Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Meaningful Life Events III

This is the third and final post showcasing narrative essays by students in our Pilot class at the Loyola Intensive English Program. Pilot students are preparing for full academic admission to Loyola University New Orleans by taking two credit-bearing intensive English courses and two other academic courses at Loyola.

Ashley Rivera of Puerto Rico
Our Pilot students were recently assigned an essay that required them to reflect deeply about a life event. They were asked not only to narrate this event but also to probe its meaning. Like the essays by Miguel and by Meng in our two previous posts, this third essay by Ashley Rivera of Puerto Rico admirably delves into the meaning of a life experience.

Ashley has not yet chosen a major but is enjoying exploring different fields through her courses at Loyola. She likes the sciences, particularly biology. She is also an accomplished athlete, especially excelling at track.

Ashley has chosen to write about her experience helping to teach and to build a school for poor but eager children in Honduras. Ashley's experience in Honduras is marked by contrasts, which she highlights beautifully - contrasts between the poverty of the children and their overflowing joy, between their scant resources and their thirst to learn, between the physical difficulties of their lives and their enthusiasm at play.  Most especially, Ashley notes the contrast between her fortunate circumstances in Puerto Rico and the far less fortunate circumstances of those she has come to serve in Honduras. Here is Ashley's expressive and moving essay.

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Helping in Honduras
By Ashley Rivera

I had wanted to travel outside my country for a long time. Finally the opportunity was presented, as I got the chance to teach English in Honduras. In the summer of 2011, I traveled to a country totally unlike my own.

I excitedly stepped off the plane at San Pedro Sula. The airport had no air-conditioning. The first faces to greet me were a large group of young children screaming. The young children were anxiously waiting our arrival, holding up signs. After children greeted us we got on a large yellow school bus with ripped cloth seats. The minute the bus started, Spanish music blared from the speakers and the hot air lashed at our faces. The kids stuck their heads out the window, taking in all the scenery.

Staring out the window I saw poverty all around. I saw kids walking down the street with no shoes, and houses made out of wood and cardboard. I also saw tall mountains all around. When we arrived at the school where we were going to teach, the kids that greeted us were clearly unhealthy. Their stomachs were bloated, arms and legs were very thin and their skin was flaky.  They had torn clothing and they smelled as if they hadn’t showered in days. But one thing that stood out to me was their big smiles.

The children wanted to teach us new games so we could play with them. The game that they most enjoyed was hide and seek. They would want to play this for hours and never seemed to get tired. I was amazed how much energy these kids possessed. While teaching them English, I noticed how, despite their situation, the kids were very happy. The kids really wanted to learn, and behaved well in class. We taught them numbers and shapes. We also shared with them happy songs. The song that they learned the quickest was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I can still remember the first time we taught them this song, they were really interested in learning it. Learning the song for them was like getting the coolest toy ever. They were really excited and hyper.

When we left the kids to go back to our hotel, we felt guilty because our hotel was so nice and they had so little. My hotel room had two air conditioners and a huge bathtub. I knew the kids wouldn’t have any of this at their homes. Their homes did not even have a bed; they would all sleep in the floor. The next day, we all got dressed quickly, excited to see the kids again. This continued for a week, each day increasing the children’s happiness.

Not only did we teach the kids but we also helped build them a school. We would mix concrete by hand and carry it in buckets to lay a foundation for the school. By the end of the day all our clothes would be covered in concrete and our hands covered in blisters. It was very hard work, but it felt good knowing the kids would have a nice place to learn. Meeting workers who, without the job of building schools, would have fallen victims to the rough streets of Honduras made the job even more valuable. The workers would share stories with us of their childhood in Honduras and how poor their school was. The workers dressed in bedazzling outfits. Their clothing was covered in glitter; it looked as if they were wearing costumes. I found it funny that the workers always smelled good. They smelled like an AX commercial. On the last day of my trip we finished building this school. It was so rewarding seeing the children sitting in their new desks. It made all the backbreaking work worth it.

The classrooms were bright green and orange. To keep the kids cool we put bars over the windows because there was no air-conditioning. The school was only four classrooms. Most of the schools around there were like that. The younger kids would go to school in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon. I found it interesting that the school had no set times for when the kids should be dismissed.

After each day of work we would play soccer with the kids. Soccer is a very important part of the kids’ lives because it is very popular in Honduras. This made me feel closer to the community. The kids I taught were 15-20 years old. I taught the older kids because I am fluent in Spanish. I am from Puerto Rico so my first language is Spanish. I felt connected with the kids because their first language was also Spanish. The kids picked up on the vocabulary very quickly but had trouble with the pronunciation. The classes lasted two hours and I taught 12 kids. Though I taught the older kids, outside the classroom I played with the younger kids more.

One day I made lunch with the women in the local village. The local village is where the school is. For lunch we made Baleadas, which are tortillas with egg, avocado, and beans. They were really good and I made them when I got home. The soda impressed me because it had no corn syrup, and the soda in Puerto Rico does. I really loved the soda. The Hondurans would play Reggeaton all the time, which made me think of home.

At the end of the week we went to the beach with the kids. The beach reminded me of home because it had white sand just like Puerto Rico. We rode a boat in the water and taught the kids how to kneeboard. I knew they would never forget this day. They had the time of their lives in the beach located in the Caribbean Sea.

As I walked back into the San Pedro Sula airport after my full week, I thought about all I had learned. I appreciated everything more, and was grateful for the life I had back home. I felt thankful for the opportunity I had been given and couldn’t wait to go back. It was very fulfilling to know I made a difference in the life of children.

I can’t wait to go back to San Pedro Sula. I know the children I taught miss me a lot as well as I miss them. The hardest part I went through in San Pedro Sula was saying goodbye to the young kids. They cried a lot and a young boy wouldn’t let me go. This made it very hard for me and I will never forget it. This experience changed my life in many ways. I loved being a part of these children’s lives and knowing that I gave them the happiness they deserve fulfills me. Every night when I go to sleep I pray to God for a better life for these kids.

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Our thanks to Ashley Rivera for sharing the many lessons of her time in Honduras.

Our next post will feature the Halloween Haunted House Tour, conducted in the French Quarter of New Orleans by the LIEP students in our Advanced Culture Class.

Meaningful Life Events II

Meng Li of China
This second essay from the Pilot class of the Loyola Intensive English Program is by Meng Li of China. Meng is a finance major. She plans to use her business studies at Loyola University New Orleans to pursue a career in banking in her home country.

Like Miguel in our previous post, Meng has written her essay in response to an assignment that asked her not only to narrate an important life event but also to probe its meaning. Meng has chosen to write about her experience with military discipline as a middle school student. Meng excels in setting the stage for the event she narrates, in building up to the crucial moment, and in delving into how she felt and what she learned. Here is Meng's essay.

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Military Training
By Meng Li

When I was 12 years old, I attended a two-week military training after I had graduated from elementary school. Military training is required for most Chinese students before they enter a junior high school and again before high school and before university. I'm no exception. So I have attended military training three times, but the first one is the most unforgettable and meaningful.

I remember that we were forced to get up at 6:00 every morning, and then we needed to make our quilts like cubes before we went to have breakfast; we were forced to finish our breakfast within ten minutes, otherwise we would be punished by the instructors. Normally, the punishment was running around the perimeter of the field five times, which was about 2000 meters. So all the students needed to eat as fast as they could; then they rushed out of the dining hall, and ran to the field. We also needed to stand up straight in the playground and wait for the instructor to count off every student. What’s more, the instructor would inspect our appearance and behavior to make sure we looked like real soldiers. After this, we started running, doing military boxing and climbing across barriers. Those tasks were very difficult for the guys, not even to mention the girls. Usually after a whole day's training, I was exhausted and so hungry that I could almost eat a horse. So it is not hard to see that the military training was extremely demanding physically.

I remember that one of the parts of that training was standing on the field for one hour without any movement. I was doing very well in the first thirty minutes, but I was sweating because of the heat of the sun; I even felt that a drop of sweat was sliding down from my forehead, and it felt itchy. I couldn't bear it and I found that the instructor was standing far away with his back to me. I thought that he couldn't notice me, and then I started scratching my face. However, just when I put my left hand on my face, the instructor turned around and looked at me angrily. What's worse, I didn't realize this until a girl who was next to me poked me slightly. I looked at the instructor and found that he was very angry and he was walking towards me quickly.

I felt that I couldn't even breathe and my heart would almost pop out of my mouth as he approached me. The instructor stood right in front of my face, and he growled, "Come out." I stepped reluctantly out of the line and I felt my face turned red like an apple. The instructor commanded me to turn around to face everyone. Almost five hundred students were standing there; I faced them and I heard someone giggle; I just kept my head down and looked at my feet. It made me feel better, for at least I couldn't see anyone's eyes. I couldn't remember clearly how many hours I stood there because the shame occupied all of my mind; maybe it was two or three hours, or even more. All I wanted was to finish that training as soon as possible so that I could dash to the dorm and digest what had happened the whole day. I would never forget that day when I got the first punishment of my life, and it has proved to be the most serious punishment so far: I will never forget the feeling of being stared at by five hundred students. "What a lucky girl! How glorious I was!"

After that training, I learned that we need to think more about the result before we risk doing something. I needed to think of what would happen if the instructor found that “I moved.” If I noticed that, I guess I could bear the itch no matter how itchy my face was. What's more, the duty of a solider is to obey his or her commander no matter how difficult the task is. My fault was that I never imagined myself as a real soldier, so I didn't give my one hundred percent for that training.

I felt great and relaxed when I arrived at Loyola University New Orleans and found that the welcoming program of Loyola University for new students didn’t have this kind of military training but instead offered a thoughtful orientation!

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Thank you, Meng, for sharing your painfully learned lesson with us!

Our next post will present an essay about a life-changing experience of helping poor but eager children in a developing country.

Meaningful Life Events I

Our next three posts will showcase essays by three students in the Pilot class of the Loyola Intensive English Program. Pilot students are preparing for full academic admission to Loyola University New Orleans by taking two credit-bearing intensive English courses and two other academic courses at Loyola.

Earlier this semester, our Pilot Writing & Grammar class was assigned an essay that required each student to think deeply about a life event and probe its significance. This assignment goes beyond simple narration, asking for an examination of the deeper meaning of an event.

Miguel Angel Flores
of the Dominican Republic

The first essay we'd like to share with you is by Miguel Angel Flores of the Dominican Republic. Miguel's major is international business. His goal is to use the knowledge and skills he is gaining at Loyola to enhance the international aspects of his family's business in his home country.

Miguel has written about his experience of being chosen to receive the Ambassador Award at his high school graduation. This is the second highest award given by his school, a very special honor. Miguel has chosen an interesting perspective for his essay. He not only describes his own response to receiving the Ambassador Award, but he also takes us into the minds of his seven-year-old brother, his father, and his mother, showing the unique response of each family member who shared the joyful experience with him.

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The Ambassador Award
By Miguel Angel Flores

The last day of the most important stage of my life, so far, arrived. It was 6:00 pm of June 22, 2012. As in any other high school, the Pomp and Circumstance song was played. As all my classmates started walking down the aisle, and as my turn got closer, my nerves invaded my body, all the way through my feet.  I was next, in a crowd of my classmates. As I walked down that aisle, I tried to encounter all the memories and moments that I had experienced since I first started this journey, that without even noticing it, had put me into today’s world. As I thought, I realized that all the effort that I had put into making a better version of myself, through the opportunity that my parents had given me, was worth it.

After all my classmates and I were standing in front of our assigned seats, we were asked to sit. The ceremony went on with many guest speakers and faculty speeches. After the graduation certificates were given out, the special award ceremony started.

The faculty called some of my classmates to recognize their effort or their outstanding achievements in each particular class. Toward the end of the special award ceremony, the two most important awards of the whole school were given out: awards that are only given to one student per category, per promotion. These awards are El Cristobal Tejeda and the Ambassador Award, in order of importance. The first one to be announced was the Ambassador Award: the award given to a particular student who during his or her path has showed the strongest school spirit, the strongest community involvement, good academic performance, but not necessarily the most outstanding. The faculty called the Flores Dorrejo family, my family, up to the stage. For a second I thought that they were calling my family up to the stage to be the honorary family to present the award. But, after my family was already up on the stage, I heard “and the Ambassador Award 2012 goes to Miguel Angel Flores Dorrejo.” I couldn’t believe it. My classmates cheered the moment. My mom, my dad, my little brother and I all had different reactions; it was a moment full of emotions.

My little brother, Sixto Carlo, didn’t understand whatever was happening. When I saw his face, I could tell he was lost but that he was at the same time happy and full of pride. When he first heard my name he was kind of confused and did not know how to react, but after he saw my mom and dad, he imitated their feelings, or my parents just transmitted their feelings to him: since he is younger he is probably more attached. He was the first to jump at me and congratulate me. I whispered in his ear that he should fight in life to be three times better than me, and he said he would. He hugged me really hard; in that moment I thought that I had done something that he would be able to appreciate and remember whenever he failed in life, so that he could stand up and continue. After what he told me, I realized that he understood the importance of the moment that was going on, and he was proud.

My dad, Miguel Angel Flores, reacted at the immediate second. His reaction was totally different from everyone else’s. He closed his hands and with both of his arms he did the typical “YEAH” man expression. He was very proud. During that moment he was totally feeling and realizing how hard I had worked to keep getting better in a daily basis. He definitely convinced himself that what he had repeated to me over and over again during my youth (“I put my effort on educating you, so that one day you can be better than me”), had become true, up to this point of my life. As I walked to the center of the stage he looked at me, his eyes were shiny, he had this light but really expressive laugh in his mouth: denoting his pride. I’m pretty sure that he felt the most fortunate dad in the world.

My mom, Judy Dorrejo, couldn’t believe it. Her eyes went watery the very first second the faculty announced my name; I think she was confused. She was expressionless. She was probably not expecting anything that big from me. When my name was called I think she didn’t even understand what was happening; she was really nervous. I guess that when she heard everyone clapping and the school founder tap her shoulder to congratulate her, she realized her son was officially ranked second in his school career, not academically but as a whole person. She felt really proud of her job as a mother. She grabbed me and hugged me, and expressed in my ear how proud she was of my achievement, hard work, focus and dedication during my years. She said that she had never doubted my abilities, but that this event confirmed to her that I would be a great success in both business and in my social development in life. She also said that this award gave her the security that whatever life holds for me, and wherever I stand in life, I will be outstanding and that I will represent the family’s name with honor.

I didn’t stand up until 15 seconds after they called my name. Cristian EspaƱol, a classmate that was sitting besides me, told me, “Man, stand up.” I looked at him and I realized it. My mom, dad and my little brother looked at me all at once. I stood up, walked out of the aisle and went to the center of the stage where my family was standing.  So many different feelings toward myself converged at that very moment; my knees started shaking. I didn’t know what to think, my mind went blank for a moment, and I guess I didn’t even hear anything they said through the microphone when they called me.  My parents were excited and Mrs. Valinda Valdez, the head of the school and the international development program, gave me the award and took a picture with me. After my parents showed me how proud they were of my achievement, I was really proud, because I had once more fulfilled their expectations. I also felt as if I left my little brother a message and made sure that he understood it; I told him in that very moment that if he had to do something in life, he was to be better than me, and he promised; he made me even prouder.

Overall, this moment showed my parents that their effort in part had been rewarded from my side. It also gave them the security that wherever I go or whatever life holds for me, I would be more than capable to confront it. From that moment on, I let my brother know how much I expect from him in life. I learned that a little effort on a daily basis leads you to success. I showed those who once didn’t believe in me that I’m fully capable in achieving whatever I propose to myself in life. Besides, it showed me that in life I should never set boundaries for myself and that goals are sometimes closer than they appear.

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We congratulate Miguel Angel Flores on his Ambassador Award and thank him for sharing this special experience with us, making it even more special by giving us insight into the minds of his family members.

Our next post will present an essay about the discipline of early military training in a Chinese middle school, a discipline enforced by effective punishment.