The Wild West: S'Mores, Bear Spray & Obama
Volunteer Chronicles: The English Language Institute
- The spring semester has ended, and while formal English language classes have concluded, my friends and students at the English Language Institute asked that we continue our lessons into the summer. This is the best compliment a teacher could ask for! To be fair, our classes have not followed the conventional desk and blackboard format, as described in my earlier post we have used traditional American food and cooking techniques in lieu of lesson plans. In our last "class" (make your own pizza!), I described my favorite place in the United States, Glacier National Park. After gushing about the jagged mountains, dense cedar forest, waterfalls, and plentiful wildlife, my friend Ippei turned to me and asked, "Could we go to Glacier National Park together?". I immediately realized that there is no better opportunity to enjoy Montana, engage in authentic western activities, and provide full-on English language immersion than to go on a weekend trip to Glacier!
We packed the car with tents, camp kitchen and chairs, firewood, and enough marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers to give an army a sugar overdose. My friends Yui and Ippei from Japan, Pere from Spain, and as a delightful addition, my mother Suzy, piled into the car and headed north for the Crown of the Continent. From there our weekend can be summed up into five English language lessons:
- Camping: The vocabulary is endless. Tent, rain fly, ground mat, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, tarp, head lamp, stuff sack, outhouse, fire pit, lighter fluid, coals, lantern...the list goes on. I am very proud to say that while this was the first time camping for Yui, and the first time since childhood for Ippei and Pere, they were all camping rockstars! I would have guessed they were experienced outdoor enthusiasts, and after our weekend in Glacier, they may very well become ones!
- S'mores: Let's face it, the word "s'more" is ridiculous. What does it really mean? Possibly a shortened version of "some more", but honestly, does that make any sense? No. In the end, "s'more" is a very obscure word in the English language, but this should not deter from its incredible importance. The best part of our entire trip was witnessing Yui and Ippei eating s'mores for the first time. Pure. Joy.
- Bear Spray: Explaining the mechanics of a can of bear spray with modest English vocabulary is a challenge. Emphasizing the importance of knowing how to remove the safety catch, pull the trigger, and most importantly, point the nozzle in the correct direction, all the while being charged by 1000 pounds of bear is more a lesson in survival than in English. Fortunately, there were no pop quizzes.
- Obama: One morning while preparing dutch oven French toast, I removed the lid to check on the delicacy's status and slightly burned my hand through my glove. I winced and said "That's a bummer!" Yui replied, "I hear you say, "It's Obama, but I am not sure what this means. I know he is the President, but why are you saying his name in this way?" In this case, I am the one who is taught a lesson - speak clearly and enunciate! I often remark, "that's a bummer" in response to various disappointments, but by speaking too fast and slurring my words, Yui was hearing "that's Obama!" Regardless of your political leanings, this moment of being lost in translation is worth a laugh. Indeed, that's Obama!
- Nature Translates Itself: When surrounded by waterfalls swollen with spring runoff and forests carpeted with verdant, glistening moss and wildflowers, one does not need to use words in English, Japanese or Spanish. Nature translates itself.