For the first homework assignment, I asked my students to choose four pages out of the Global Pre-intermediate book that interested them. The Olympic story in Unit 9 was a unanimous “must”, seeing as how the Winter Olympics were beginning on Feb. 12th, so a mere week after that lesson.
It was an auspicious morning by all accounts. My students, 6 business men who I’ve been teaching for four years, all armed with their shiny new books, were in for a real treat – free coffee.
The company I teach this course in is a local, successful, mid-sized company with modern buildings and equipment, like most of the firms where I teach. But due to a lack in meeting rooms, we have our weekly lessons in an unusual location. We’ve been relocated to a soon-to-be demolished older building on the company premises, which, unlike the rest of the firm’s offices, doesn’t have access to a kitchen or the standard, expensive coffee machine. Imagine George Clooney and a Nespresso, the world famous Swiss export, and you can perhaps feel the pain we experience without them every Friday morning.
Back to reality and our first Global lesson… To complete the picture of our unique classroom, imagine there’s no fancy office furniture (as seen in most modern offices here), or freshly painted walls, and don’t get me started on the old copier we fight with regularly. One of the students jokes that the room we hold our lessons in is “the third world – right here in Switzerland”. So that free coffee added an element of excitement and luxury to our 90 minutes together.
Not being one to miss out on (cheap) momentum, I suggested we do our very first activity out of Global, a speaking exercise about how the students feel about sports, standing up, while moving around the room like at a cocktail party. I added that it should be a race to see who could “find someone who” fastest. The winner, the student with one name for each category, would win something special: a second cup of free coffee! (I said “cheap” already, didn’t I?)
This small gesture thrilled those students who were already slipping back into sleep and motivated my competitive students. And before I could say ‘grab your cup of Joe,’ we were off!
A question about watching sports on TV led us to discussing which of the many hours of programming we’d be tuned into during the Olympics. Most of my students agreed that the “new sports” and sports in which the Swiss excel will be the most interesting to watch. This year a new Olympic sport will be introduced in Vancouver, ski cross. A Swiss sportsman is said to be a favorite contender.
When I asked why “new sports” are more interesting, my students told me that the Swiss are generally pretty good at such sports, due to a fascination with the exotic and enjoying being individuals and pioneers, but not being keen on being part of the masses.
That seemed to strike a chord for me. Years before moving here, my German husband and I often ran into Swiss while traveling abroad. We noticed that we met Swiss in every far flung corner of the world, but they tended to travel discreetly, not forming groups of tourists bunching up together around a bar, speaking in their mother-tongues, and flaunting their nationality.
The Swiss also have a very high rate of inter-racial/inter-cultural marriages. I recently read that 38% of Swiss who got married last year married non-Swiss partners. That number seems very high to me compared to the marital habits of the three other countries’ citizens I’ve lived with: the Germans, Japanese and Americans.
So, with our love of the exotic and new things, we begin our journey with Global. I hope my class is motivated in our next lesson and won’t agree with Churchill who said, “I am always ready to learn, but I do not always like being taught”. No more free coffee next week. It could get ugly.