Monthly Archives: March 2010

Physics as a Second Language

One of my dorm buddies gifted me his old Physics book so I could see how they teach Physics here in Jordan… in Arabic. I now have even more respect for what my students are doing, learning all this really tough and abstract stuff in their second language. I got the book and looked at the cover, which just says Physics in Arabic (Al-Feeziya’, الفيزياء) and I thought to myself “Huh, so that’s how you spell that.” Nevermind when I started to look through it to see words like electromagnetic induction (الحث الكهر مغناطيسي if you were wondering) and concave and convex mirrors (المرآيا الكروية – المقعرة والمحدبة).

People ask me sometime what the students are like, and how they are different from American teens – if they are (which really in some ways they are) it’s something that I totally don’t even notice on a day to day basis. To me, there doesn’t seem to be this crazy huge cultural divide that I think everyone pictures in their head. It’s easy to forget that my students are named Mohammad and Yousef and Ahmed instead of Charlie and Mike and Spongebob, and that most are studying Islamic Theology at school instead of… well, no religion, and that many hail from “random” countries that strike fear in the uneducated of the US (I have 3 Saudis, 5 Syrians, 1 Kuwaiti and 1 Palestinian from Gaza) instead of from random states around the union that strike fear in those of us from normal states (Oklahoma, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Utah etc.).

The only times I really remember that it’s a different game we’re playing is when I give a quiz and 5 kids through up their hand “What’s a wrench?” or “What’s a dam?” or “What does quadruple mean?” It amazes me because they honestly have 100% perfect English in my mind, but it sucks because this difficult material is just that much harder when your language is 99% instead of 100%, and it sucks because they will be taking the same SAT, the same AP, the same everything as American kids, where will always be little things like that there to trip them up.

And it also sucks because it makes me realize how long it will be before I have the same level of fluency in Arabic (but if the Arabic Physics exams had any Arabic swears on them, I would be GOLDEN).

Different Just to Be Different?

Okay, so I can handle the Sunday-Thursday workweek now, I’ve actually kind of gotten used to it. The idea of working on Friday sounds pretty miserable too me. And some other random adjustments aren’t too bad – for example, if you are in the States you may have had daylight savings about a week ago, but here in Jordan we don’t do daylight savings until Friday. So right now, we’re only 6 hours ahead of the East Coast for the rest of the week until we catch up.

But a really weird one for me has been Jordanian Mother’s Day. A few weeks ago, I started hearing radio ads talking about what to get your Mother for the big day and I was so confused because I didn’t think they could possibly be advertising a full two mothers early…. Well, they weren’t because Mother’s Day here was this past Sunday, March 21st (sorry Mom, I didn’t get you anything). In all of the Arab Middle East (15 countries actually) Mother’s Day coincides with the vernal equinox. Many other countries celebrate at different times of the year (India in August, Argentina in October, Russia in November, Norway in February etc).

WHAT? Why? If we’re all going to give in and celebrate a Hallmark holiday, why not pick the same day? Do jewelry companies and florists need to spread their profits at their international venues over the course of the whole fiscal year? This is one of these things I would have never known about had I not chosen to live abroad…

Hosting My Parents in My Adoptive Home Country

For Spring Break, as I mentioned before, my parents came to visit me in Jordan, which was a really phenomenal experience. If you are currently living abroad, or you have someone close to you living abroad, make sure you take the chance to make a visit like this. [Ms. Charassuvichakanich have you been to Beijing yet??]. My parents got to see a country that I don’t think they ever would have otherwise with a tour guide and place to stay, and I got to have some fun in the process (at a price that was right for me). We spent the week seeing almost the whole country – Petra, camping in the desert in Wadi Rum, floating in the Dead Sea (see mud caked people on the left), exploring the Roman Ruins of Jerash and hanging out in Amman, not to mention having a blast just driving around. Highlights included:

  • Seeing the guards laugh every time I told them my Dad’s name, Doug… maybe they thought it sounded like “Dog”?
  • Giving my parents a view of real Jordan by driving through tiny towns and driving in the intensely crazy driving in Amman
  • My Mom riding a camel and picking up little Arabic words… I think she wanted to leave Texas and become a Bedouin
  • Getting a speeding ticket on the Desert Highway
  • Trying to get my Dad to continue to eat Arab food the whole time he was here
  • Finally showing someone all that I try to express in this blog and giving my parents the context to be able to talk with understand what’s going on now
  • Spending some good quality time with the ‘rents and regaining my status as favorite son. Maybe next year Donny and Mack…

I posted some pictures from our trip on the pictures page (in addition to a bunch from the Dead2Red race, though most are the same as the ones in the video) if you’re interested…

Proof that my parents are actually here

Here’s a video of my mom getting off of a camel! I’ll post some stories when they leave, but it’s been a phenomenal vacation so far.

Dead2Red Team Video

Enjoy our Dead2Red team video – it makes the experience look so much fun (which is was) but kind of ignores the pain part.

Spring Break!

I am now done with 2 terms of teaching, two-thirds of the way through my first year out on the front lines. I can’t believe it’s been this long, and I can’t believe how much I’ve learned since the beginning. I think back to my first couple of lessons – when I prepared for like 2 hours for a 10 minute introduction lesson, or when I stood in front of the class with basically a script for the day and went through it with my shoulders hunched, too tense to relax, or when I had no clue how to deal with high school girls crying (and I had girls crying in the first place), or when I had students squirming in anguish during an unfairly difficult term final. This has been an incredibly meaningful experience, and I feel great about my job decision. And who knows – I wasn’t expecting it, but perhaps this is a career decision too…

And for Spring Break: Welcoming the parents to my adoptive home country. I can’t wait to see how Doug and Laurie interact with Jordan, and I’m excited to finally share with someone all these things about my life that a silly blog can’t possible convey.

And to leave you with the email from a student that kicked off my spring break…

“Nevertheless, I just wanted to thank you for another great term; I really enjoy learning Physics with you. I know this is your first year as a teacher, but I just wanted to tell you that you’re really good at it! I think that it’s because of the way our classes are balanced in a way that makes them really fun, yet also intellectually stimulating as well.”

Dead2Red in Numbers

Well, what a phenomenal experience. That had to have been one of the coolest and craziest things that I have ever done. I will post pictures and a video that I am making soon, here are some quick stats about our race.

  • Kilometers ran: 242
  • Miles ran: 150
  • Time: 18 hours, 50 minutes
  • Average time per kilometer: 4:40
  • Average time per mile: 7:32
  • Average marathon time at this pace: 3 hours, 15 minutes (which we did almost 6 times)
  • Place: 10th out of 28
  • Winner’s time: 14 hours, 12 minutes
  • Number of people running on our team: 10
  • Number of people driving (3 cars continuously for 19 hours): 4
  • Average age of the runners: 31
  • Amount you had to run each cycle through: 0.5 km
  • Number of times we did that: about 48
  • Break you got in between running: 20 minutes
  • Total distance ran by each person: 24.2 km = 15 miles
  • Approximate time spent running by each person: 1 hour, 53 minutes
  • Number of times someone had to drop out: 0
  • Number of times someone skipped their shift: 0
  • Number of times someone walked instead of ran: 0
  • Number of my knees that are still in incredible pain from running that far and fast on pavement: 2
  • My happiness level on a scale of 1-10 from 3:30-5 in the morning: 1
  • My happiness level for having done the race: 10

Dead2Red Race in T-minus 17 hours

At 4 pm tomorrow, I will be the leadoff runner for our team in a 242 km relay from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea (see post explaining the race). We will be running about 0.5 km at a time (a third of a mile), so I will run for about 2 minutes and then get 18 minutes off…. and then repeat this same process 48 times (total running distance of about 24 km, or 15 miles) The hardest part is going to be staying awake from 4 pm until noon the next day for the race (especially with my insane amount of teaching induced tiredness).

Our team name is “Chicken and Rice” which is only really funny if you are a member of the King’s community – our dining hall serves chicken and rice at least one meal a day, so it’s kind of a running joke with the whole school. We have people ranging in age from 19 to 54, teachers from pretty much every academic department here at school, men/women, Jordanians/Americans. And we get to wear reflective vests!

I’m excited beyond words for the experience – wish us luck and I promise to post copious amounts of pictures and stories.

Donkey Kong in My Classroom

One day last week it was pouring here in Jordan. It doesn’t rain much here, but when it does it’s absolutely insane. Because it doesn’t rain much, the infrastructure of the city is not set up for proper drainage, the worst being that the roads end up with intense rivers going every which way. It’s actually fairly treacherous.

One student came to class that day and he was fairly wet for some reason (weird because you can get to all the classrooms in the whole academic building through some sort of covered pathway or another – who knows what he was doing, he’s kind of numb) and he was wearing only his school sweater over his bare chest, without the button down or tie underneath (somehow the button down was soaked? but only the button down? didn’t really want to know the details). I asked him to at least put on his tie. I looked down for about 5 seconds and then looked up to see the kid wearing his tie like he was asked, but now nothing else on top. A shirtless little high school friend in my classroom wearing a tie. He looked like Donkey Kong. Luckily, since it’s physics, there were no girls around (only 7 of my 35 students are female), and sure I guess I can be happy that he was following directions, but I swear, whenever you think high school dudes can’t get any weirder…