Saturday, April 13, 2013

English Party #1 with my Grad Students

From left to right: Jennifer, Summer, Annie, Mickey, Jessie, Angeline, and Jessie

Last night, I had the first of the groups from my graduate classes over.  I wasn't sure how it would go—they're a few years older than the students I've had over in the past, so maybe they wouldn't be as easily impressed, and also Micah and I don't share graduate students, so I was on my own. Sometimes I run out of things to talk about and nervously sip my drink during awkward pauses when I have to entertain a small group on my own (weird—as a teacher, it doesn't make me nervous at all to stand up and lecture for two hours in front of a whole class full of students, but one on one or with a small group I sometimes struggle to keep a conversation going.).  Micah helps with that when we've had our parties together, because he always tells jokes and picks out somebody to tease and give a hard time to. 

Fortunately, it turned out to be one of the most fun groups I've had yet—a few years older turned out the be good, because it meant that they're that much closer to my age and so we have more in common than I do with my younger students, and also they are less intimidated by me as the teacher.  I set out the normal snacks—popcorn (with salt—always a shock to them!  Popcorn here is always sweet; movie theaters serve something closer to Cracker Jacks than the buttery popcorn we're used to), chips ahoy, oreos, sunflower seeds, etc.  Last semester, I made jello for most of my groups, but I'm kind of bored with that, and besides, I've been craving another strawberry cobbler since I made one a couple of weeks ago.  This was the perfect opportunity to make one in a situation in which I'd get some but not eat the whole thing. 

I was running a bit late getting ready; I had everything done except the strawberry cobbler and mixing up the lemonade (thanks, Carrie, for leaving behind eleventy billion packets of lemonade kool-aid!  My students love it!). Actually, that turned out well too—food is a great common denominator across cultures, and several were interested in seeing how a westerner cooks.  Sunny Summer (she always wanted the English name Summer since that's what her name means in Chinese, but she didn't know if was acceptable as a name in English.  Once I told her it was, she decided she's going to start using that.  As if learning 140 names in a semester wasn't bad enough, somebody always has to change! You know, if she thought Summer probably wouldn't work, why did she think sunny would?) washed the strawberries, Annie filled the pitcher with water for the lemonade, Lily was there and did something but I don't remember what.  Annie stayed to watch the whole process as I melted the butter and mixed in the sugar, flour, and milk. 

We spent over an hour eating and talking.  The cobbler turned out well, except maybe a little sweet.  The sugar here comes in bigger grains that that I'm used to using in the U.S., so maybe I should use a little less of it.  And there were no awkward pauses in conversation—not with Sunny Summer around.  She always has a question.  If she doesn't, Angeline is always good for a story.  We then played a couple of games of Uno—Angeline had played once before, so she helped explain the rules.  I usually that once someone goes out, everyone else keeps playing until there's only one person left, rather than bothering with keeping score and rounds and all.  The first game, Summer ended up being the last one.  Now, for most of us Americans, we would just say, "Rotten luck!" or some such to the loser and that would be the end of it.  Here, though, it's not a good game unless there's a "punishment" for the loser.  For lack of creativity, it's usually to sing a song (not as embarrassing here, where karaoke is so popular, as it would be for many Ameicans…).  And so it was that Summer performed a dramatic version of "My Heart will Go On" from Titanic.  She sang so seriously that Annie, Jessie, and me were falling out of our chairs laughing silently, trying not to laugh out loud.  Finally in the chorus she added in dramatic hand gestures, and we all gave up and giggled through the rest of the song.  

The second round, it came down to Annie and me, and we kept getting stuck and having to draw more and more cards—would it ever end?  Finally, Annie came out on top.  So, my turn to sing a song (I'm used to it by now—I usually sing "I'll Fly Away" or some such—I keep meaning to learn to words to Adele's Someone Like You because that's what they usually want me to sing, but I can't ever remember both the words and the tune at the same time).  Before I could start, Jennifer (not the same Jennifer I've talked about before—I have three students named Jennifer) asked if I knew a song called "Grace." 

"Amazing Grace, maybe?"

"No, just 'Grace.' Hold on, I have it here on my phone."

I hummed the tune of "Amazing Grace" while she was looking for it, and Summer hummed along with me—most of my students are familiar with at least the tune of that one because it's in so many movies, especially funeral scenes.  But that wasn't it.

"Here—listen."  It turned out to be a gospel song by Laura Story, who I hadn't heard of before.  The words were good, though.  Unfortunately, I couldn't sing that, since I hadn't heard it before. However, it's interesting that she likes it enough to have on her phone.  After they left, I looked up the lyrics.  I'm going to find it and listen to it so that I can bring it up again to start a conversation with her later.  Always nice to have little opportunities for conversation starters. 

We chatted a bit more before they left—they seemed to genuinely enjoy the evening more than any other group I've had; I hope my next few groups go as well!  I really like these girls, and I hope I get the chance to spend more time with them.  

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