This summer Aya came with me to America for the second time. The first time was just after we had started dating, her English wasn’t as good, and I was very busy seeing friends and family. This time around we had roughly the same amount of time, but all of those things had changed. We did still see a lot of family, but this time it was as my wife and I think she was more comfortable with our relationship and her language ability was definitely stronger as well.
Aya got to eat American style, chase around nephews and nieces, and practice driving on the right for the first time. She also got the full experience of the Hurley family as my grandmother and a bunch of other family from that side came to meet her for the first time.
As per my own experiences I have a few observations about America. Since it has been some time since I have been back and each time I feel a little more distant there were things that struck me as being “American” vs. just something that I was used to. The thing most on my mind is of course food. It was great to be back in the land of every flavor and variety, but I gained almost 10lbs in 6 weeks. Americans eat way too much meat, not that I ate any of it, but they do. Every restaurant and grocery was packed with meat. On the other hand, things that aren’t explicitly meat as a rule do not contain meat. This is not so in other places. America does a good job of telling you exactly what you are consuming. There are labels everywhere, but apparently not enough people actually read them or care enough about how many calories they are consuming. It appears that now everyone has a tattoo. I understand why some people get tattoos, but I think a lot of people get them to be individuals, which is now a moot point since so many people have them. Many of them are also ugly and ill placed on the body. I will never get a tattoo. I went to the movie theater twice and both times was aggravated that most people in the theater left their trash in and around their seats. Why!? Is it so hard to pick up your cup when the movie is over and carry it with you the 30 steps to the trash can on your way out? I don’t understand. Another thing I don’t understand is the lack of sidewalks. America is built for cars, which doesn’t work out very well for you if you don’t have one. I have learned that cars are a big waste of money and energy. Public transportation is awesome, when it works, and every major city should be pushing the cars out and the trains and buses in. Which leads me to my most felt but probably least shocking observation; Americans are wasteful. Big houses, lights left on, too much food, cars too big, not enough public transportation, way too much air conditioning, etc. People are terribly concerned about fuel prices, but don’t see the link between consuming fuels in ways other than a gas tank that then contribute to higher fuel prices. I also enjoyed some things about America. One thing I loved about America was the effort to provide for different lifestyles. Every grocery and major restaurant had something to offer for me as a vegetarian. America has a huge variety of food choices and choices in a lot of other areas too. It is a consumer’s paradise. People in the US have it so lucky, but most don’t know it because they rarely look outside of the US. Even the poorest Americans have access to clean water, clean air, and a land where social mobility is still possible through education and hard work, even if it is less than other developed nations. I think more than anything else this trip put into a better perspective what it is that America has to offer me. I will likely always be American and America will always be my homeland, but the more time I have spent outside the U.S. the less I have felt compelled to return. I spent a lot of time with other teachers and with family which gave me an insight on what life might be like if I moved back. From a teacher’s angle, things are dark. Teachers aren’t well respected or supported in the U.S. Most states are facing budget cuts which are forcing them to stop hiring and sometimes cut back on the number of teachers they have. In addition, unions across the country are feeling the crunch from right wing politicians and a down beaten populace led to believe teacher’s salaries are cushy . This despite that almost every report you can find lists teaching as one of the lowest paying jobs given the amount of education required and time dedicated. Sound bites make for better news than actual research though. Students’ attitudes are getting worse, according to almost everyone whether or not they are in education. America itself is a mixed bag. I have family there which compels me to return and the ease of access I have to anything I want is amazing. However, gun nuts, religious nuts, political nuts, and the overall animosity towards intellectuals and social responsibility in America continues to turn me away. I don’t know what the future will bring. Perhaps in 2 years I will be accepting a job back in America, but for now it’s just a nice place to visit.
This summer I had the opportunity to participate in an NEH institute on Chinese Film and Society, which was held at the University of Champaign-Urbana. It had been suggested by my department head at school that I try to apply to summer programs like those she had done with Fullbright. Unfortunately there were not many programs available with them, I was also a bit late in exploring my options. There website did contain links to other programs such as those by NEH and so I had the chance to apply to two programs. Those two were on Chinese film in Champaign-Urbana and another held in Ohio, the topic of which was Central Asia. I was not accepted to the institute on Central Asia, but was accepted to the institute on Chinese film. I must admit I was a bit disappointed at first. The Central Asia program ran 2 weeks and the Chinese film one for 4 weeks. This would mean if I attended the Chinese film one I would have less than 2 weeks to spend with family before having to move on to Malaysia. However, I thought it was a great opportunity and so jumped when they invited me to attend.
Over four weeks, twenty or so participants watched about thirty movies interspersed with lectures and discussions. While this was happening we formed small groups in which we planned lessons around a particular film. That material should be published through the NEH website, when I don’t know. We are also now returning to our classrooms to share this information with our students. I can say that I thought I knew a lot about China, but something I didn’t know very well was how the Chinese view themselves. Through a lot of discussion with other teachers and listening to lectures, I learned much more about Chinese society.
I also spent a lot of time in the evenings with a few particular guys and that was nice to make some new buddies. We went to the roller derby, tractor pull, to the Springfield Lincoln memorial, and many nights on the town.
I truly enjoyed the program and if I get a chance to I will apply to future NEH programs. If you want to learn more about the program, visit this site