Valentine’s Day Then and Now

About a year ago, I spent Valentine’s Day with my friends. At my high school, there’s this street in Santa Ana that’s completely closed off to the public during school hours. It’s available only to OCSA students. There are often student DJs playing music, face painting, food vendors, games, and other activities that invite all the students to gather on the street. I particularly like it when we all dance flash-mob style. Last year, I was dancing to 2000’s throwbacks as well as cheesy Disney songs with my friend group. I remember thinking about how happy I was in that moment, to just be a teenager and do stereotypical teenager things. I really treasure that memory.

Pictured (left to right): Sidney (me), Linn, Frida, Natalie

Valentine’s Day, 2020 (pre-COVID)

Pictured (left to right): Linn, Sidney (me), Natalie, Frida, Nicole

Now, one year later, I’m living through a global pandemic and spending this Valentine’s Day at home with my family. You’d think that it’s hard to maintain contact with human beings during this time, and it really is. Sometimes I’ve felt so lonely, I thought I could just slowly fade into a ghost that mindlessly haunts my house until even my apparition dissolves. I think about all the friends I ~could~ have made this year and lament over “what if’s”. But then I remind myself about all the new people I have met, and I instantly cheer up! I may be alone this Valentine’s Day, but I’m still getting the sweetest messages- all the way from Indonesia!

I was fortunate to begin working with South East Asians Learning English (SEALE for short) in October of last year, and I’ve treasured every moment since. Along with designing the curriculum and reviewing lesson presentations as the Education Advisor, I got to reunite with one of my closest friends from middle school, Alexza, to teach a virtual English class to children from Indonesia. I’ve had a blast interacting with these kids! At the beginning of class, we open up with a song, and I eagerly forage around my Spotify to find some of my favorite songs that I liked when I was their age. From teaching subject-verb agreement to initiating conversations about favorite types of drinks (boba seems to be a popular choice), I’ve enjoyed sharing my knowledge of English with children who are eager to learn. It gives me something to look forward to every week, which is important, especially during these trying times.

Working with SEALE has made me be more conscious of my usage of language. Because we’re working with kids who are first-time English learners, I’ve had to take my time and strip the language down to its bare bones. Just yesterday, a student asked me what “making sense” means. I had to stop for a moment and think.

“Well,” I said, “it means to understand, to ‘get’ something, to have something be clearer…”

I just gave several synonyms of varying levels hoping that one would provide more clarity, which, luckily, one did. While I am mesmerized by the intricacies of the English language, I had to consider how language can be explained when it is not universally understood. I found myself trying different methods, like drawing diagrams on the Zoom screen, underlining words to show connections, and sketching out arrows to draw attention to particular words or phrases. It’s made me think about communication and how complex it truly is. Communication is not just verbal. There is so much to be said about a smile, a gesture, a touch. Sometimes, there is no “perfect word” that can encapsulate all of the thoughts and feelings we as human beings are experiencing in a particular moment, and that’s okay. We can, at the very least, try.

Anyways, yesterday we learned about pronouns and possession, and at the end of class, we wrote Valentine’s Day cards! I wanted to share some of the cards that my students wrote to me and Alexza. Aren’t they precious? When I opened up my phone this morning, they were the first things I saw. These cards made my day! I am so lucky to have gotten to be a part of SEALE and work with these bright, inquisitive, and enthusiastic students. Despite all these troubling times, I know that this too shall be a Valentine’s Day that I cherish and treasure in my memory.

By Fico, creds to @sealenglish on Instagram
By Naomi and Moses, creds to @sealenglish on Instagram

Valentine’s Day, 2021 (mid-COVID)

Until next time,

Sidney Muntean

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