Monthly Archives: September 2011

the power of words.

Fittingly, one of the ESOL teachers from Casserly House passed a book onto me called The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way.

The following quote sums up why teaching and learning English as a Second or Other Language is so difficult.

“But perhaps the single most notable characteristic of English–for better and worse–is its deceptive complexity. Nothing in English is ever quite what it seems. […] As native speakers, we seldom stop to think just how complicated and illogical English is. Every day we use countless words and expressions without thinking about them–often without the faintest idea of what they really describe or signify. What, for instance, is the hem in hem and haw, the shrift in short shrift, the fell in one fell swoop? When you are overwhelmed, where is the whelm that you are over, and what exactly does it look like? And why, come to that, can we be overwhelmed or underwhelmed, but not semiwhelmed or–if our feelings are less pronounced–just whelmed? Why do we say colonel as if it had an r in it? Why do we spell four with a u and forty without?”

Seriously though, I think about the English language on a more complex level everyday now at work than I ever did as a formal English minor in college. Now, isn’t that ironic?


some recent adventures.

I’m gonna try to keep this short for two reasons: a) I have been low on sleep all week and b) I am currently watching the Cardinal’s game on It’s funny how I probably wouldn’t have bothered to watch it if I had still been in STL, but being in the midst of so many Red Sox fans has made me more passionate about the Card’s than ever before. But that’s another story.
Here’s a quick rundown of why I’ve been low on sleep for the past week and half…
The weekend before last was somewhat low key, but it did involve an epic day where I went to a Greek festival, saw a free concert (Sara Bareilles was fantastic! and who would have thought that Grace Potter wasn’t a folk singer judging off of her song with Kenny Chesney?), and ate some ice cream at JP Lick’s. I also met with my spiritual director for this year for the first time last Sunday, which was wonderful, but that is probably another topic I will delve into at a later date.

 greek festival
Then, on Tuesday, three members of my community and I were able to go to the Red Sox game at Fenway Park. For free! One of my housemates got tickets through her job, and we turned into an impromptu community night. The game itself was a lot of fun, and we had great weather. Also, despite my Red Sox bashing earlier, I have to admit that Fenway Park, while tiny compared to Busch Stadium, has a lot of character/history.

fenway park
Thursday night, we headed to the Green Briar Pub for Theology on Tap. We had a bit of an adventure getting there (it involved an hour waiting for one bus), but once we arrived, I really enjoyed the night! (For those of you unfamiliar with the model, you can read a bit about it here.)
This past weekend was also memorable for a variety of reasons. JVC hosted this big, fancy fundraiser at Fenway Park (again!) on Saturday night that our community was invited to, as well as the JV communities in Portland, Maine and Hartford, Connecticut. Portland also stayed with us on Saturday night. It was wonderful to be reunited with other JVs for the first time since orientation and to catch up with some of them.  Saturday was also my housemate Cristina’s birthday, so our house, as well as Portland, and a few FJVs headed to Foley’s after the fundraiser to celebrate. (I just realized that I have never explained Foley’s and am horrified, but it deserves it’s own post.)
one of our community photos. i’m the short one.

Then, it was back to work on Monday, and it’s been a busy, busy week at Casserly House, as always, where I’ve been staying up too late for no reason. And then you know, today I got run into by a bike. I am fine, just already starting to show bruises. Typical, right?

As exciting as all of these recent events have been, I have to admit that I’m far more excited about what’s on the agenda for this weekend: my parents are coming to Boston! They arrive Friday morning for a long weekend, and I am so excited to see them and spend the weekend together.

P.S. I am not capable of writing anything short, as evidenced by this post.

back to school.

This year, for the first time in a long time, I’m not spending this fall as a student in the traditional, academic sense.  Instead, I’ve shifted roles to being the one teaching, supervising, coordinating, and tutoring. It’s been an interesting transition to say the least, but as my semester in Rome taught me, the real learning in life often takes place outside of the classroom–or in my case with Casserly House, on the other side of the classroom.
And to say that I’m learning a lot would be an understatement. Some things are deceptively simple–the names and ages and grades and birthdays of my students–while others are much more complex. Although the simple things are important and not to be underestimated (have you ever forgotten a 9-year-old’s birthday? it’s no laughing matter), it’s the complex things that I’ve been wrestling with.
The after school program began this past Monday, and I’ve finally been able to spend my time focused on what I signed up for when I agreed to do JVC. Over this past week, the hour and a half from 3:30-5:00 has become the most intense part of my day, as I spend my time running around… usually trying to do five things at once. While there’s a lot of the mundane involved in that work, there’s also a lot of food for thought.
One of the most interesting faucets of my work is how much it brings the reality of statistics home to me. Catholic Charities of St. Louis had this really great ad campaign over the past few years that featured pictures of easily stereotyped individuals, with taglines such as, “He’s not a statistic; he’s someone’s big brother.” These ads were actually quite powerful, and I feel like my work at Casserly House has had the same effect in bringing a lot of lofty ideas down to a personal level for me.

It’s one thing to know on an intellectual level that urban youth have a lot of problems to deal with, and it’s another situation entirely to know intimately what these kids are up against–that these third graders wrestle with more serious issues on a daily basis than I’ve ever dealt with in my privileged life. (Privilege is such a JVC-esque word that I almost feel cliche using it, but it’s also very, very true.) 
Hearing statistics about the failures of the American educational system, students dropping out of school, neighborhood violence, and domestic violence only has a limited impact, but that can’t be said about seeing that these are the realities that many of the children that I work with live with every day. I can put names and faces on these problems now in a way that I couldn’t before. (I also do want to clarify that it is important to note that these problems are not ones that are unique to urban areas; that’s just the framework I’m currently working from.)

I have also struggled with wrapping my head around the idea that what I’m doing at Casserly House is so much more than just a job in the traditional sense; in someways, it certainly is. I show up from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, and Casserly House provides me with health insurance and the means to pay my bills; basically, I get compensated for my work and time. And it’s simple to then conclude that what I’m doing is just a job, that it’s just a way to get a paycheck, it’s just how I spend my time between the weekends. But, frankly, it’s not just a job. It’s so much more, and that was the real point of choosing to do JVC. 
I’m also learning a lot of practical things–how to write professional emails (tell me, how do you sign yours? currently, I’ve settled on “Best, Megan”), how to multitask like it’s my job (oh wait, it kind of is), how to outsmart an elementary school kid, and how to be in five places at once… yeah, still working on that one.
So, in short, not going back to school is turning out to be one of the biggest learning experiences I’ve ever had. After so many years of focusing on academics in the traditional sense, I have to admit that it’s refreshing to finally see learning in a more practical way.

i set out upon a journey.

“All stories, they say, begin in one of two ways: ‘A stranger came to town,’ or else, ‘I set out upon a journey.’ The rest is all just metaphor and simile.
–Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

The above quote from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle isn’t really reflective of the subject matter of the book in the slightest, but as I read it tonight, it resonated with me about how I feel about this year and what this experience means to me.

(Also, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a fantastic read for anyone interested in questions concerning where we get our food, eating locally/seasonally/organic, etc. And it’s fun to read as well.)

month one.

It’s hard to believe that it was just a month ago that I boarded a plane in St. Louis to head to JVC orientation. I can’t believe I’ve only known my housemates for a month, that I had never seen this city a month ago. And at the same time… I can’t believe that one month of my year-long adventure as a JV is already over. I don’t know where the time went. I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year holds.

month one: a recap
jvc northeast ’11-’12.
bleary-eyed goodbyes and flight out of lambert at 6am. waiting in the airport with a fellow billiken. meeting two housemates at the airport. meeting two more at orientation icebreakers. realizing that there was no 6th roommate, and that therefore we would all have our own rooms. some awkward conversations. meeting so many wonderful people from all over the country. sharing our lifelines. the beautiful hills of blue ridge, pennsylvania. the four values. four hours of silence. starting to realize what a wonderful, crazy year i was in for. talent show performances. the first round of goodbye’s. passover remembered to send us off.
local orientation.
hanging out at bwi with the portland community. flying to boston. freaking out a little at the airport. getting picked up by fjvs and beginning to realize the extent of the fjv network in boston. meeting maria. first dinner and first sam adam (for me at least).  trips to target. electricity problems/mice. sam adam’s factory. kickin’ it in jp. jamaica pond, jp licks, thrift stores. boston common, freedom trail, quincy market. placement tours. our first foley’s visit. jacob wurth’s. papa’s visit.  meeting dave, infamous bartender of foley’s. mass at st. cecelia’s and a bar-b-que. first grocery shopping trip. cleaning. rearranging my bedroom. getting settled in, just in time for…
and the real work begins: week one.
first day of work. teaching ESOL classes but mostly learning. maggie’s birthday dinner. free pumpkin beer from an fjv on a tuesday night. dinner with peter, our jesuit liaison. walks to work. meeting the kids, little by little. learning the faces and names of casserly house. getting the internet. first community night (pumpkin beer on the balcony). runs around the neighborhood. discovering the forest hills cemetery. nights out with fjv’s. st. anthony’s festival in the north end. surviving (and enjoying) my first hurricane.  
boston community at the sam adams factory.
work: week two.
my first spirituality night. a disastrous meal. beginning to really explore boston. packing lunches. learning, growing, & pushing myself at work. planing for the after school program. first community night with matt and sarah. visits to back bay, newbury street, the freedom trail, the north end, and lots of bookstores. labor day weekend. wandering around jp and hanging out at doyle’s. getting a boston library card. a night at foley’s (one of the many we will have this year). mass with peter at st. ignatius + brunch. harpoon brewery tour and a visit to the other foley’s (not as good as ours). 

work: week three.

emails, emails, emails. after school program registration & meeting the parents, but most importantly, meeting the kids i will get to spend the next year with. spirituality via meditation. a week of gloomy, rainy weather. “the honeymoon is over.” my first venture across the charles to cambridge. beginning to realize what kind of weather i’m in for this year. the five love languages. a beautiful weekend. touring somerville and cambridge via mass ave. falling asleep during movies. saturday morning farmer’s markets. free crepes. the cambridge carnival international festival. an fjv potluck (and another visit to foley’s). mass at st. cecelia’s. sowa open market on a sunday afternoon. party planning. freaking out about my computer and the first day of the after school program.
view of downtown boston from the harbor.
And a whole lot more. And a whole lot more to come (11 months to be exact).
p.s. This was intended to be posted last night (I left St. Louis on August 11th), but the aforementioned computer issues prohibited that. 

learning + exploring boston.

 photo via | I see these everyday.

So, I’ve been a little quiet on this front for the past week and half, but that’s because most of the writing I’ve been doing has been on the T while I’ve been wandering around exploring Boston (and enjoying public transit!).

Just walking around cities and visiting new neighborhoods is one of my favorite things to do, so I’ve spent the last few weeks taking advantage of my current work schedule and using my afternoons to explore Boston. (Until the after school program starts, my working hours are 8-3; after it starts, they will change to 9-5:30.) Since I moved here a few weeks ago, I feel like I’ve seen a decent amount of the city, but there’s still so much to do!

(And speaking of my job, a quick update: work is full of up’s and down’s; I have really frustrating moments and really amazing moments when everything falls into place and I understand why I’m there… usually within the span of a few hours. Overall, it’s good–just an adjustment. Let’s just say that I have lot of learning and growing to do over the next year.)

For the first week of my exploring, I mainly focused on my surrounding neighborhood in Jamaica Plain. First, I became obsessed with the Forest Hills Cemetery (which is more of a park than a cemetery, and not creepy at all). Then, I moved on to Roslindale (the neighborhood just south of JP  where Casserly House is also located), which has a really fun/cute downtown area with lots of local shops/restaurants/thrift stores.

Then, I boarded the “T” (subway) and made my way downtown.

T map: I live on the orange line.

A few of my adventures so far…
At this point, I have walked the majority of the Freedom Trail and have therefore seen some of Boston’s most historical sights, including but not limited to: Boston Common, Beacon Hill and surrounding areas, the original Cheer’s bar, Sam Adam’s and Paul Revere’s graves, and so forth.

Unsurprisingly, I also spent a good amount of time in Boston’s North End, which has historically been the Italian neighborhood. I bought a cannoli at Modern Pastry (my sources tell me that it’s better than the more touristy Mike’s). I did a lot of wandering down Hanover Street, admired all of the other Italian restaurants, and checked out some more historical sights. Last Friday afternoon, I also visited the Haymarket, which is a really big, cheap farmer’s market near the North End.

One of my other favorite neighborhoods so far as been Back Bay and Copley Square, which is home of the main branch of the Boston Public Library (I have a card now!).  Then, I walked down Newbury Street (Boston’s main shopping street) and down to the Charles River.

image via | this is actually really helpful for understanding the different neighborhoods.

Yesterday, I ventured across north of the Charles River for the first time to explore Cambridge–mainly Harvard Square and Harvard Yard. I wasn’t there for very long, but Harvard is so beautiful! Definitely an amazing campus. Cambridge itself is really cool as well; there were lots of neat shops and just good people watching.

I have also been doing a bit of a bookstore tour of Boston. Essentially, if I pass a bookstore, I go in. I’ve probably been in at least ten so far, but my favorite one, which I just went to yesterday for the first time, has been Harvard Book Store.

Soooo, in a nutshell, there’s a really brief summary of some of the adventures that I’ve gone on in Boston so far. In general, I really like Boston as a city; it’s very neighborhood-y, which makes it all the more suited for adventures like these. It also means that there’s always something new to discover.  Physically speaking, Boston really isn’t a very big, so it makes it much more manageable. It’s also very walking and public transportation friendly, which I love. I’m really glad that my work schedule has allowed me the opportunity to  see so much of the city over the past few weeks.