How Are You?

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The phrase “How are you?” in America is often used when people say hello.   A typical greeting is “Hello, how are you?”

When greeted in this manner, the most expected response is “Fine, thank you, and how are you?”  To which, you will receive the response “Fine, thanks.”

It is actually a very odd conversation, because neither the first person nor the second person really is expecting an answer to the “How are you?” portion of the statement.  In fact, if someone actually responded truthfully, and said “I’m feeling a little ill today.”, or something of that sort, it would likely make for an awkward start to the conversation.

The addition of “How are you?” to the greeting is simply an attempt at being polite, and not meant for a fully truthful answer.   Following the obligatory “Fine, thanks.” portion of the greeting, the conversation can truly begin.

As with most everything in America, there are exceptions.   If the person you are talking with is a friend, and you have had recent conversations about some aspect of your life that was going well or poorly, that person may expect a truthful answer to “How are you?”  If this is the case, the word “are” may be emphasized a bit.  “How ARE you?”  This would show genuine interest in your well being.  The person asking would not mind hearing that you are enjoying your new job, or that your back pain is getting better.

Americans are generally friendly people, and most like to be polite.   If you are unsure of the intent of their “How are you?” simply respond with a “Fine, thank you.”   If the person persists with asking further about your well being, then you can be comfortable that they are sincere about the question and can elaborate if you wish.

Present Perfect That Made My Present Perfect

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It’s amazing how many times in the recent years my memory turned to a teacher that had been gone for decades. Her name was Eugene. She was the most respected and feared English language teacher in all of the school. I was “lucky” enough to be assigned to her class at the formative age of 8. She was an older Jewish lady with a personality of a true Soviet Union survivor and the lingering smell of cheap papirosas on her clothes. Take no hostages!

Yet the most feared part of her class was the long wooden pointer stick, that seemed to reach the desks even in the far back of the classroom. The sure way to get Eugene outraged was to mess up on Present Perfect tense… I could close my eyes right now and see her pounding the wooden stick on the wall poster outlining the rules of Present Perfect when someone screwed up. “Present Perfect!!!” (Wham! Wham!) “Prrrrrrezzzent Perrrrfect!!!!” (Wham!!!) You knew then that what you did was sacrilegious and there was no forgiveness.

The stick never touched a human, but there was fear! Fear got us to study. Study got us to learn. Learn got me to go through life with a very decent command of English. I couldn’t imagine adapting to my new life here without at least the language as my ally. The very basics at first, but then more and more in depth, discovering local expressions, un adapted books, humor and now, speaking the language to my family. Learning the new language was the key to everything I am calling “my life” today.

Eugene, your “Prrrrrrezzzent Perrrrfect!!!!” did make my present perfect! Thank you! (but I am still afraid of that wooden stick!)

Please visit our language learning resources pages for tips and helpful links.

From Yu-Ping to Alice: the Story of my Name

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My Chinese name is Yu-Ping, translated to English it means jade apple. Yu (jade) is our ancestral name, all the girls in my generation share this common middle name. Ping (apple) is uniquely mine.

In elementary school, my teachers suggested giving me an English name would help me fit in and make more friends. My family, not too fluent in English or American culture, decided to call me Apple Chen to match my Chinese name. Luckily my teacher somehow managed to convey to my family the importance of names and how it identifies the individual’s personality and role in life. My teacher wanted a name to help me in life and a fruity name like Apple just doesn’t convey a person of substance. Back then, the English dictionary was used for everything to figure out how to deal with Americans, in this case we turned to the wise book to pick out a name. I recall my parents, determined to keep the connection to our ancestral name, ‘A’ for Apple to them ‘A’ for Alice was a good fit.

I didn’t have to keep this name, but a name stays with you and after college I found it useful using Alice Chen to find a good job. Logistically jade apple to Alice doesn’t make sense but this is the story how I came about my name.

Where Is Home for a Third-Culture Kid?

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Ironically, I read this article by Doreen Carvajal  this morning, after having a long talk with my family yesterday about Third Culture Kids. Specifically, about my nephew’s longtime insistance that he is a Third Culture kid. His father is a Swedish-American born in Alabama and raised in Southern California. His mother was born in Tokyo, attended university in Los Angeles. They married, moved to Northern California and started a family.

The filmmaker Aga Alegria, A third-culture kid herself, she started her project with an eight minute film, “Les Passagers: A TCK Story,” that explored her own nomadic life roaming from Poland, to Germany, to Canada and her yearning to belong somewhere.

He and his sisters grew up speaking both Japanese and English—Japanese with their mother and English with their father—and spent every Saturday during the school year at Japanese School to keep their skills sharp. When they were growing up, I learned to speak to them in their mother’s tongue, mostly because they snapped to attention when they heard it. I’m now able to talk to children about mealtimes, potty training, and discipline, but I think I’d insult any adult I tried to communicate with because I never learned the formal adress and tenses of Japanese. For 25 years I’ve watched these beautiful, mixed-heritage children with curly and dark and light and straight hair and whiter or browner faces grow to their Swedish father’s height, towering over their petite mother. They are truly Third Culture Kids.

Listening to the family discussion, I could not decide whether they felt “Third Culture” because they belonged to three cultures or because they didn’t feel quite at home in any one of them. My nephew claimed he was not Japanese, and not American. He was something else.

Today, he is living in Mongolia as part of his tour with the Peace Corps. As a part of his ritual acceptance into his village, he slaughtered a goat and reached into its body and freed its heart while the elders help the goat aloft for him. There is one more culture for him to tuck under his belt.

The concept of a Third Culture Child is growing and spreading, as in NewYork Times’ blogger Doreen Carvajal’s May 28 post. She takes solace in reading about grownup third-culture kids:

The filmmaker Aga Alegria, who now lives in Ibiza, Spain, is finishing a full-length documentary about global children, conducting interviews in Germany, Spain, Trinidad and Canada. A third-culture kid herself, she started her project with an eight minute film, “Les Passagers: A TCK Story,” that explored her own nomadic life roaming from Poland, to Germany, to Canada and her yearning to belong somewhere. Ms. Alegria raised part of the money to fund her project through crowd-sourcing and plans to finish the movie this year.

She has found that by the time they are grown up, some of these TCKs are unmoored and restless, associating airports, movement and a suitcase with home. Others complain about moments of feeling lost and friendless, baffled by the quest to belong. I take comfort from a line in her short movie: “I come from here. I come from there. In truth I come from everywhere.”

“Coming from everywhere” is certainly a theme running through my far-flung, wildly diverse, extended family. When we gather, we come from Sacramento, Long Beach, Tokyo, Chicago, Los Gatos, Scotts Valley, Hayward, and now, Mongolia.

My Extended, far-flung family

That doesn’t include my father’s side of the family, who have hailed from New York, Atlanta, Dayton, Connecticut, and one generation earlier, Ireland and Scotland. I definitely feel affinity with those who come from everywhere and nowhere; I have one brother, three half-brothers, two stepbrothers, a stepsister—plus all their spouses and children,—a stepmother, and a stepfather. I also have three children, an ex-husband, parents-in-law, three stepsons, and their mother, all of whom are woven into each other lives. It’s not easy to be in the same place and almost never at the same time, but we do make a rich, colorful, and absolutely fascinating basket of cultures.

Are You a Little League Parent Now?

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Baseball is one of the traditional American sports, and Little League is where many children learn to play. The game is a relatively slow paced game, so learning the basics of it should not be too difficult. The game is played with two teams.

Game Format

There are nine players on each team, and the game is split into nine segments, called innings.

Each inning consists of two halves, one half “the top” is when Team 1 is in the field and Team 2 is batting. The second half “the bottom” is when Team 2 is in the field and Team 1 is batting. When a team is batting, they are the offensive players, attempting to score. When a team is in the field, they are defensive players, trying to stop any scoring. If the game is in the first half of the fifth inning, the terminology for saying what part of the game is currently going on is “the top of the fifth”.

The Field and Defensive Players

Outfield – The field has a grassy area called the outfield. Three players are positioned in the outfield, one each in right field, center field and left field. These players are collectively called the outfielders, and individually are called the Right-fielder, Center-fielder and Left-fielder.

Infield – The infield has the diamond, and everything inside the diamond. The diamond itself is the four corners and the links between the four corners. Each corner has a base. Home base is where the batter hits from. First base is to his right, second base is towards the center field, and third base is to the left of home. Each base has a player guarding it. First, second and third base are covered by the First-baseman, Second-baseman and Third-baseman. Home base is covered by the Catcher. An additional player is positioned between second and third bases, since many hits go in this direction. This player is called the Shortstop.

Pitcher’s Mound – The pitcher’s mound is located in the center of the diamond, and is slightly raised from the rest of the field. This is where the Pitcher stands to throw the ball.

Foul Territory – The line connecting home plate to first base is called the first base line. Similarly, the line between home plate and third base is the third base line. Anything inside those two lines, extending beyond the back wall, is considered in bounds, and anything outside that is considered foul territory.

Offensive Players

Hitter – The hitter is the player that is currently attempting to bat the ball. There is only one hitter at a time.

Runner – A runner is a player that has already hit the ball, and has reached one of the bases safely.

Game Play and Scoring

The team that is batting has one person at a time attempting to hit the ball. Once the ball is hit, the batter runs to a base, trying to get there before the other team retrieves the ball and touches the base. If the batter gets to the base before the ball, then he is “safe”. If the opposing team gets the ball to the base first, then the batter is “out”.

If a batter gets to a base safely, he can either stay there, or try to get to the next base. When he cannot safely proceed, he stops and that “play” is over. The first batter is now considered a “runner”. The next batter then goes to home plate to hit. When this batter hits the ball, the batter and the runner both attempt to get to the next base safely. Either player can be called out if the ball gets to the base before them.

If a batter touches all four bases, returning to home, he scores one point. It is called a run if he gets there when a different batter hits. It is called a home run if he touches all four bases after hitting the ball himself.

A batter has several attempts at hitting the ball. Each time the pitcher throws, there are four possible outcomes:

  • Hit – the batter hits the ball, and it lands or is caught inside the extended lines between the first base line and third base line.
  • Strike – the batter swings at the ball and misses, or the batter does not swing at the ball when it was a perfectly good pitch.
  • Ball – the batter does not swing at the ball, because the ball was not pitched well. There is a specific zone that the ball needs to be pitched into, and the umpire decides if it was pitched in that zone or not.
  • Foul – the batter hits the ball, but it goes outside of the field of play.

Each team is allowed three “outs” before their turn “at bat” is over. At the end of nine innings, the team with the most points wins.

If this is confusing, just give it some time, sit back, relax and enjoy watching the game.

How Does American Football Work?

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American football may seem as complicated as solving a Rubik’s Cube, but once you have a general understanding for the game, it really is rather simple.

The sport is generally played at four different levels: Pop Warner (children aging from 6-14), high school, college, and professional (National Football League or NFL is the most common professional football group).

The football field has a very simple lay out: it is 120 yards long with each end of the field containing a 10 yard end zone. Behind each end zone is a free standing “upright”.  The objective of the game is to progress the ball down the field into one of the end zones thus scoring a “touchdown”. The team that scores the most points by the end of the playing period wins.

The game starts with one team being assigned the ball via a coin toss. Once it has been decided who will be “receiving the kick”, the kicking team will kick the ball to the receiving team and the receiving team will attempt to move the ball towards the far end zone. After this initial “kickoff”, the regular plays of the game will start. The team that starts the play with the ball is on “offense” while the team attempting to stop the offense from scoring a touchdown is on “defense”.

The offense has four tries (called “downs”) to progress the football 10 yards.The 10 needed yards are displayed by a marker, generally shown on the side of the field by two orange signs standing about six feet tall and connected by a thin chain (these markers are referred to as the chains). A third orange marker with a number displayed at the top shows which down it is and where the ball was placed at the beginning of each play.  Each time this ten yard marker is reached, the number of tries the offense gets to reach the next 10 yard marker resets.

If the offense is unable to progress the ball the 10 needed yards, they will generally use their last down to kick the ball as far as possible (called a “punt”). The team that punted the ball now switches to defense while the team that was punted to is now on offense.

In the event that a team is within a reasonable distance to one of the end zones, they may elect to attempt to kick the ball through the uprights (called a “field goal”) for three points instead of the six awarded for a touchdown. One different version of the field goal (called an extra point) is generally exhibited after a touch down. In the case of an extra point, after one team has scored, the ball is kicked from 10 yards away from the end zone and is worth a single point.

In regards to fouls, every time a player breaks one of the many rules of the game a referee will throw a yellow flag in the air. Minor fowls lead to a change in the placement of the ball in comparison to the chains, making it either easier or harder for a team to gain the needed ten yards depending if the foul was on the offense or defense.

By far the most important aspect of American football is how loud fans are in the stands. Be sure to support your team with as much cheering as possible and you will be sure to enjoy with great American pass-time!

What is “Going Green?”

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The color green is associated with the colors of the natural environment, therefore “going green” is the movement of being as environmentally friendly as possible.

At this point in time, the planet is experiencing a climate change as a direct result of human activities. This is referred to as global warming. When we burn coal and oil to create energy in electricity plants, drive our car to work, or even burn natural gas to heat our homes, we release toxic gases into the atmosphere. These gases go through a process commonly referred to as “the greenhouse affect” where heat from the sun is trapped between the earth’s surface and these gases. With the immense quantity of gases being released, this process is expedited and thus the earth is heated more quickly than is naturally intended, leading to problems like flooding and drought. Other issues facing our planet involve pollution of clean water sources, excess waste in landfills, air pollution, etc.

The idea behind this movement of “going green” is to minimize the impact you have on the environment. A lot of these changes are occurring because of things the common individual cannot control, however, every person working to decrease their impact on the environment makes a difference.

One of the most widely practiced forms of “going green” is recycling. Nearly every plastic container can be recycled, as well as aluminum cans, cardboard, and glass bottles. In regards to using less energy, many people have purchased CFL’s (compact fluorescent light bulbs) which can use up to 90% less electricity than a standard lightbulb, installed energy star appliances (use substantially less energy), and refrain from using electricity at unneeded times. Water pollution and overuse are also very pertinent issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests showers should take no longer than five minutes, lawns should be watered in the morning or at night (to reduce the amount of water lost to evaporation), and sinks should be turned off while brushing one’s teeth.

These are just a few examples of things that can be done to help the environment. Other ideas of how to become more environmentally friendly and “live a greener life” can be found online at: http://simplemom.net/tips-to-go-green-at-home/

I was asked to join a Home and School Club. What are they about?

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Your child’s Home and School club may be your best source of information about school events, activities, programs, goals, budgets and more. It is an opportunity for parents to become actively involved with the way the school is run, how funds are raised, and what activities are planned for the children.

Home and School Club provides an excellent avenue for parents to be involved in their student’s education. The more you stay in touch, the more your student stays in touch. They organize events, help out on testing days, and bake cookies and treats for special school events. Most importantly they raise money for teachers to purchase essential items for their classrooms, they would otherwise not have. Being a Home and School Club member gives you a voice, and a vote on important decisions affecting your child’s school environment.

There are usually once a month meetings to handle general Home and School Club business agenda items. There are also many helpful presentations given throughout the school year that benefit you and your student’s educational needs.

Another huge benefit to joining is the opportunity to meet the parent body, get to know the families of your student’s classmates and make new friends to support you through your daily parenting issues in the new country.

Please check out our Group “Mothers with an Accent” and forum to join our community discussions on this and other parenting issues!

Finding a Network of Friends in a New Place

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As newcomers to the US, some people like to hold onto the traditions that make them comfortable, while others want to start a new life right away, fully exploring the new culture.

While it is tempting to stay inside rather than venture out into an unfamiliar place (especially if you don’t have an outgoing personality) , you will find that adjusting to life in a new country will be easier when you have a network of friends.  All of us need someone to talk to, share stories, and help navigate through day-to-day life issues.

There are several ways you can take a step towards meeting new friends:

  1. Participate in a newcomer group. The US is known as a “nation of immigrants,” with people arriving from various countries all the time. Depending on the size of the city  you live in, you have a good chance of finding others who also have come here recently.
  2. Try a language exchange with a native English speaker. One of the quickest ways to improve your language skills is to converse regularly with a native speaker. It can be easier (and more fun) to accomplish this goal if you find someone who wants to learn your language in exchange.
  3. Take dance lessons or an exercise class. These types of activities always create easy-going and friendly atmosphere. You can just follow along until you are ready to meet people.  If you prefer music related activities, there are many free or low-cost options to explore.
  4. Attend local international festivals. Throughout the year, and especially in the summer, you can find festivals of different sizes.  Small ones celebrating a particular country like Italy or Germany, or large events with many countries represented.
  5. Take advantage of your local library. In addition to borrowing materials and participating in activities, you could join a book club in order to practice both your speaking and reading skills.
  6. Watch local news and read newspapers. These are good ways to improve your language skills at any level and stay up to date on current and local events.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, don’t  immerse yourself in the culture right away. Take time to adjust to your new home, holding onto your own traditions and practices. If possible, call or write  to friends or family in your country of origin, in order to stay up to date on what is happening there.

We can help you address the challenges unique to women in a new country. Contact us for more tips on developing your support network.