Alime Sadikova was one of the smartest, most ambitious young women in Jizzakh, and one of the smartest, most ambitious women I had ever met. She was the first to learn English in her family — encouraging and helping her younger brother who was studying on a grant at a high school in Colorado at the time — and establishing her own successful language school in Jizzakh called En Course, where I taught. She would later receive a Fulbright scholarship to study at Texas Tech in Lubbock, but on the day after the En Course disaster, she had a quirky and tactless way of explaining my failure. She told me that I had been dumped. Again.

“Are you serious?” I said, shivering as I spoke on the public telephone in my host family’s… More…

 

One morning earlier this year, students gathered for the weekly assembly at Aitchison College, an elite school for boys between the ages of five and 18 in the Pakistani city of Lahore. It was, as always, a dignified affair. Shuffling to their places in an outdoor amphitheater, the boys wore school ties, blazers stitched with the Aitchison crest (“Perseverance Commands Success”) and puglis — starched indigo turbans once favored by native royalty. “Aitchison College, atten-shun!” shouted the head boy, a senior, stamping his foot like a drill sergeant. The principal stepped to the microphone. A tall white-haired man in a black academic gown, he surveyed the crowd with a benevolent but short-lived smile. He glared at one of the boys. “Take your hands out of your pockets,” he snapped in clipped, lightly accented English. “It’s rude.” The youth… More…

 

I am a poet currently in graduate school. I just finished a sestina. Do I owe Dana Gioia any royalties? — A.K., Lincoln, Nebraska

A.K., you owe Dana Gioia no more royalties than you owe to the parent who taught you how to write a grocery list. Gioia uses the sestina form in an effective way that inspires you to write one — he didn’t invent it, just like your mom or dad didn’t invent the grocery list. But their version of the grocery list, the separation of fresh produce on one side and toiletries and paper products on the other side, just makes so much logical sense that you’re inspired to do the same thing. Poets are always happy to hear that they’ve inspired someone — that’s the real royalty. So don’t worry A.K.: You’ve paid up.

I’ve… More…

 

I found myself, at 23, in the land of Chinngis Khan, vodka, and milktea, completely unprepared to teach children. After living in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia for almost a year I concluded that anyone who came to Mongolia was running from something: an eight-year relationship, a gay father, law school, the pressure to get a real job. Why Mongolia? It represents just about the most distance you can put between yourself and anyone in the western hemisphere. It is located smack dab between two superpowers: Russia and China. Plane tickets here are costly: between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on whom you know. Ulaan Baatar is the coldest capital in the world. The country, governed by a disagreeable mix of former Communist leaders and a few who hoped for a smoother transition to democracy, runs on a system of corruption…. More…

If undergrads seem an irresponsible bunch these days, excelling in the extra-curricular subjects of dorm-hopping, beer-swilling, and the squandering of parental cash, they pale in comparison to their medieval ancestors at Oxford. The accounts from England’s first and most hallowed University read like Animal House in Latin.

The university had sprung up during the medieval intellectual explosion of the early 10th century in the model of Europe’s first great academies, Paris and Bologna. We don’t know exactly when the first classes were given, but by the early 11th century, the university was an indelible feature of Oxford, then a busy riverside market town. It had none of the grand ivy-covered buildings we associated with the university today; the lectures were not held in purpose-built theaters but in… More…

One great way to briefly turn the conversation toward myself at a party is to answer the question, “So, what do you do?” with, “I’m a writer.” Not that most of the people I’ve met at parties have read my novels or short stories or feature articles; when they ask, “Have I seen any of your stuff?” I shrug and the conversation moves on. If I want attention for an hour or so, however, I’ll tell them my horrible secret — for several years I made much of my freelance income writing term papers.

I always wanted to be writer, but was told from an early age that such a dream was futile. After all, nobody ever puts a classified ad in the paper that reads “Writers Wanted.” Then, in the Village Voice, I saw just such an ad. Writers wanted, to write short pieces on business, economics, and literature…. More…

 

 

Last Saturday morning my family slept in. The Saturday before as well. And the Saturday before that. This fact might sound banal — especially since by “sleeping in” I mean we got up at 8 a.m. But for me and other parents with grade school-aged children throughout France, it was practically revolutionary. As far back as anyone can remember, French kids have had classes on Saturday mornings — if not every weekend, then every other week. And now, rushing to get the kids out the door on a day one might normally consider part of the weekend is a thing of the past.

I grew up in Western New York, and recall learning in Madame Keller’s high school French class that in the faraway country where people spoke an unpronounceable language and ate smelly cheese, kids had… More…

 

Rumi looks pure. Her skin is porcelain-colored from high-end, Japanese-brand foundation and a layer of bone-colored powder. Her eyelashes are curled at 90 degrees, coated with black mascara and lined heavily. Her lips are glossed clear with just a hint of pink pigment.

I have learned to negotiate the labyrinth of her weird papers without ever seriously commenting on content at the drop-in community college center where I tutor, because when I do, it makes her pout and say my name in a high pitched stretched out way. She is always very sure of what she wants to say, and sure it is merely her misunderstanding of English grammar that is getting in the way of perfect communication.

One thesis went something along the lines of no matter how far apart your eyes are, and how small your… More…

When Nana Takahashi arrived as our school’s new manager she had one good thing going for her: Things could not get any worse. An ongoing lack of English students meant we hadn’t come close to meeting our monthly business goals in nearly a year. Wooing new students was difficult with scuffed floors, flimsy desks and bare patches of wall where cheap wallpaper paste had lost the battle against Japanese humidity. Many of the students we did have had been scared away by my perpetually unshaven and hung-over British predecessor, who was finally fired for playing Fatboy Slim to a class of 6-year-olds.

I wasn’t doing much to help the situation. I’d fallen in love with Japan during a summer internship in Tokyo and a semester in Kyoto, and had decided to go back to teach English after graduation. The large chain of schools that hired me said I’d be going… More…

I could not get used to the windows in Classroom 3. They ran from floor to ceiling, lining the entire portside wall. The Pacific Ocean rolled by. Later, in other seas, there would suddenly be land when we weren’t expecting to see land, or The Voice would come over the speakers and announce the sighting of sea turtles, and we’d all have to stop what we were doing and run over to see for ourselves. After a week, the students had gotten better about not staring out at the wavering horizon; I still found those windows distracting.

“Help me close the shades,” I said, and began to lower the one closest to the podium. Collective groan. “Sorry,” I said. “We’re looking at slides today.”

I powered up the overhead projector. The ship rocked. I clutched at the podium. The first time my balance faltered, the students laughed; now it was… More…