Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our Blog Moved

Our team has so much to say that we outgrew this blog. Please visit our brand new website for more information on our program and additional blog posts.

See you there!


Tuesday, May 14, 2013


By Catherine Pearson, ESL to Go Instructor

Recently a couple of friends were reminiscing about their two-year stint in Italy. They were newlyweds at the time, nearly 20 years ago, but as they regaled me with tales, they both recalled one moment vividly. “Tiramisu!” they cried in unison. I was surprised, and admittedly a bit disappointed, that the stand-out moment of their years abroad boiled down to a dessert. But, much to my delight, I was mostly wrong. They had lived and worked in Genoa and gotten around like the locals via the bus that shot straight up and down the mountain. At one stop, in a commercial-esque scene, a robust, elderly Italian woman climbed aboard with so many bags she didn’t have a spare hand. As soon as she stepped into the stair well, the bus driver
took off. The captive audience of passengers watched the woman careen helplessly yelling, “Tiramisu!”

The couple stood entranced and puzzled at the odd time to yell about dessert. And then it hit them. “Tiramisu,” which they’d always known as a decadent dessert, literally translates, “pick me up,” the falling woman’s cry for help. When her plea sunk in, they lunged forward to her rescue. 

They chuckle telling the story. Their eyes alight as they relive the revelation. The unforgettable language lesson was enviable to me as an ESL teacher but even more so the universal lesson of a pick-me-up. 

I was homeschooled in the power of a pick-me-up. My father had a knack for noticing when someone needed a lift and producing it like a rabbit from a hat. Because April marked his 74th birthday and the 13th anniversary of his passing, his talent for tiramisu has been on my mind a lot lately. Much like the Italian dessert, his pick-me-ups usually involved sugar and caffeine such as a Dairy Queen milkshake or Snapple iced tea. So, although I don’t speak Italian, I, too, grew up equating a pick-me-up with a sweet treat.

Like my dad, I’m inclined to offer just that to a friend worn thin by a Monday afternoon. But on one such recent offer, the latte was declined. My friend had ample coffee and dessert that she was eager to share. What she craved more than any consumable good was my company. We loaded her dishwasher, savored her pudding, shared the day’s struggles, and I left her presence buoyed. As she had fortuitously texted, the time together ended up being a “pick-us-up.” 

Such is often the case when we hear and heed a call for help. The pick-me-up runs both ways. Considering the obvious benefits of tiramisu, it’s a wonder we don’t partake more often. Perhaps that’s because it’s a three-part trick. It takes recognizing when someone needs catching, lunging forward to help, and being brave enough to ask for help when we need it ourselves.

The over-loaded Italian woman knew she needed a hand, said so, and got one. Rarely do all those steps fall into place. At times we see our own need and yell, “Tiramisu!” but it gets misunderstood or missed in the bustle of life. Sometimes we stay silent because we don’t know we’re about to fall even if others see us teetering. Other times we ascribe to the beliefs of our independence-prizing culture and esteem self sufficiency to our own detriment. 

Saying we need one another can be perceived as weakness, which is often frowned upon by society. But knowing we need people and saying so is actually strong and brave. When we open ourselves up to others, we risk getting hurt. We risk people judging, belittling and dismissing us. Risking all that takes immense courage. But if we don’t risk it, we are guaranteed to miss the joy of being in it together. We’d miss the memories we make with friends and strangers, the inside jokes, the shared stories and common struggles. We’d miss dessert with two (or three or four) forks.

Author and researcher Brené Brown says that we are hardwired for connection, that it’s our greatest human need. NPR’s Morning Edition aired news of a recent study about isolation that suggests connection must be more than online. We need people, physically present. We need hands to hold, bodies to hug, someone sitting next to us to laugh and listen. Lunch tastes better and nourishes more deeply when shared. Worries lose weight when confided in safe company. Something invisible but potent happens when we get together.

Catherine teaching her students how to make Valentines
Last fall I started tutoring a family of Bhutanese refugees. Because their English is limited, syncing our schedules has been challenging. Phone calls and Facebook are relatively useless in this relationship. More than once I’ve pulled up to their apartment and discovered they just left. Likewise, I’ve learned that they had expected me on days I had never intended to visit. But sometimes we do connect, and during those hours, synchronicity abounds. 

In an inefficient but refreshing way, we have to sit together, listen intently and lock eyes to convey meaning. We perch side-by-side on couches or around the kitchen table and recycle a smattering of phrases. Through pictures, drawings and persistent attempts at pronunciation, we teach each other our native languages. They insist that work at the chicken plant is good, albeit tiring, and serve me spicy rice and their rapt attention, priceless commodities. I dispense brownies, sip syrupy coffee, hold a restless baby and smile till my cheeks hurt. In a dozen unspoken ways that can only happen in the same room, we tell each other we are glad to be together. 

I’m sure plenty is lost on both sides of the communication barrier, but I trust that we are meeting our universal need for companionship. We are combating isolation, which according to the study can be more lethal than loneliness for all of us.

In the Morning Edition story, Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor, summed it up well, “Have lunch with somebody,” he says. “Take a walk. Give them a phone call. I think those are all important ways that we need to stay connected with our relationships. And I think, in the long term, it can help us.”

My nomadic life has meant often being too far away to lift up those I love. After my last year abroad, I returned to the U.S. and the disheartening reality of my absence through the births, deaths, job losses and weddings of dear friends and family.

It’s hard to accept all those opportunities lost. But it’s harder still to know that even when I’ve been stateside I’ve missed countless chances to offer tiramisu. It helps to remember that strangers on a bus can deliver the perfect pick-me-up if they’re present and paying attention. 

Although I mentioned my father as a tiramisu wizard, I’ve been wealthy beyond measure when it comes to family and friends who excel at pick-me-ups. For this, I am profoundly grateful, and I offer this hearty thank you. I hope to replicate the sincerity and creativity with which you have repeatedly picked me up and picked up those around you. 

Whether you are well versed at asking for or offering a pick-me-up, I invite you to do both this spring. I wish you ample servings of tiramisu as giver and receiver, which are often one and the same and tend to be equally sweet. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bastante: Enough

ESL to Go is lucky enough to have Catherine Pearson teaching two of our classes. Catherine earned her TESL certification from TFLI in 2004, and is a beautiful writer, storyteller and teacher. We wanted to share her reflections, inspired by her Valentine's Day classes.
Please take the time to read her wise words, and allow yourself, like we have, to heed her refreshing advice.

Catherine with ESL to Go students 

Last week I hosted back-to-back Valentine’s Day parties for my ESL classes. My students enthusiastically embraced the potluck concept and by Thursday night I had over-indulged in homemade dishes from around the globe. With Bosnian meat pies, Russian salad, Mexican quesadillas and Vietnamese pork rolls, we had the world on a plate.

The wealth of food was “too much” according to my students, who meant to say “a lot.” In this case, “too much” was spot on. Equally appropriate was the Spanish word I had forgotten to say, “Bastante.”

About 12 years ago I spent a summer studying in Spain. The first week there, over dinner, a fellow student espoused her love of the word “bastante” declaring its meaning richer than its English translation,“enough.” Inwardly I was skeptical. The definitions seemed identical.

As the weeks passed, and I shared meal after meal with Spaniards, I witnessed the distinction she favored. When offered yet another serving of paella, gazpacho or bread, my fellow diners relished the meal not by stuffing themselves beyond comfort, but by saying, “Bastante.” They savored the present satisfaction and declined the offer of more. They were fulfilled. “Bastante” appreciated the subtle yet powerful awareness and enjoyment of “enough.”

I grew to admire the Spanish art of “bastante,”but my first language was an American version of English, in which “enough” could and should be improved. My homeland had taught me to strive for more. I had been schooled and skilled in maximizing every moment of life. If one is good, two must be better. From baked goods to academic degrees, this application knows few limits. It also cultivates a culture of scarcity, or “never enough.” We never have enough time in the day or money in the bank. Our cars, jobs, educations, backgrounds and experiences are never enough. From the moment we wake, after a night of too little sleep, we embark on the day with a deficit. (Researcher and author Brené Brown does a great job of explaining what I am briefly summarizing here. Check out her books and TED talks.)

This sense of scarcity zooms in on our very selves. We are never productive enough, successful enough, educated enough, thin enough, strong enough, funny enough, beautiful enough, smart enough or efficient enough. In short, we are never enough.

But that’s not true. We are enough. You are enough. Right now, even without slogging through your work email, completing the grant submission, getting your hair colored, losing the weight, interviewing for the job, finishing school, paying off the loans, buying the house, passing the test, or knowing what in the world comes next. You are enough.
For some, this is a given. But most of us suffer from daily amnesia of this truth. Fortunately, a remedy is readily available. The antidote to scarcity is gratitude, according to Brené Brown. Being thankful for what we have often makes it enough.

As I look at my borrowed bed, covered in ESL books, I am grateful for opportunities to teach, for students who overcome dozens of hurdles to walk to class and with limited English proficiency still find ways to crack jokes. I am grateful when my amateur attempts at acting out sports or animals elicit more of their laughter.

I am grateful for daily chances to learn about my students’ lives, homelands, cultures and customs, for invitations to swap recipes, share favorite foods and meet their families. I am grateful for my bedroom littered with teaching paraphernalia and gifts from my students, whose grace, patience and generosity inspire me to be more like them every day.

I am grateful for my pile of discarded clothes that forms as I dash off to meet friends. I am equally grateful to connect through the written word with friends such as you. As I teach the alphabet to my preliterate students, I am grateful for their eagerness to learn and for the joy of reading, a skill I tend to take for granted.

I am grateful for the legacy of my grandfather who passed away last month. I am grateful for his nearly 97 years of faith, integrity and devotion to his family and community. I am grateful for every hour I got to spend with him, grateful to have shared his final days with my aunt and grateful for the reunion of so much family at his funeral. I am grateful to be part of such a family.

I am grateful for Nashville’s warm winter and how infrequently I have to scrape my car windows. I am grateful to live in a hub of old and new friends, to connect as they pass through and to revel in repeat visits with those who stay. I am grateful to reside in a destination city, with a seemingly endless supply of restaurants, concerts, events and adventurous companions.

When I stop to consider this gratitude, the scarcity disappears. Despite the dangling carrot of greater success, achievement, productivity and efficiency, despite the allure of bigger, better and beyond, I see that I am seated at a table where I have been richly served, and I can say with the joy of deeply satisfied Spaniards, “Bastante.”

I wish the same for you this holiday weekend. And I send this gentle reminder that you, too, are enough. To those of us prone to chase the elusive “more” in life and in ourselves, I hope we dare to stop sprinting, risk walking and have the courage to say “Bastante.”