Thursday, April 16, 2009

World's Best Writing Lessons

Essay I wrote for a scholarship application...

The best preparation for my career as a writer has come from encounters with people who barely know the English language. Tutoring Korean graduate students has taught me that writing is about more than creating grammatically correct sentences neatly formatted on a page—it’s about taking a unique snapshot into an unexplored corner of life and waking people up with words. As I prepare to fulfill my goal as magazine writer, I have found that the best training has not taken place in my writing classes, but in a small cubical discovering the stories that communicate life.
As an undergraduate consultant at Biola’s Writing Center, my job is usually pretty straightforward. I help my peers organize and improve their papers and tutor them regarding basic writing skills. However, when the graduate consultants get overbooked, it is my job to help the English Second Language graduate students who come in. I began my first appointment with a Korean ESL student, Sun Hi, begrudgingly as I realized I would lose some of my normal on-the-job homework time. When I noticed that my student was as old as most of my professors, I became uneasy about being in a position of authority. However, as I glanced down at the page of broken sentences she laid before me, I realized that I had a lot to teach her and I presumptuously regained my confidence. I read the paper out loud to her, stopping after each sentence to ask her to explain what she was trying to say. After several minutes of mentally sifting through her scattered explanation, I painfully tried to reconstruct something coherent. As much as I shudder to admit it now, I started to believe that this woman was truly unintelligent because she could not put together a single clear English sentence. As we progressed into the body of the essay, I realized I needed to figure out the main message she was trying to get across so we could work on organization. I started to pay closer attention. After reading two sentences with my grammar-cop mentality put to the side, my heart broke. Sun Hi’s essay explained her painful education experience growing up in Korea and her appreciation for America’s school system. Although masked by the lack of articles and jumbled nouns and adjectives, each sentence was vibrant with life. Her message was not only relevant to her teaching course, but it made any careful reader thankful for the freedom to learn. My attitude shifted instantly when I realized that I needed to learn from her. Sun Hi may have needed a little bit of help communicating in the English language, but I needed to learn how to communicate life.
With this new mindset, I became eager to make her message shine more clearly through her writing. We worked together to clarify the thoughts and emotions behind each phrase so that her life-changing message could be understood and cherished as it deserved. Now, each time I have the privilege to work with an ESL graduate student, I look forward to discovering their life and their culture and helping them find words to share their perspective with the English speaking world. For these students, writing is so much more than putting pretty sounding words on a page. They have a story to tell and a life to share and they are desperately seeking the tools that will allow them this privilege.
Even though I haven’t seen her since that first appointment, Sun Hi has become a hero and role model to me as I pursue my writing career. I want to communicate life and challenge readers in the same way she does. I no longer go to my writing classes to become writer, I go to gain the tools I need to write the stories that life puts in front of me.


Beauty in a Barn and a Blanket of Snow

Beauty in a Barn and a Blanket of Snow