09 June, 2014

The Next Chapter

Hi everyone! I know. I know. It's been a while since I have written a new post on this page. I have had some of the busiest times of my life in the past few months! So let me now tell you just a little bit about what has been going on.

In January, I started my final semester as a college student (remember, to Americans, college and university are used interchangeably. We don't have to say "university student"  we can just say college student even if you go to a university). The semester was packed with a lot of interesting things. Not only did I have 4 classes totaling 13 hours of credit but I also was working part time for my brother Adam, building a new website and creating online English classes for people in Thailand.

So let me tell you about my four classes. Two of my classes were engineering classes and the other two were English classes. One of the engineering classes was maybe the most boring class I have ever taken. It is called "Industrial Safety and Engineering." Wow that was a doozy! It was once a week for 3 hours. I know safety in an industrial setting is important but it was just so boring. And plus, the professor has been using the same material for the last 20 years or something. He was still using his same slides from an old school projector and hasn't adapted fully to powerpoint. Here is a picture of in class to give you an idea of how boring and terrible it really was.

My other engineering class was really fun. It was a class where we worked on teams to make a final project. One team did things like research on how to help treat cancer using ultrasound and another team made a glove that would help teach people sign language. My team did something really different, however. We built what we called a "snowsports winch". It is similar to something we call a "rope tow" but it's actually different because the "snowsports winch" was built for speed not for transportation. It took our team about one full year to go from a basic concept to a fully working prototype. I could try to explain more to you but let me just let you watch the video first.

So skiers or snowboarders are pulled by this rope. It is usually used so that people can do spins and flips and tricks off of jumps. We ended up winning best of show that was awarded by Boeing. We were hoping for some money but they ended up giving us some backpacks. Good enough! But what do you think? That's a pretty cool project right? There are a whole bunch more details I could tell you but let's just leave it at that for now.

Ok, so my other two classes were English classes. The first was a class called "World Englishes." It was really very interesting. We would discuss different regions of the world and their history related to English in the past few hundred years. I was introduced to an interesting concept that was proposed by a scholar named Kachru where he splits the English speaking countries of the world into three categories. 1. Inner circle. 2. Outer Circle. 3. Expanding circle.

The inner circle is native English speaking countries like the U.S., Great Britain, South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These countries all have their native languages as English. Some like South Africa speak English natively but often times speak Afrikaans as well.

The outer circle countries are countries like Malaysia, India, Singapore, Nigeria, and The Philippines. Most of these countries are former British colonies. These countries have large amounts of people that speak English as their first language but do not necessarily speak the same English as the inner circle countries. Countries like Malaysia, for example, have developed their own way of speaking English which is usually referred to as a variety. So, Malaysia has a large amount of native speakers of the Malaysian variety of English, not the same English as the inner circle countries, but the Malaysian version that has developed over the past 50+ years of exposure to the English language.

The expanding countries are countries like Indonesia, where English use is growing and where they are still getting exposure to English education and are also struggling with the decision of whether to increase or decrease English education. There is also debate as to whether increased English education will begin to affect the local cultures and languages. Many Indonesians are becoming less and less fluent in their local dialect and are beginning to be bilingual with only Bahasa Indonesia and English. The local dialects are at risk. And as they say, "hilang bahasa lenyap bangsa." It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with the countries that fall within this broad categorization of the expanding circle. Click here to read more about Kachru on wikipedia.

So my other English class was a practicum class where I was required to pretty much be a student teacher with another English teacher. I was able to teach the class along with the teacher for roughly 20 days through the semester. The teacher was super knowledgeable and very experienced. She helped me to understand some of the behind-the-scenes things that are required as an English teacher. I learned a lot of helpful things from this class and I feel that it will really help me as I begin to be an English teacher on my own.

May 2nd arrived much sooner than I expected and it was time for graduation!
Here I am (middle) with my friend Parker (left) and Joey (right) 

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) from the University of Utah. The TESOL certificate was done through the Linguistics department at the the U of U (as we call it) so it is more advanced than an online certification. It added an extra year to my degree so I ended up being a graduate after a total of 5 years! It's difficult to summarize my entire college experience into one word without being too cliche but if I did, I would say that it was EPIC!

So I graduated! I finished college. No more school. No more classes. No more homework. No more walking from my car to class. No more waiting for the bus to get to campus. No more college experiences for me. Am I sad? Uh, not really. Am I sad that I am already done with a very monumental piece of my life? Yes. But I am ready for the next stage, chapter, period in my life. As many of you know, my mind is always in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Thailand, travelling, and more. I have wanted to go there for my entire college career but my classes and my education needed to be finished and completed before I was able to make any big changes to my life.

So now... YES! I am done! I'm here! I'm currently in Bangkok working part time as an English teacher at Hollywood Learning Center and I'm also enrolled in a Thai language class. I love learning new languages. I loved learning Bahasa Malaysia and still continue to learn Bahasa Malaysia when I can. I have been working on my Mandarin skills as well. I can speak a fair amount and I have finally learned how to read and write some characters! Thai, however, is a whole new monster. The tones are more difficult than the tones in Mandarin. Thai also has some short and long vowel sounds that are not too easy. The script isn't easy. Plus, there are plenty of vowel sounds that are not in any of the languages I know. A lot of English vowels are similar to Thai sounds except that you can't do a dipthong with the vowel. For example, when I say the letter "o" in English, my lips naturally contract and my tongue moves forward slightly during the pronunciation whereas in Thai you can't move your lips or your tongue during the vowel sound. They're just straight up.  So it will take some time to really be a fluent Thai speaker I'm sure but at least I've already started the journey!

Me with some students in Bangkok

I've had a lot of people ask me, "why engineering if you are going to be an English teacher?" I'll give you the long answer. I really like mechanical things. When I was young, I was always building things, playing with legos, playing with blocks and making cool things. When I got older, I was into building models and building RC trucks. When I got older, I got really into electronics and new technology. Mechanical engineering seemed to be the right fit for what I liked to do and possibly what I wanted to do in the future. When I was entering college I had to make the decision of what major to enter and I decided that although I might not want to be an engineer, I knew that an engineering degree would help me in my life no matter what I decided to do with it. I've always liked being a teacher. I enjoy interacting with students and sharing my knowledge with others and helping them understand. So when I started getting some attention online from Malaysians that were also interested in languages, I decided that it might be beneficial to also do the TESOL certificate so that I can have a better grasp on at least my native language and then learn other languages from other people.

And now, I am here in Bangkok, scheming (planning cool things) with my brother Adam. We have some amazing things planned, actually not just planned, things that we are actively working on right now! I have some new things that will be announced and launched this year. I have been rather quiet online for the past few years but get ready for an explosion of activity from me online!

Thanks to all of you that are reading this. You all are some of the nicest people and I hope that we can meet one day in the future.

That's it for now. Keep it real!!!

-Cikgu Ben