June 13, 2013

Building Community Alone

by Thaya Uthayophas

Thaya Uthayophas '15 is a Starr Fellow living in Hartford, Connecticut working on iTeachCommunity.

For the past two weeks, I had been trying to build a community alone. My first project for iTeach is relatively straightforward: answering a question that, on its face, seems to be simple enough. What does iTeach stands for? In actuality, I find that it is much harder to pinpoint what iTeach is than what iTeach does. What iTeach does is easy: it innovates. iTeach transcends traditional boundaries in education by pairing up college students with non-native English learners from abroad to have English conversation via Skype.  What iTeach is, however, I have no immediate answer to…

Ta-da, Ta-da. My mom is calling me from Thailand. It has been months since we had a proper communication, and I am glad to finally get to hear her voice—even if it is via the computer. Her first words to me, however, are of shock and dismay. Why didn’t you tell me you’re alone in Connecticut! Apparently, I had told her that I was planning to be in Hartford, Connecticut but not that I was already here.  After the initial shock about the location subsides, we start talking about home. She describes to me how our dogs are already destroying my dad’s newly built garden. I describe to her the parks near my apartment…

Ta-da, Ta-da. A Cambodian girl with a reindeer hat is calling me from Providence. The reindeer girl has just graduated from high school where I coached her policy debate last year. Can a teacher be a friend?  The reindeer girl asks me after the initial pleasantries (how are you? How’s the rest of the debate crew?). I answer her a quick ‘sure’ prompting her reply: I wish I knew that earlier. I would have invited you as a friend to our school banquet. We debaters miss you here. It is heartwarming to know that the debaters still care for me. I stopped coaching them my Sophomore year when I secluded back to my own projects…

Fast forward a week and I am now stressed out about life. I realize that despite my independence I am still as clues as ever about my life-goals. Sometimes I dream of being an activist. Sometimes a lawyer. A professor. A social entrepreneur. A prisoner. I needed direction and I needed someone to talk to—someone who has gone through my life as an idealistic undergraduate at a liberal arts institution. I emailed that someone: the first ever TA I had at Brown. “Can I ask you for some life advice via email?” Yes, of course…I can Skype you in response?  I never requested it, but I can already hear the sound of the call. Ta-da, Ta-da.

In fact, you can’t build a community alone. For the past two weeks, others have helped me build a community.

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