We, the members of the TESOL community, have a story to tell. And when it's time to tell our story, and one day we will, when it's time to put our story into words and tell the world, our story won't be about exotic travel destinations. It won't be about tropical Island paradises. It won't be about greedy language school directors dreaming of huge bank accounts. It won't be about pompous deputy language school directors and managers attending self-aggrandizing TESOL conferences in their clumsy attempts to turn language learning into an awkward science. It won't even be about the games we played or the songs we sang with little children in faraway places. Although this is a part of our story, and we will remember some of these things fondly.
No. Our story is far more complicated than that. Far less mundane. Far more philosophical. Far more important. And far more human. Our story comes not from the mind, but from the heart. Our story comes not from the brain, but from the soul. Our story will not ask, How can we make teaching as a Foreign Language better? Our story will ask, How can we make ourselves better while teaching English as a Foreign Language? Our story will not ask, How can we make learning English better? Our story will ask, How can we make the lives of others better while they're learning English? Our story will not be about the experiments and theories of the day. Our story will be about the day to day lives and experiences of everyday people. Our story will not be about our attempts to escape the outside world by living in the comfort of our home or office. Our story as individuals in the TESOL community will be about our attempt to make of the outside world a home. Our home. Today we are living our story. A story that has yet to be told.
Our story is the continuation of our ancestor's journey. My ancestors came from what is now Romania, the Ukraine, and Poland. They were Eastern European Jews, who forged for themselves a new life in a new country for them called Canada. I work with other teachers whose ancestors came from all across Europe, other parts of Asia, and Africa. They have moved and settled in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. Their children and grandchildren, in turn, are now living and teaching in faraway places. Globalization has never looked so good!
But the history is emigration is the history of alienation. Just as our ancestors were torn apart from their villages and hamlets, separated by war, famine, disease, poverty, racism, anti-semitism, and political oppression, we, the members of the TESOL community, are also separated from our families. We are also witness to dire poverty, disease, and racism wherever we go. Although we have left our homelands of our own volition, and for many different reasons, we continue to face the economic reality that life back home just 'aint what it used to be. For a lot of us, it's either teach English in Asia, or flip burgers.
The great American playwright Arthur Miller once wrote that all serious plays address a single question: "How can a man make of the outside world a home?" This question is the crux of our story that has yet to be told.
"Confronted with world or social relations apart from the family, the problem becomes", Miller writes, "How may a man make of the outside world a home? How and in what ways must he struggle, what must he strive to change and overcome within himself and outside himself if he is to find the safety, the surroundings of love, the ease of soul, the sense of identity and honor which all men have connected in their memories with the idea of family?"
I feel that the TESOL community, (if indeed there is such a thing as a TESOL community), is at a crossroads. Since so few of us have ever felt really comfortable living in another man's land, our story is not only one of alienation. It is also one of fragmentation, disillusion, and dissimulation. It is one with little sense of security and almost no sense of wholeness, especially spiritual wholeness. Many of us are like lost lambs, estranged from the hearts of others, and separated from our own hearts and souls as well.
I'll never forget some of the people I've met over the years. People like Shannon and her 10 year old son, trying desperately to fit into the life of rural China in the year 2000. "I'm not just looking for a job", she told the school director during a difficult time. "I'm looking for a place to call home." Unfortunately, I'm not sure if she ever made the outside world a home. And a former Montrealer I met in Korea in the Spring of 1997. We were both newbies at the time. He confided to us one evening that he spent the first three months crying himself to sleep because "I just can't get used to this place." With time, patience, and the support of good friends, he eventually did make of the outside world a home--- if only temporarily.
Even Bangkok, with its infamous nightlife, can be a difficult place for a foreigner to call home. Try taking a middle-class young westerner, uprooting him from familiar surroundings, and planting him in Korea, China, Japan, India, Vietnam or Thailand. Even under the best of circumstances, it is, at times, extremely difficult to feel at home in any of these places.
So, how can we EFL teachers make of the outside world a home? How can we answer Arthur Miller's great question, so that we can begin to tell and write our story? A story that deserves and needs to be told. We can make of the outside world a home simply be supporting, mentoring, and nurturing one another. A home is more than bricks, cement, wood, ceramic tiles, and formica counter tops. A home is a place to kick off your shoes. A home is a place to learn, to live, to grow, and to find the freedom to be ourselves.
A home is where we support one another. Yes, there are and will continue to be conflicts. A home would not be a home without some conflict. But in our home we will not allow any conflict to keep us apart. Instead, we will use our conflict, our occasional disputes and disagreements, to learn from each other and bring us closer together. We must give each other the support we need or we will not succeed in anything! It's that simple.
In his poem "September 1, 1939", W.H. Auden declares, "We must love one another or die." Only in this case, I would change "love" to "support." As EFL teachers in the TESOL community, we must support one another or die.
So this is our story. Confronted with a hostile outside world, we must support one another or die. We must support one another, or we all fail. No one succeeds alone.
The outside world can never replace the warmth, love, and spirit of our families and homeland. That would be impossible. It was never meant to. But by working together, by supporting one another, by nurturing and mentoring and learning from one another, we all grow together. And by growing together we help to create and perpetuate an environment where we all succeed. By doing this, the outside world, where we learn, live, grow, and teach English, becomes a lot more hospitable. It almost becomes a place to call home.