Archive for October, 2010

I walked out of my first exam exhausted. I never imagined I’d have to utilize classroom management techniques with college students during an exam. Never the less, there I was laboring to separate people, curb soft whisperings in Arabic of the answers and redirect wandering eyes to their own test papers.

I must admit, I had been warned about the character everyone tagged as “the Lebanese student.” One woman warned me that they were tough, others told me to be hard on them.

When one describes a student as tough, my mind immediately references the “tough” students on the South Side of Chicago. Places where security officers are as ubiquitous as teachers; where metal detectors greet students at the entrance of the building and where the sounds of gun shots are as familiar as the ringing of a school bell. That was my definition of tough.

So on the first day of class, I arrived earlier than my students, to check and see if there was a phone where I’d be able to call security, in case my class got out of hand.

To my surprise, I met students who called me Miss (a term of respect I would never receive from “tough” students in the states), asked for permission before exiting to use the restroom and even offered on multiple occasions to carry my books to my office.

It wasn’t until the day of the exam that a line was drawn in the sand, and I caught a glimpse of what people meant. This was not the “tough” I was expecting.

I met a culture of cheating. Cheating that was common. Cheating that was accepted. Cheating that was even expected. At one point, one of my students chastised me for taking the exam too seriously – in effect saying that I was being too hard on this culture of cheating.

While every part of me wants to scream, my rational side thought of a saying I’d heard long ago by Stephen R. Covey. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

In understanding, I see a group of students who have been bred on a culture of collaboration – and that’s putting it mildly. A place where cheating, during governmental exams, is permitted, as I was informed by a student.

How’s that for understanding?

This is me being seeking to be understood.

The last place that gave me a degree (an M.S. in Accounting) was the University of Virginia.  They required that we write the following statement on all of our tests and assignments before they were turned in:

“On my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment.”

We were allowed to take tests anywhere on campus, under trees, in the library, wherever, as long as we pledged we wouldn’t cheat.  While this sounds nice, the penalty associated with it, was weighty. Violation of the honor code requires a student to go to trial in front of a student jury, truly a jury of your peers. Students found guilty are expelled or have their degrees revoked.

What’s your answer for this Stephen R. Covey?


I’ve always had this problem of not wearing a watch. My mom used to nag me about it and has even bought me multiple watches over the years to help solve the problem. But I can never seem to keep up with them. Plus, until now, my cell phone has always served a dual purpose — first as phone and then as timekeeper. But now that my cell phone is dead (with no hope of being revived), and I don’t have a watch, I have to use other means of keeping time.

If I’ve stayed up too late on the phone, talking with someone back home, I always know that dawn is soon to come, when I hear the first azaan, or Muslim call to prayer.

Because I don’t have an alarm clock, I always know it’s time to get up for class when the sunshine begins to peak through the window and gently tap me on the shoulder. When the tap doesn’t work, it proceeds with a gentle nudge. When the nudge fails, it finally greets me with a good-morning-slap-in-the-face. By that time, I’m usually ripping through my room to make it to class on time.

Because none of the classrooms have clocks on the wall, I carry a wall-sized clock into each class.  I look a little funny, and multiple students have asked why I don’t wear a watch. (don’t judge me).  But I always know when the allotted class time has ended, when students begin to get a little antsy.

I always know it’s 6 PM in Lebanon, because the power consistently goes out. Some days it catches me by surprise, because the time has flown by so quickly before I realize the day is nearly done.

I always know the sun’s preparing to set, because the mosquitoes begin to bite.

The only thing I have yet to get on a schedule is my hunger. I can’t set a single clock to it, because somehow, I always manage to be hungry.

When in Lebanon, Eat Lebanese Food!

Posted: October 12, 2010 in Food, Lebanon, Travel
Tags: ,

(You can always tell when I’m hungry, because my posts tend to be about food.)

It seems that every time we (meaning my new group of friends and I) head out to eat, American fare lands on my plate: a little bit of pasta with Alfredo sauce and salmon (it was yummy), an American breakfast on a Saturday night, even a haystack at Hard Rock Cafe.

So while the language is foreign and the faces unfamiliar, I know the food all too well.

So finally, about a week or two ago, we sat down for some Lebanese food, though I don’t remember the name of everything.  Can’t wait until we go all out for a real sit down Lebanese meal.  In the meantime, this was a meal to be remembered.

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Tomorrow’s my first real day of teaching.

I remember the nervous anticipation I used to feel on my first day of school.  Wondering if we’d get any new students and if our teacher would go easier on us than the last.  My mom always giggles when she reminds me of what happened with my third grade teacher.

She was a stickler, as stern as they come (the teacher that is).  But honestly much of what I did that year, in third grade, is still firmly etched in my mind.  So much so that I didn’t see the need to ever have class with that particular teacher again, because I had learned so much.

My school was fairly small, so teacher shuffling was not uncommon.  Lucky for us, as we progressed on to the fifth grade, the administration greeted us with the surprising news that we’d be privileged to get a new teacher: The Stickler.  Twice as nice!  I complained then, but looking back, we learned a lot.  (if you’re reading, I honestly love you to death, now!)

The teachers you sometimes dread are often the ones you need the most.

Enough with the life lessons.  What I really came to write about was first-day-of-school-jitters.

Hahahahaha!  I ain’t got none!  (And I call myself an English teacher.)  Honestly, I’m just excited about shaping young minds.

While I don’t have the jitters, I do have the indecisive, What-to-Wear syndrome.  I’ve gone through everything, and nothing seems quite right.  It reminds me of my first day of school back in third grade.  I think I’m using the same decision making process now as I did then to choose my outfit.

I’m going for Professional but not stuffy.  Smart, yet youthful.  Fun, but tasteful.

Does this outfit exist?

In a month of being here, I feel as though I’ve finally had my first Lebanese experience worth writing home about, though it’s not what I expected it would be.

I finally mustered up the courage to venture down the hill.  I say this because earlier this week, I realized I had been playing it safe.  So I said to myself that this week I would take a chance and venture down the hill (without accompaniment) and speak Arabic (at the risk of getting laughed at).

Well, the Arabic wasn’t so hard to accomplish because we finally started Arabic class.

But given the steepness of the hill, I knew the descent and the climb would require a little bit more prodding.  However, today, when I glanced in my cupboard and realized I was running low on a few things, I didn’t need much convincing.  I changed into my Pumas, grabbed my umbrella, just in case, and headed out.

I was warned that my biggest danger would be the traffic, and they were right!

Living in Spain at the Adventist school, which was also situated on a steep hill about 15 or 20 minutes from town, I learned to walk in the direction of oncoming traffic.  In this way I can see the cars as they approach me (or in the case of Lebanon – as  they hit me!).  So I headed out this way, walking into the oncoming traffic.

I was ever cautious, a little anxious and on my guard (that’s the Chicago girl in me).  Each roar of an approaching motorist behind me, however near or far, caused me to spin my head quickly, just to be aware of impending death.

One by one, the cars passed.  Some going up, and some heading down.  And each time, I made sure to stay out of harm’s way.

As I continued the descent, in the background, I heard a sound that resembled the persistent rumble of a bumblebee.  With each step the sound grew louder and louder, until finally I turned my head to swat it away.  Only instead of a bee, I saw the source of the sound: a small scooter carrying two teenaged boys, who I’d later realize were hooligans.

As though somehow caught in the act, they quickly jerked their bike out of the left lane and into the right, almost hitting the car that was passing by.  The car honked furiously, and rightfully so, at the act of poor judgment displayed by the boys.  I shook my head, without much shock, at the display of poor vehicle manipulation.

I continued along, mentally jotting down my shopping list, when suddenly the low annoying buzz of the motorbike returned, only this time the sound was fast approaching.  In just the moment that I turned to make sure I wouldn’t be run over, I felt the hard sting of a pimple-faced boy’s hand connect with my bum!

In that moment, shock, along with a few choice words registered in my mind and slipped out of my mouth.  God please forgive me, but it was reactionary.  And there’s no telling what my reaction would have been had I been within arm’s reach of them.

Never in my life, in all of the United States, with all of the rude things men have said and done to me, has this ever happened before.  I shared the story with a friend from Brazil and she said the same.  Never in all of her life, in all of Brazil, has this ever happened to her either.

Is it possible that Middle Eastern men can outrank Brazilian men in their brazenness?  The country of the Brazilian bikini?  Have you seen those things?  If there’s anywhere where men would be inclined to such moments of indiscretion, it seems as though it would be there!

I’m still registering shock at what happened and a lot bit of disbelief.  I felt quite disrespected, and before you ask, I was quite modestly dressed.

All I can say is welcome to Lebanon, with a smack on the bum!


I will admit it, unabashedly and unashamedly: I am a language brat!

There are many kinds of brats in this world (and most of them are not children). But I like to think of myself as a brat in the best way possible.

A brat is not made after one misstep or one inexcusable moment. A brat earns his stripes after a series of continuous behavior.

My first defining moment occurred in Spain, where I lived for a year to learn Spanish. I was placed in Level C, the middle level in a series of five. After attending class for a few months, I began to feel a bit uneasy. It was a nervous itch that began with a sense of impatience.

I knew that at the pace I was traveling, I would never reach my goal of learning the language by the end of the year, when I had to return home. So one day, after class, I approached my grammar teacher and told him I didn’t feel as though I was learning quickly enough. And I asked to be moved to a more advanced class.

After a brief pause, he suggested I move immediately to Level D and finish out the remainder of the course in Level E. The students in Level E were native speakers, so I soon became the skinny, scrappy kid in the fight, trying to stay conscious. But after the language brat inside of me got her way, she managed to fight to the finish!

My second similar moment happened in Brazil, where I went to study Portuguese. To be honest, I’m a bit ashamed of my behavior.

There were only two students in the program that summer, and my sense of urgency was high, as the course only spanned two months. The pressure was further increased because I had no intention of returning home unable to speak Portuguese.

Before our classes started, I already sensed an imbalance, as I had a background in Spanish while my classmate had none, and administration expressed that they would place us in class together.

So you can imagine my frustration the first day of class when my Professor pulled out a chart of the alphabet and proceeded to explain each letter and its accompanying sound. Any normal college student might grin and bear it, waiting until the end of the class to explain the imbalance in the situation. And I’d like to believe that I made an attempt to do that. But somewhere along the way, I found myself flailing like a tempestuous kid throwing a fit when I found that things weren’t going my way and that I was going to be forced to endure a review of the alphabet.

Needless to say, the next day, after my brazen display of immaturity (hey, it’s not my proudest moment), I found myself in the classroom with my own teacher. And given that I only had seven weeks to learn, I believe I picked up on Portuguese fairly well.

So now, fast-forward to my Middle Eastern experience. One would think that with the passage of time and a bit of maturity, I would have outgrown my bratty ways. Sadly enough, I can’t completely say it’s true.

Tonight, we had our first class in Arabic for Beginners. And while there were only five of us in the class, the range of Beginners varied quite a bit. Most of the others in the class have lived in Lebanon for at least a year or more, so they have quite a few loose words rattling around in their minds. In that way their Arabic skills exceeded my own.

On the other hand, as we reviewed the alphabet, I couldn’t help but recall that moment back in Brazil, when the teacher was reviewing a concept and the language brat emerged, as though through a sort of possession. While I’m no Arabic expert, meaning that the CIA will not be calling on my language skills anytime soon, I at least know the alphabet, from taking an introductory course (twice) back in the states.

This time, I managed to contain the language brat lurking inside, but the feeling of impatience and urgency couldn’t help but make its way to the surface. After class, I expressed my sense of urgency and impatience to learn the language, true to my bratty self. After showing her my previous materials and a few children’s books I had purchased, I think she sensed the fire in my belly to learn.

So in addition to class, my Professor (who I love by the way) will be helping me to push through my children’s book.

Arabic will be my biggest language challenge thus far, and I’m totally up for it. Let’s just hope my bratty ways pay off!

While I’m currently slated to teach English and Media Writing to my students, along with developing a Marketing and Communications plan for the school, at heart, I’m still a girl in love with Finance.

I don’t mean in love in the sense that I watch each and every tick of the Dow Jones Industrial Average.  I don’t even mean in love in the sense that I am meticulously glued to the movements of my meager 401k account.  I mean in love like conceptually I love the principles that build its very foundations, especially the principle of Risk and Return.

When I finally settled on coming to Lebanon, my mom had one pertinent piece of advice: “Be sure in your decision, and understand why you’re going, because you’re going to get an opinion from everyone about your decision.”

And she was right.

Now that I’m here, I’m confident I made the right decision.  But everything that makes me feel comfortable, also makes me feel uncomfortable.

In many ways I feel like I’ve taken the “dis” out of the word “discomfort.”  And that discomfort is part of the risk I planned to take on in making this decision.

Let me explain.  In living in this community of foreigners, I feel like I’m missing out on the experience of living with the people who hold citizenship in this country.  I’m joining a group that has already picked out all of the good and the bad in this culture and is ready to serve it up to me in small, TV-dinner-sized bites.  As a result, they’ve taken out all of the discomfort from the experience for me.  In many ways their joys, fears and enjoyments are becoming my own, so that at times, I’m not exploring and evaluating for myself.  I’m afraid this will keep me from learning the culture, language and people with an open mind.

So, it’s my goal this week to step out and add a little discomfort to my experience.  Speak a few words in Arabic and get laughed at.  Wander down the hill, upon which my school is perched, and get lost.  Try some food that no one has given me clearance to eat and be disappointed.  Whatever it is, I need to step out and take a risk in order to fully enjoy this experience.

In order to reap my reward, I’ve got to leave the “dis” in “discomfort,” because in discomfort there is risk and in risk there is reward.