About Raven Tukes

Hello! My name is Raven Tukes and I am currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Kinmen, Taiwan. Starting Fall 2016, I will be a graduate student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education pursuing my Masters in International Education Policy.

 

During the writing workshop that I facilitated last Friday, a participant shared with me that she’d almost committed suicide, but that one of her best friends had helped her out of depression to find happiness. To this day, Macy (name given to protect her identity) is determined to become a social worker, so that teens who are struggling with mental health issues as she once did, will have the resources and support needed to lead a healthy life. While the majority of America was up unwrapping gifts and enjoying family on Christmas day, I was leading a workshop on personal statement writing at Kinmen University. Writing a personal statement is extremely hard—the prompts often times force one to reflect on personal challenges, triumphs and important life lessons.  Articulating those things is another challenge and even more so for students whose first language is not English.

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From a cultural standpoint, I’ve also begun to realize that the idea of a personal statement is very “American”. For Taiwanese students, your “personal statement” is a resume’ and one should only discuss his or her accomplishments, professional experience, certifications, etc. However, there I stood from 6:30-8:30 p.m. alongside another facilitator urging students to find their stories, their passions and ultimately their life’s purpose. But, how do you teach that in 2 hours to students who have never been exposed to such a concept? Well, you talk with them, like one would on a coffee date with a long-time friend.

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Talking with the student-participants about their individual stories, goals and passions reminded me of the humanity that we all share. Many of the participants reminded me of some of my closest friends back home as they told me childhood stories and shared that they wanted to become famous comic book authors, actresses, bookstore owners, or like Macy, just someone one striving to make a difference in the lives of others. Some even felt pressured by parents and other family members to find high-paying careers or receive perfect grades but for most, I think they realized that none of that really mattered.

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Across this world, fear of those who are different from us is steadily rising and is chipping away at our collective humanity. On Christmas day at the writing workshop, I was reminded that borders, distance, nationality, race and identity are all superficial because in essence we are all more alike than different. We should take time to listen to one another’s stories—we all want the same things—to be happy, to do what we love, to feel fully human, and to not be a disappointment to those around us. In that moment I was thankful to have been reminded of this, especially so far away from home when homesickness could have gotten the best of me. It was truly a joy and a moment that I will never forget.

It was an unconventional Christmas, but probably one of the best so far. Shortly after the workshop, we ran across the street to see two Fulbright ETAs(English Teaching Assistants) perform a song at the college’s holiday concert. There was a beautifully lit tree and many students, families and close friends gathered to sing both English and Taiwanese songs of joy and happiness. We smiled, we laughed, and we sang.

Whether or not we personally celebrate Christmas or any other American holiday, ETAs are generally expected to teach our students about them. The week prior to Christmas, my students and I made an adorable Christmas video to send to Wynbrooke Elementary, an elementary school in Dekalb County, and we also mailed them post cards and handmade Christmas cards. This was a super fun activity, though most of my students were worried about their handwriting and what to say to kids they’ve never met before. Nevertheless, they were still super excited and we can’t wait to receive our cards from America!

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The actual week of Christmas was really relaxed and many of the students had already attended Christmas activities put on by the local college. So, so as to not bog my students down with over-the-top Christmas-themed classes, I thought buying hot chocolate and watching Charlie Brown Christmas episodes on YouTube would be more fitting—so that’s what we did. I went to the store and bought Ovaltine (which is actually Chocolate milk; imported hot chocolate is too expensive!) and shared it with my students. For two straight hours my second graders were on their best behavior (which sometimes is unusual) and I’m figuring that it was because they were so excited to drink ‘hot cocoa’ and watch movies.

Raven5Of course though, the day would not be complete without some type of criticism from my students.  In the middle of watching Charlie Brown, one of my students exclaimed, “Teacher, this hot cocoa doesn’t have any flavor!” And, with a little smirk, I was tickled on the inside that I almost got away with tricking my students to believe that the milk was actual hot chocolate. Soon after, all of my students were complaining about my flavorless “hot cocoa” (while still continuing to drink it) and yet, all I could do was sit and smile. I was still thankful for their complaining, to be in that space as their teacher and friend and realize how lucky I was to be with family so far away from home.

 

 

 

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