Monday, June 16, 2014

Disc + Students = Happiness

Exactly a year ago, I spent an afternoon tossing disc with three really great friends. We were at Bonnaroo, a music festival in Tennessee, and we’d been concert-going for hours. We needed a break, and we needed to relax a bit. All of us being ultimate players, we did what we do best- we found a somewhat unpeopled field between the festival stages and started opening up big, floaty throws to one another across dry and trampled grass. After awhile, others began to join us- there’s something about seeing a forehand huck in the midst of flower crown-wearing girls and sunburnt guys and knowing that you’ve found your people in a sea of strangers. We met players from other college ultimate teams and spent a glorious few hours throwing, catching, moving, and feeling completely free, if not somewhat dehydrated. 

I remember this afternoon with extreme clarity not because something tremendous happened, but because the moment filled me with such a sense of “this is how life should feel” that I’ll never again doubt the power that frisbee has to draw people together.

One of my goals this year was to play frisbee with my students, because DUH I knew they'd love it...who doesn't love tossing flat, circular plastic around on a hot spring day? Surprisingly, this was a really hard thing to make happen...maybe when I told them “it’s fun, guys!” they thought of the sort of “fun” I promise before beginning a mildly not boring class activity.

After a while, I dropped it. I stopped suggesting that students toss at a park with me, or that we try to organize a game together. I stuck my head down and got involved with other projects, focused on lesson planning. In my heart of hearts, though, I felt sadness. The knowledge that I was letting a really great bonding opportunity pass gnawed at me most of the year, but I just kept putting frisbee on the shelf (actually, on a tiny white hook in my entranceway, where it decorates my boring wall). 

Very recently, though, I decided give frisbee another chance. I figured the only way the young people would try frisbee would be to throw during our lunch break, even though my school's courtyard is a concrete lot and I knew that my disc was going to die a rocky, scratchy death.


It. was. FUN. In a way that English class will never be, in a way that cafe visits will never quite achieve, this short space of time was fun- the perfect way to gather with my students and share something I love with them. Because of frisbee, I've had real conversations with some of my younger students for the very first time, and because of frisbee, I feel like I can carry a guaranteed smile into school each day, provided I remember my disc.

Just last week, a small group and I headed to our nearby stadium and tried to play an actual ultimate game. Everyone played really well, but after awhile the organized event broke down into people tossing multiple discs, running for deep throws, break dancing in the grass, and just hanging out. I had such an incredible time, and I couldn’t help remembering that afternoon I spent at Bonnaroo with my best friends, connecting with random strangers and just living for the pure joy of living.

our stadium

(ain't it a great tree?)

There’s something about frisbee that brings people together. I don’t know if it’s the feeling you get when you release a smooth, long huck, or if it’s the fact that throwing allows you to connect with people wordlessly and from afar while simultaneously having time to reflect, to ponder on your own, in community yet in harmonious solitude. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned about myself this year is that I love community and I am really, really happy when I can help create connections within people groups. It's taken me a long while, but I finally feel like I've built community with my students and my school, and I know that this community will be the foundation for any great work that happens next school year. My little plastic circle helped cement together the communities I’ve been constructing all year.

If any future ETA's read this, please know that one of the best ways to impact your school is to share what you love with your community. When you are enjoying yourself, your passion will inspire others. Don’t be afraid to invite people to join things multiple times because we all need a little push every now and then. Be open, accept and give invitations, and you’ll have a really fulfilling year! Though this week is my last week teaching for the current term, I don’t really feel sad because I know that next year will bear more fruit and will be a continuation of all the goodness I’ve experienced thus far.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Letter to Nina Dobrev

Dear Nina Dobrev,

I wish you could step into my high school classroom in Bulgaria, just one time, when we're talking about heroes. When we're talking about role models. When we're talking about famous celebrities. When we're talking about celebrities we'd like to have lunch with. When we're talking about Bulgarians who inspire us.

I apologize, I have not introduced myself. I'm Sarah, an American and an English teaching assistant in Dimitrovgrad, Bulgaria. I don't know if you've been to Dimitrovgrad, but it's a really nice city- very green, peaceful, and family-centered. My school isn't huge...I know nearly every student and, I must say, I don't think there is one I teach who would have anything negative to say against you or your career.

It's so'd think after nearly a year in Bulgaria, I'd be blogging about Hristo Botev, Vasil Levsky, or Penyo Penev, traditional Bulgarian heroes. Instead, though, I'm blogging about you...a Hollywood celebrity, a modern-day hero to my young people.

Ms. Dobrev, I'm not sure if you understand how much your success and accomplishment has meant to my high school students and, probably, to Bulgaria. In case you're somehow unaware, I want to take this time to tell you a little bit about how I've come to know your name.

So first things first, I hate blood. Hate it. I hate thinking about it, talking about it, seeing it. Naturally, I tend to steer clear of vampire shows and have to skip over the gory parts in vampire novels (I'm not counting my high school Twilight was soft and I was deluded). So, in all likelihood, I would never have learned much about your career if not for Bulgaria.

When I first started teaching, one of the initial questions my students asked me was if I'd heard of Nina Dobrev. I told them I hadn't, and they were ANGRY. Frustrated! Nina is awesome, they told me, how had I not heard of her? My sincerest apologies, students and Nina!

Their fandom wasn't surprising to me...of course they were excited, a Bulgarian was in one of their favorite TV shows, occasionally speaking their language for all the world to hear! What was surprising, though, was the deep respect I'd soon learn that they hold for you.

Ms. Dobrev, you are more than just an actress to my students, you are a constant inspiration and perfect picture of what success means to many of my lady learners. You're sharing your culture in a small way to a worldwide audience, and you look classy as hell doing it. There are two things I've learned my students are passionate about: national pride and looking fabulous (for all their snapchats and selfies!). You tie both into one neat bundle for them with such grace.

Your show has even sparked one of my favorite outside-the-classroom discussions about vampire literature and the human fascination with monsters, giving me the chance to share Romantic literature with my students. Romanticism from The Vampire Diaries, who would have thought?!

In conclusion, I suppose I just wanted you to know how much pride you are bringing to your country by living your dream. You represent more to them than just a great Bulgarian success story, you stand for what hard work can accomplish. So, I ask just one thing of you: that you never forget that all of Bulgaria is watching and that you are on a pedestal for the youth of your home country, and for young women in general. As such, you have the great power to help shape how they view themselves and how they view what women are able to accomplish.

If you ever actually stumble across this letter by some crazy off-chance, please please please give a shout-out to Dimitrovgrad! My students would love you forever :)



****To my readers that are NOT Bulgarian and who, like me, have never seen The Vampire Diaries:

Nina Dobrev is one of the stars of the CW's The Vampire Diaries. She was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, and moved to Canada when she was very young. In the original book series, Nina's character is a vampire from Germany, I think. However, after directors overheard her speaking on the phone in Bulgarian, they rewrote the role to have Nina's character be a vampire from Bulgaria. In the show, flashbacks show really old Bulgarian life and often have her speaking the language. If you've never heard Bulgarian, check the show out and hear something truly awesome! She's bringing a little bit of this country to American viewers in a really unique, cool way. Yay Bulgaria in the limelight!