Jul 2, 2011

Dear Me.

I've hit that teacher-burn-out phase.

Classes are over. (!)
I leave for Europe in 2 weeks. (!)
Many of my friends have gone travelling or returned to their home countries for the summer.

So this past week as I pondered what to do in my classes about an hour before they start. I had an "aha!" teaching moment. (love it when that happens!)

Have you seen the, "Dear 16 year old me," or whatever skin cancer ad campaign rolling around social media lately? I recently watched the short clip and spent some time googling the "Dear Me," book series where people write letters to their 16 year old selves.

Perfect lesson for an advanced ESL class. Bingo!

I sat on the bus on the way to work and wrote my own, "Letter to my 16 year old self," while the Chine.se dude next to me looked over my shoulder. I wondered how much he could understand, if any.

Then in class I instructed my darling doctors to talk to themselves. To think of who they were at 16 and write themselves an advice letter. I told them it was a "creative writing" excercise to work on their fluency and I would give them as much time as they needed.

I was nervous a little tiny bit.

Would they be vulnerable? Would they think I had gone off my rocker making them be all personal? Would they take it seriously? Would they be bored? Would they have the vocabulary to express themselves accurately or would they get frustrated?

Then I read them my letter as an example (word up to ESL teachers - ALWAYS give examples).

And when I looked up from reading my letter, two students had tears in their eyes and all of them were silent. (my class is usually high-energy, so that was a little uncomfortable/weird for me).

"Um, guys, are you ok? Why are you so quiet?" I asked.
"We are thinking," head nurse Lucy responded.

Then they began to write. And write. And write.

They wrote for over 25 minutes. In another language. Creatively. That is so hard. I was so proud.

When they all seemed to be slowing down their pace, I instructed them to find a stopping place and that we would share. All of them ended up reading their papers outloud.

It was incredible.

The amount of depth in the letters was surprising and beautiful. I didn't mean for class to turn into counseling class, but it happened. I see it as my mission here to expose my students to new ideas and to encourage personal reflection (something Ch.inese culture does not encourage). I always want my students to think about themselves, about who they are and what their purpose is. But sometimes there have been roadblocks as students are not willing or able to go deeper.

My students exceded my expectations. (as they often do). :)

They told their 16 year old selves to not study so much. To tell their parents what they really think instead of doing whatever they say. They told themselves to play more, make more friends, and not feel immense stress over the Chin.ese highschool tests. They told themselves that they would be happy as adults, so do not worry. They told themselves to study English harder so that their adult lives would have more opportunity. They told themselves that their lives would get better as Ch.ina got richer, so do not worry if they don't have enough to eat or wear.

When class ended I wanted to squeeze each of their faces and smother them with gratitude.

It was one of those days I used to have all the time at my old job at the university. Those days where you know you are in the right place at the right time. You know your life is ordained to be this way. I don't feel this way at school (in fact, quite the opposite). One of those days where you know you are supposed to be with the people you are around. Nothing is random.

I love my monkey butt doctors and I'm so glad I don't have to quit. (I also wonder about my ability to create conncetions with AMERICAN college students...at my new job...hmmmmm???)

And because I'm an over-sharer....here's my letter to my 16 year old self:

Dear Jessica,

Oh girl, you have the whole world ahead of you. Your highschool years will seem like so long ago by the time you are my age. Enjoy these times. Don't wish to be older, as I know you do. Relish these days because your life will no longer be this simple. The things that worry you now will be long forgotten in the days to come. So soak in the small things. Do not take for granted every second you spend with your family and friends because one day you will live far away from them.

Do not worry about your future. Your wildest dreams will come true. But they will not look like you think they will. They will be wilder.

Spend your youth growing closer to God and building a good foundation for yourself. Because your young adulthood contains hardship. You will be hurt by those closest to you, you will live without physical comfort, you will cry as much as you laugh, you will be confronted with ideas very different from your own...but you will be made stronger through it all. And you won't regret a thing.

Be careful with your emotions. You have the power to lift up or destroy. And both will happen. Learn to navigate your emotions.

Do not worry when you feel out of control. Soon you will find that it is not you who has the ability to control anything. So let it go. Everything will be ok.

You are beautiful. Your height, hair, curves. All made by a Father who doen't make junk. Stop hating yourself for being bigger than average. Others will not understand your cycles of punishing yourself with food. Don't expect them to. I can't give you the answers, you must find them out for yourself, but I can tell you this, being hard on yourself will only hurt you.


Allow yourself to be loved. Boys are not scary creatures. True girlfriends are not fairweather.

Choose joy. Don't take how good you have it now for granted. Life will get harder. Awesomer. Grander.

You will be blessed, child. Keep this in mind as you live. As much as is given to you, will be required of you. That's serious stuff.

It's going to be a wild ride. And you're going to love it.


Yourself. (age 24).

walk slow. xoxo.

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