombre

A friend recently passed on a piece of advice: Fuis ton ombre, il te suit. Suit ton ombre, il te fuit. Flee your shadow and it will follow. Follow your shadow, and it will flee. 

The symbolic meaning of the shadow has been a cognitive presence in my life  since it first came to me in a dream back in 2009. I have never forgotten the power of that dream, in which a voice urged me to beware of my shadow. I have returned to this dream time and again seeking to analyze and re-analyze its meaning. According to psychologist Carl Jung, the shadow represents our dark side and our instinctual self. Though it often appears in nightmares, its presence in deeply valuable. The shadow has been said to represent a goal that you harbor, and its primal energy will help you conquer obstacles. Therefore, my dream was not as I first perceived it–a warning–but rather, it was telling me to cultivate an acute awareness of my inner most desires and goals.

As my friend recounted this tid-bit of Jungian wisdom to me, she explained that it applied in all aspects of life including money, relationships, and your life’s purpose. At first I wasn’t sure if I agreed. How can people succeed if they do not actively pursue their dreams? However, as I’ve pondered this a bit more, I’ve begun to find some logic in her statement. This does not mean that I believe in lethargy, but that I find  something must be said about an unnaturally forced pursuit. Just as we can’t catch our shadow, neither can we chase down something that is not meant to be. If we are forcing something to happen for the sake of satisfying our ego, we will not attain what we desire.  What I did not agree with, however, was the idea of fleeing from our shadow. To flee is to deny, and to deny will only generate negativity. What I believe is that in stillness we gather all the clues we need in order to be fully present and aware in our bodies. If we can sit  in silence and cultivate awareness towards our life’s purpose, our inner most desires and our goals, the universe will naturally conspire to help us attain them. It is when  you are still that you can be one with your shadow, and you are capable of dialoguing with it.

In suit, here are some photographs of the Medina in Salé, Morocco. On the day I shot these photos I sought to capture glimpses of my shadow and the shadows of others.

Amen, Right On, Shalom, Saalam, Namaste,

Liz

Need anything from the hanooot, eh? The little Moroccan conveniences.

One of my favorite local conveniences here in Morocco is called a hanut (pronunciation: hanoot). A hanut is the Moroccan equivalent to a quickie mart, and there are multiple on a single city block, which offer a plethora of quick and convenient buys. I love the idea of the hanut for a variety of reasons, including it’s pronunciation, which I believe is best pronounced by Canadians.

More seriously, however, I love the idea of small businesses in Morocco. Everyone here dabbles in a little bit of everything. When asked, many Moroccans will tell you that their occupation is “business,” which to my American ears sounds as Shady as Slim. To their credit, however, I truly believe that Moroccans have an innate ability to network and seize opportunities; the hustlin’ spirit of entrepreneurship runs in their blood. Therefore, the hanuts, were particularly interesting to me because they take the business concept of a superstore and condense it into one small roadside market.

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On our street, we have two juxtaposed hanuts. We began frequenting the larger (super) one due to its relative proximity to our house, though the other one is literally a few steps further. From my doorstep to the entrance I have to walk a grand total of 50 paces. Its exquisite convenience aids my lazy cooking habits and my late night chocolate cravings. Food is not the only thing offered at the hanut, though. If you  so wish you can buy cell phone minutes, cigarettes, cleaning products, bread, toilet paper, shampoo, razors, assorted nuts, milk, propane gas, eggs, vegetables…Everything. Kolshi as they say in Darija.

I love the melange of products, the small local environment, and of course my hanut friends. My interactions in broken beyond repair Moroccan or Berber languages with the hanut boys have become some of my favorites. They try relentlessly to teach me the words for eggs and bread and butter, and then they humor me when I pretend to have understood. They never (openly) judge me when I show up in my pajamas looking for milk or eggs, and they have even gone out of their way to retrieve products from neighboring hanuts if they are lacking. I’ve developed a sense of fierce loyalty to my hanut and would now go out of my way to shop at their store even if it wasn’t convenient, just because I enjoy seeing their smiling faces thrice daily.

Last and least, because I can never resist a good metaphor, I like to think of the country of Morocco as a hanut. Aside from it’s obvious inconvenient distance from home, the country itself if fabulously convenient. Here, I feel like I can have it all with small compromise. Morocco, is a super synthesis of all my interests: Africa, France and the Middle East. Include a big kid job, great roommates, a cheap standard of living, and a unique cultural experience in the equation and I’ve begun to feel like I could stay here as long as the convenience serves my higher learning. How long will that be (surely the question on my parents lips as they read this) ? Time will slowly reveal the Master plan.

Salaam.

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Strangely familiar, yet oh so foreign; on learning English and hanging out with Anglophones

I am two weeks into my new job as an “English Associate” with AMIDEAST here in Rabat, and things are going as well as could be expected. This month has been all about making friendly relationships with my roommates, my new co-workers, my students, and most surprisingly, the English language.

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Until recently, I’ve had a one-sided relationship with the English language. Like in any ones-sided relationship, the notion of power reigns. S(he) who beholds the power, is the baller shot-caller. With English I believed that I was running the show; I thought I was able to manipulate English to my advantage in pretty much any situation. After all, I’m usually able to select the most appropriate situations to implement my words directly or discursively. I can consciously pepper my sentences with humor and sarcasm, and engage mouthfuls of beautiful American slang. Naturally, I thought I was a true master of the English language… Needless to say, my extraterrestrial ego has been shattered, and I have been brought back to planet earth as a humble servant of the English language.

This gracious humbling has come in two forms: 1) English grammar, and 2) mingling with other native English speakers from around the globe.

It wasn’t until I began teaching English that I realized how much I still had to learn. I’ve taken being a native speaker for granted my entire life, and never considered what a complete pain in the ass it would be to learn English as a foreign language. As I stood in front of my Intermediate 4 class last Tuesday, I thought I was ready. However, my concept of being prepared was   a Powerpoint full of grammar I couldn’t explain, which I wrongly assumed would be to sufficient. Not even my background with improv could have prepared me for the ensuing hour and a half class, which I filled with lots of um’s and nervous shifty body language. For some context, on that particular day I was teaching a lesson on the 1st conditional–a concept that I have a strong natural grasp of, but very little theoretical training on. How many of you know what the 1st conditional means? …Exactly. To be VERY brief, we use conditionals when we are making “If” statements. An EXAMPLE of the 3rd conditional: If I had known this grammar point before class, I could have avoided the embarrassment of standing in front of 20 students like a deer in headlights promising to find out for Thursday.

This will surely be the first of many grammar points that I won’t be able to explain off the top of my head, because I never learned them in school. I learned to speak English naturally and correctly through immersion. I understand the frustration of my students, however, because I too have studied a foreign language, and I need the rules as much as the next person. Just ask me about French prepositions or feminine/masculine articles and I’ll launch into a tirade about how absolutely non-sensical they are. If you’re telling me to memorize something just because it SOUNDS right, but can’t give me any sort of structure or rule to apply it to, you will completely lose me.

My second (less distressing) realization that I was not a true Jedi of the English language came to me while mingling in the teachers lounge. Before coming to Rabat to teach English, my sole exposure to British slang was from the Harry Potter movies. However, here, I have been exposed to native English speakers from Australia, the U.K., and Canada, and I have begun to take careful note of their different accents and words. I love these other dialects of English because there is something so familiar about them, yet at the same time they are absolutely foreign. There have been many moments where I wonder if we truly do speak the same language. As a result, I’ve found myself analyzing my own slang, my usage of the word “like,” and my pronunciation of words with double t’s or d’s.

My favorite British colloquialisms thus far are for the word awesome: ace* and brilliant. I’ve promised myself to start using them in my everyday speech. However, I end up saying them with a monstrous British accent and all my co-workers think I’m making fun of them. But I’m not. I actually think they are brilliant.

I love the irony of the English teacher learning her own language, and I am now a firm believer that in order to be a true master of English you must hold an understanding of all the ridiculously complicated grammar rules and the various dialects. So maybe I won’t come home from Morocco with a stronger grasp of French or Spanish or Darija, but I can assure you that I will be well schooled in the many facets of English.

*Ace may be the American equivalent to rad. i.e. outdated. However, like certain fashion styles, I believe words, too, should come back into style. Therefore, I have recently re-added rad, gnarly and dope back into my vocabulary… so I’m pleasantly pleased to have ace.

How to make friends in France

I’m having a hard time believing that it has only been 3 weeks since I left the States because it truly feels like an eternity. However, there are a few things that remind me time and again that I’ve only just arrived in France. Yes, the obvious language barrier, but more importantly the fact that aside from a handful of acquaintances, and my roommate, Ashley, I hardly know a soul.  I haven’t experienced a transition such as this since starting my freshman year of college, and I’ve had to start from scratch in the friend department.

I’ve been on the prowl for friends. Specifically ones that speak French, but really, any nationality will do. The most important thing I’ve learned thus far is that you must not wait for people to approach you… because they are not going to. Seriously, the French are some of the most lovely people once you get to know them, but their icy façade can be intimidating. Second, smile a lot because this confuses the French. They will immediately know you are not from here, perhaps upping your chances of a pity conversation or a chance for the French to practice their very poor foreign language skills. I don’t mean this as an attack on the French but truly, the pride they hold for their national identity is conveyed through their language. They take incredible measures to protect its sanctity. For more on this (in French) see: The Académie Française. For the vast majority of you who are reading this and do not speak French click here. Third, when in doubt ask for a cigarette. Even if you don’t smoke, it’s a sure fire way to start a conversation with someone (pun intended). Because French people smoke like chimneys, you will not have a problem with this approach. Once you’ve started a conversation expect to be asked where you are from. This is inevitable if you butcher the French language as I often do, but also because your accent is intriguing and obviously not French. Numerous times I’ve been asked if I’m from England. This pleases me, because  it means I am not speaking with an American accent… I’m hoping that I’ll start getting asked if I’m from Spain soon. This means I am progressing. After divulging your nationality expect a slew of questions but listen carefully, because if somewhere mid-thought someone expresses the desire to speak English or travel to America you must pounce. Here is where you lock it down. Suggest doing a language exchange, then, and this is key, take their number. This way you can harass them into hanging out with you, showing you their favorite bars and restaurants, and introducing you to MORE of their friends.

I’ve had a few successes with this approach so far, and I look forward to testing it out on more people, specifically cute French guys. I’ll keep you updated on the growth of my friend circle.

3xBisous (muah, muah, muah) as they do here in the south,

Lizzie

On Blending in and Making Out

Almost two weeks have passed since I have journeyed over the pond, and though I felt at ease the moment I set foot on French soil, I have noted a couple silly cultural stereotypes that I would like to share:

First, horizontal striped shirts are everywhere. Yes, the typical blue and white sailor shirt is a fave here, and I’m thoroughly pleased that my wardrobe boasts a tank, a tee, and a dress congruent with this fashion statement. Don’t be fooled though, my attempts to disguise myself as “une vrai femme française” are kind of pitiful. Unfortunately, I give myself up the minute I open my mouth and try to gurgle out something that sounds French. But now that I have thoroughly degraded my ability to speak the French language, I would like to add that I am oh-so-effing determined to speak this language. I guess for now, though, I’ll just stay diligent about learning new vocabulary and mastering the verb tenses.


My second observation is about something we all consider French… “the kiss.” Now don’t get your hopes up mom, I’ve yet to kiss any French boys, BUT I have watched so many strangers suck face in public that I decided their liberal views towards PDA (public displays of affection) were another stereotype I had of the French. My sample population may be a bit skewed seeing as I have spent a large portion of my time in airports and train stations, but nonetheless I’ve concluded that these people have no problem playing tonsil hockey in broad daylight. What’s worse, not all of the makeout sessions I’ve witnessed however have been quite as classy as Droisneau’s famous photo.

Anyway, I’ll wrap this up because I am going to go walk around Sète to take some photos. I definitely won’t be blending in with my  comically large camera. But hey, at least I’m wearing stripes…..

Je vous embrasse forte,

Lizzie