Sorry for the Delay! About Fulbright

Post #1 Sorry for the delay:

So, you may be wondering why I have not posted yet. Well, that I have no good excuse, only that I am limited in time and too much of a perfectionist to put just anything out there. But ignore that, I have so much pertinent information to share and so little time, so here is an introduction to my life in Kolkata, India.

Why am I here?

I have been summoned by the governments of India and the United States to relinquish the veil of cultural understanding between citizens of the two countries and enlighten teenagers of the ways of American English. Okay, that’s way more flowery than the truth. In reality, I applied for a Fulbright grant, India seemed to have liked what I had to say and now I am charged with (1) “Increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of India.” To “strengthen ties between countries,” to “Promote international cooperation for education and cultural advancement, “ and to “Assist in the development of friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations between the United States and India.” Essentially, I am a public diplomat for the U.S., spreading culture by making friends and teaching English.

“Kolkata Street Scene” Kolkata’s metropolitan area is about 16.7 million people strong. Much of the population boom came after 1947 when many Hindi refuges moved here from the newly formed East Pakistan (became Bangladesh in 1971). Today, the population boom is coming from rural communities moving to the cities.

What do I do?

On the first of August, I began teaching grade 6 and 7 Spoken English at A.K. Ghosh Memorial School in Kolkata. In a metropolitan area of roughly 16 million people, building space is intimately crowded, and A.K Ghosh is no exception. For four 35 minute periods per day I navigate classrooms roughly half the size of those in the U.S. but over-capacitated at 60-70 students each. One of my classes is so crowded I cannot even shut the door (I can’t imagine if there was a fire). In addition, there is no air conditioning (yay!) so the windows are always open exposing the class to the incessant honking of the street (boo!). This, combined with my naturally low voice and unruly students, leads to an overwhelmingly loud classroom. In all, there are about 2000 students in the school with roughly 20-30 teachers, depending on the day. But that is enough harping about my situation. My students are extremely talented and, as soon as I learn the ropes, we are going to have an incredible time together.

Students performed Alibaba and several Bengali plays at the annual function last weekend. The program was absolutely astounding. Students also performed a puppet show and a mixture of contemporary and traditional dance.

In addition, I am studying Bengali, the language of West Bengal (the state Kolkata is in). I am blessed with a wonderful set of teachers at the American Institute of Indian Studies. I spent my first month taking classes 5 hours per day and have now switched to two classes per week as I am teaching. I have progressed a great deal, but Bengali is extremely difficult to learn coming from an English background. While English sentences follow Subject Verb Object format, Bengali is SOV. So the verb is always at the end of the sentence. In addition, there are several sounds that do not exist in English, making it difficult for native speakers to understand me.

Here are a few early lessons I have learned from teaching:

  1. Sixth graders are uncontrollable.
  2. Once you earn the respect of your seventh graders you can accomplish anything.
  3. Facebook pages for students can be super helpful in explaining culture, especially when you only have 35 minutes a day with them and no projector.
  4. Slam books are a thing.
  5. My voice still cracks.
  6. The favorite movie among middle schoolers is Titanic
  7. Chalk boards really suck, especially with knock-off chalk.
  8. Primal glares work better than yelling at students
  9. Checking student notebooks may take the whole class period and it is very important your word choice in their notebooks. Ex. Very good does not equal excellent.
  10. I do stand out, even after I grow a mustache.
  11. On that note, more mustache=more respect from other teachers.
  12. My schedule is unknown until the day/hour before the classes begin.
  13. When you don’t speak the language, staff rooms are a lonely place.
  14. Even though I can throw an obnoxious kid out the window doesn’t mean I should.
  15. You can be the tiger or the deer, but you have to choose one and stick with it.
  16. Markers tend to explode here.
  17. I love the feeling of leaving after a good lesson and I hate the feeling of one that doesn’t work.

Where do I live?

A was person once said “Patience is a virtue,” and it is a virtue I live out every day. Many words come to mind when I try to explain my living situation; mayhem, religious enlightenment, smoky, clear, tribal and first class. Essentially, I live with a 73-year-old Indian woman whom I refer to as Auntie and a 23 year-old Indian master’s student named Atuno who studies online courses from 9am to 4am every day. Up until a week ago, Auntie’s deceased husband’s slightly insane sister Rita also lived with us. Each morning, Auntie has a cook come and prepare the food, a man come to do dishes and wash the floor and a woman to sweep and mop the floor. The apartment sits on the fifth floor yielding a spacious balcony view of the city. Literally every day is a new adventure. Here are a few lessons I have learned:

  1. You should never sleep with your feet facing a religious idol.
  2. Auntie has a natural remedy for everything.
  3. Auntie is always right (even when she’s wrong)
  4. Bengalis spend about 30 seconds greeting each other before leaping into an animated fight over seemingly silly facts. (I often look up the answers on the internet, but don’t tell the answer until they stop arguing).
  5. Bengalis can never put enough salt in their food.
  6. To Auntie, medicine never expires.
  7. Insomnia is an epidemic and there is no possibility I could have it.
  8. Toilet paper is not a thing.
  9. Cheese graters are not a thing (finger nails)
  10. Sanitary has a different definition in India.
  11. Cold showers are preferable to using the gizzard.
  12. According to Auntie, I am too young to understand Khaled Hosseini and Gabriel Garcia Marquez books.
  13. Auntie is an incredibly sweet and intelligent lady, but sometimes she drives me insane.
mime jpg
“Mimed” Another image from my student’s annual function.

10 thoughts on “Sorry for the Delay! About Fulbright

  1. Love it! Your lists paint great pictures of your experiences. And remember to keep writing things down! You’ll be surprised the things you’ll forget if you don’t document them somewhere.

  2. I want to hear the story about how you learned you should never sleep with your feet facing a religious idol. Details, please. Looks like you’ve learned so much in your first weeks. Please keep writing and send photos of Auntie– and the your most significant connections to Kolkata. Love to see your place and a class.

    Now that you’ve had a little time to get your bearings, what’s your wish list for a care package?
    Projector? anduseptic chalk? a chalk holder? Bengali study aids? Mustache wax? Familiar things? Let me know and I’ll do my best.

    1. Haha! Well, the reaction has been the same a few times when I have done something wrong or weird. Auntie did not want to wake me up, but did want to inform me that it is not okay to have my feet toward the idols. When I woke up she was starring at me and the moment she saw my eyes she started yelling “no no no baba..” Quite startling since I didn’t fully know where I even was at that moment. Same thing happened when I told her I have insomnia. The other direction in the bed forces my feet into a shelf, so I am going to have to get used to sleeping in a curled position.
      Projector would be great if I had a place to plug it in :). I have found only 2 rooms which actually have working outlets. If you have any Bengali study aids that would be super helpful, but things like american stickers (which I thought might be easier to get here since their made in Taiwan), large photos of U.S. culture are nice. Other than that I am pretty happy. Thanks for keeping in touch Jan!

  3. Great stories and photos Ryan. I will sit and read more thoroughly later, but amazing just at a quick scan.
    Take good care.

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