Saturday, December 25, 2010

The First of Four Parties

Because I have nearly 100 students and an apartment not nearly big enough to accommodate all of them at once, I decided having 4 separate Christmas parties – one for each class would be the way to go. The first party was on Monday night.

Of course, there was some schedule shifting to be done: originally, the group whose party took place on Monday were scheduled for Tuesday, and the one of the freshman classes couldn’t make their Monday party because they were training for a gym competition, to take place on Wednesday. I found out about all of this on Sunday, when the kids came over to help decorate the house for Christmas.

In agony I pulled out my planner and juggled schedules until it was resolved that the sophomores would have their party on Monday instead of Tuesday, the freshmen would have their party after the gym competition on Wednesday, after the other group of sophomores had theirs (from 5 to 7 PM), and the last group would have their party on Thursday. No party on Tuesday, and mercifully I would be done hosting parties after Thursday.


We have to remember my agenda: I was going to show these kids the joy of giving and sharing in the manner traditional to A. my family and B. what goes on around and during Christmas in the States. I kept that idea firmly in my mind, even as the kids showed up, full of merriment.

And with their arms full of gifts. Small things, mostly hand made. Cards full of sentiment, a hand-made poster, greeting cards designed by them. Sueveniere gave me her Santa hat; Jinkey, an apple, Orange an all-day sucker. Lily had taken up a collection and bought a beautiful cake and a huge bouquet of pink carnations. I was bowled over.

I served them fruit salad and snacks, and then we played games. Hot Potato: whoever got caught holding the ‘potato’ when I shouted ‘Stop!’ had to perform for the rest of the group. Most sang songs but some danced and others recited poetry. We did a version of the Can Can, rather difficult in the living room that now seemed too small to hold all the cheer and warmth (it actually did get so warm in the place that we had to open the door). We sang songs together: Winter in my Heart and We Wish you a Merry Christmas (see the videos on Flickr).

At one point as they sang together, I looked around the room. I was going to teach them about sharing and giving? I, who live alone, am going to teach these kids, who, by necessity, share everything, to share? I, who only hosts this party, was going to teach these kids how to give?

Who do I think I am?

These kids know more about sharing and giving than I could possibly teach them. I looked at their Christmas offerings to me: the store-bought trinkets and the hand-made gifts, and thought: “How arrogant of me to think that they don’t know how to give! They are already so generous, both with their heart and with their efforts.” As the kids sang together, smiling at one another and at me, I had an epiphany.

You don’t mess with success.

They may not call it the Christmas spirit, but they know what it is about. They don’t practice it just in December; they do it all year ‘round. And it is a beautiful sight to behold. Even more wonderful to be the target of their generosity, as I have been since I’ve been here. My birthday party in the park, the warm welcome and the openness, the hand holding and the cuddling, the many invitations on outings and to dinners which I was not allowed to pay for my own meal. Even the invasions into my personal time and private space, annoying as it is, is a symbol of their welcome and their positive feeling toward me.

There may be things I have to teach these kids, but sharing, caring and giving is not among them. They are teaching me how to do that.

Toward the end of the party, they asked me to say a few words, after which they would take their leave. I told them of my current thoughts: I may well be called their teacher, but it is they who have taught me the greater lesson. I will never forget them for helping me see how rich and beautiful they truly are.

I also told them that I will not be their teacher next semester. By administrative decision, Victor will be taking my classes and I will take his students on. The idea is to diversify the kids’ exposure to the school’s foreign teachers. While on the surface that idea sounds great, I have to confess that these are MY kids. I’m being perfectly selfish when I say I don’t want Victor to have my guys.

They are equally adamant that they remain my students. They don’t want Victor. I’m touched (and yes, a bit proud). Nevertheless I told them: “We may be done being teacher and student, but we are certainly not done being friends.” And I mean it.

As the party broke up, some of the girls stayed over and helped me clean the house up. Such Sweethearts! One of them, Janny, remembered my Cookie Caravan story and wanted to go deliver some cookies. We bundled up some leftover snacks and some fruit into baggies and headed for the campus police office.

In their eagerness they took off running while I still had to put my jacket on and lock the house up, and they gave away the treats before I got there. When I came walking up to them, Jinkey was doubling back, a look of perfect glee on her face. She was delighted at the expression on the policeman’s face when he asked what this giving was all about, and when the kids explained why they did that, the policemen all clapped and smiled. When I finally made it there, they shook my hand and wished me a heartfelt Merry Christmas, with huge smiles all around.

That’s the Cookie Caravan effect! And both the students and the policemen felt it! My Christmas wish came true after all.

After bowling over the campus police, the girls and I parted ways. They walked back to their dorm, arm in arm and chattering like magpies. I went back to my apartment.

As I unlocked the door and stepped inside, it seemed all the warmth had gone with the kids.

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