I called Rich from class on Tuesday night and asked what his workload looked like for Thursday. He listed a few things and asked why. I explained what I wanted to do and said, "Can you help me?" (which really meant, "Will you prepare a fabulous meal for all of us on short notice?") Ever supportive and gracious, he said, "Of course" and by that night, he was coming up with a variety of menu ideas. (I can always count on him! What a guy!)
Everyone came, some kindly bearing additional food and flowers. We had a great time eating, visiting, laughing and taking photos, but what struck me the most was the cohesion of the group and the genuine friendships that have been made. It made me wonder why there is so much hate in the world when it's obvious that we can all have meaningful relationships if we take the time to get to know each other a little. At the beginning of each class, I always say "Hello, friends" instead of "students" and when we work on conversations, we always introduce one another as friends. I don't know if that expectation has made a difference or if they would have all been kind and accepting to one another anyway, but I like the idea of it, regardless. And now, instead of always sitting with individuals from their own country, I see a woman from Japan and a woman from Mexico conversing in English about their day, a man from Ethiopia and a man from Vietnam trading stories, a woman from Thailand and a man from Guinea talking about their cultures.
Spontaneously, someone asked "How do you say 'The food was delicious' in your country?" and everyone went around the circle and taught each other a new phrase in many languages. Then we tried "I am really full!" and "Thank you for coming!" and "I love you." We were cracking up trying to repeat these short sentences in Vietnamese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, two different Ethiopian dialects and a tribal language from Guinea. So much fun and so heartwarming.
Victor and Mai Lan
My friends come from countries that can be very dissimilar, that have different religious traditions and cultural mores; they speak different languages and find it difficult to communicate at times; they are all thrown into a totally new country and language in America, and yet they are open and accepting of each other, helpful to one another, supportive and encouraging rather than critical when someone makes a mistake. They joke around and draw out the quieter students who might get lost or ignored in a different setting. They praise each other and applaud when a new person breaks out of his or her shell for the first time. It's kinda like "Norm" on "Cheers" as people enter the room each class period--the rest of the class shouts out the name of everyone coming through the door. Tuesday and Thursday nights I know they are tired and have many other things they could be doing, but they are in class with a smile and a happy attitude. I feel so fortunate to know each and every one of them.