where the writers are
Tales from the Writing Center

One of the best parts of my job as a college English professor is working in the Writing Center.  Students from all areas of the campus come for help.  It's like working in the United Nations.  Last week I had the privilege to work with a young man from Iran  who was working on his Personal Statement needed to apply to the University of California.  He came to this country five years ago speaking no English.  He started in the English as a Second Language sequence of classes and got a job to support himself and his mother.  He secured leadership positions in student government and  the Chemistry Club and tutors other students in math and chemistry.   He went on to obtain  several scholarships, due to his high grades and impressive leadership abilities.  He plans to become a neurosurgeon.  I have no doubt that he will succeed.  His story is a testament to the power of motivation and perseverance, as well as living proof of what can be accomplished in the United States of America.  I would like to have him come and talk to my classes about his achievements.  Maybe he could reach them in a way I cannot, to explain that you can obtain any goal you have if you are willing to work for it. 

Next I worked with a young man from South Korea on a paper about the similarities and differences between eating habits in South Korea and the United States.  He is in a lower level ESL class and is struggling with English.  I pointed out verb errors and after I explained the meaning of some of his sentences, we chuckled about some of his word choices.  His observations about the cultural eating habits of Americans were edifying.  "Americans talk all the time when they are eating.  They talk too much.  In South Korea, we are mostly quiet.  I think that is a sign of our advanced culture.  We don't need to speak all the time.  We just focus on the pleasure of eating."  I had to think about that statement.  We ended our conversation with him recommending sushi restaurants to me--a bonus.

Next in the queue was  a young man from Peru, who was writing a paper on raising the drinking age in the U.S. from 21 to 25.  He thinks the young people here are too immature to to drink at 21!  "Many young people here are immature and careless. They drink and drive and get into car accidents and kill people."  I read lots of papers on lowering the drinking age to 18, so this was a switch for me.  Maybe he's right.  His points were clear and he made a good case for his claim.

My last appointment was with a young American man writing a paper about family dysfunction seen in Death of a Salesman, Oedipus, and The Glass Menagerie.  He was sharp, attentive, and skillfully analyzed each work of literature in detail.  His insights got to the heart of each work.  I was reminded that family dysfunction, a term we hear often these days, has always been part of society.  Willy Loman needed therapy, as did Oedipus, and Laura.  The list goes on.

These sessions all happened in one morning from 9-11.  A very good use of my time.  I left the Writing Center  that day feeling humbled, proud, and enlightened.  I'm not sure who learned more, me or them.  And that really is the best when you're a teacher.