Online ESL Classes Bridge Continents

by Betsy Chesney – November, 2020

Our brave ESL students are still forging ahead in meeting together via Skype for stimulating discussions, friendship, support, and class content. When we first started meeting electronically on St. Patrick’s Day, we thought we might be doing it for a month or so. Here we are–going on almost five months.


Guillermo from Argentina suggested that we study the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s song, “Murder Most Foul.” The song lasts about 17 minutes, and it is chock-full of historical and cultural allusions.  We’ve been having one of those song lessons roughly once a month, and Barbara McCreedy has done research in order to lead the discussion and have accompanying slides. Guillermo has once again treated us to piano music: a tango, a jazz piece, and “The Birthday Song” for our recent celebrants. You can be sure that when he’s with us, his yerba mate tea is never far away! He has told us that people in his country are crazy about that tea, and in a neighboring South American country, it’s even worse; bus drivers there can hold the tea containers with their elbows and pour themselves some tea while driving a bus!


Youry, the doctor from Venezuela, continues to add her special sparkle to the class, and we celebrated her birthday together recently. She heard spoken birthday greetings in Korean, German, and Arabic.


Janet from Colombia is putting forth extra effort to improve her English, and we are all proud of her.


Mohamed from Algeria is continue to make strides, also. We had a baby shower for him last month. You might wonder how such a thing could happen in a Skype class. I had dropped off a bag of wrapped gifts for the baby and instructed him not to open them but save the entire bag for our next class. He did so, and at the appointed time, he opened his presents in front of all of us. It is a tradition in our class to have a baby shower for a student who is having a baby or a student whose wife is having a baby. It’s a great opportunity for the students to learn a different set of vocabulary words.


Katheryn from Chile has an elegant spontaneity to her English now, owing to her attending class, studying outside class, and landing a full-time job in which she uses English every day. We admire her continuing desire to learn even more.


Dominik, a personal friend of mine from our sister city of Hamm, Germany, is attending class with us when his electrical engineering studies and family life allow it. We are doing our best to pick his brain about many topics because he is in a position to teach us a lot about his country. 


Chang from South Korea is continuing to crank out poetry.  Have a tissue handy, for here is one of his poems called “My Wife’s Hand.”

My Wife’s Hand

by Kyung Joon Chang, 2020

My wife fell asleep with her hand on my chest.
I hold my wife’s hand under my palm softly.

It feels unusually small and fragile,
But big and strong thoughts about my wife’s hand rushed through my head.

My wife’s hands that cooked three meals every day for me.
My wife’s hands that washed clothes and shortened trousers with a needle.

My wife’s hands that swept and decorated every nook of our rooms.
My wife’s hands that always waved when I left and came back home.

My wife’s hands that sometimes pat my old cheek to say love.
My wife’s hands that clean dirt off my back when I take a bath.

My wife’s hands that will be held tight and walk together until we separate.
My wife’s hands that will sprinkle the last dirt on my grave.

My wife’s hands are now thin, and veins of blood are visible.
The thin pulse of my wife’s hand beats my heart with hot love.

I put my lips on the back of my sleeping wife’s hand.

Birthday celebration in love

by Chang, 2020

My 71st birthday celebration in ESL,
It was a birthday celebration in great love …

I. Love is what we are together:

People who left their hometown,
Strangers new to America,
Those people looking for friends…

ESL is a place where strangers can be friends,
ESL is a place to be together with love.
In the fellowship of ESL, I had a birthday party.

II. Love is acting together:
Many strange things to get through,
Hard things to dream and challenge,
Language itself is the first step in the challenge.

ESL opens the door to overcome challenges to reach dreams,
ESL is a place where you can be blessed in English.
In learning of hope in ESL,
I got a happy birthday love song …

III. Love is sharing together:
All days are intertwined with foreign life.
The day I laughed… I miss that day.
There is great joy in sharing small things.

As in bread and cards.. there are small sharings in ESL always,
ESL is a place to give love of sharing,
In the fellowship of ESL,
I got a birthday cake of love.

The ESL birthday celebration of love is to be remembered by me forever,
Thanks to Betsy and everyone.

Once again, my life is so enriched by having these remarkable people in it, and Barbara and I count it a privilege to enrich their lives as they journey toward mastering English. August 14 was my 17-year anniversary of teaching ESL. In my first class, I had a woman from Mexico, a lady from Guatemala, and a man from Colombia. We are a miniature United Nations!


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