Sunday, June 24, 2007

New Eyes

This weekend marks the end of a 2-month stint of doing a very big freelance job for my former company. Every weekend in May and the last two weekends in June have been spent doing 8 hours of speaking on the telephone with 63 employees who work at a company that produces electronic components. Saturdays haven't been too difficult because it's only been two hours but Sundays, at six hours, have been relatively tiring and brutal.

While some people may feel that speaking on the phone makes teaching easier, it actually can be a lot harder depending on how you approach the work. For one thing, you have to project a great deal more energy and enthusiasm into your speaking because there is no other way to offer an encouraging atmosphere to the students. You can't smile or use body language to convey approval or foster the students' speaking. If you give it your all, it can be very draining. Since this group of people have been a very nice bunch, I've been giving it my best every weekend despite how tiring it is.

The last few days of this work have largely been made up of a final lesson which requires the students to ask me questions about myself. I already posted about the sort of questions I tend to get asked but the questions in this lesson tend not to all be entirely of that sort since they aren't random questions but part of a planned 5-minute question session. Good students will often pick a theme and ask a lot of questions about it and this company is full of good students.

However, I have been asked a lot of questions about Pennsylvania (where I was born and grew up) and it has made me realize how little I know about commerce and culture there. A good many students have asked me what the biggest food product is and I honestly didn't know what it was.

A look at Wikipedia revealed, much to my surprise, that Pennsylvania is the number one producer of mushrooms in the United States. I was much less surprised to learn that it was the third largest producer of Christmas trees, and fourth largest producer of sod, milk, horses, and nursery plants. Since Pennsylvania means "Penn's woods" and trees are present in great abundance, any product related to plants and trees could only come as a surprise the most ignorant of Pennsylvania residents.

Some of these "products" were a part of my upbringing. My grandmother often did seasonal work at a nursery when I was a child and the library my sister is working at is a beneficiary of funding from the namesake of that nursery. My sister and I were some of the lucky kids who had horses despite the fact that my family was relatively poor. Probably one of the reasons we could afford them was that abundant horses kept prices down a bit.

Researching the answer to this question altered my perspective and broadened my knowledge of my home area in a way that probably would not have occurred if I hadn't lived in Japan. Interacting with students pushes me to see my home area through the eyes of an outsider rather than someone who grew up there. Sometimes Japanese people ask me what the best part about being in Japan is and I often say that it's the ability to see your own country through new eyes.

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