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Seeing the world from a new perspective

In Armenia, ASU grad learns the importance of seeing things a new way

March 21, 2016

Derek Townsend, an Arizona State University graduate who is teaching English this year, has gained a new perspective far beyond his classroom in Armenia.

Townsend, who earned a degree in German with a business minorfrom the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and W. P. Carey School of Business from ASU last year, won a Fulbright grant to be an English teaching assistant.

He said he’ll bring back the importance of seeing the world from different perspective.

Other important he’s learned: “Listening to differing opinions or approaches to doing things. The importance of keeping up with foreign events — even the kind that doesn't show up in mainstream media. 

“There is always something going on in the world that affects someone you don't know.”

Townsend answered some questions about his Fulbright experience:

Question: Why did you decide to apply for a Fulbright?

Answer: The Fulbright scholarship offered a way for me to fill the need for native English-speaking teachers in Armenia.

Q: Can you give an overview of what you’re doing in Armenia?

A: I teach a business English course and an English communication course. These courses are held twice a week for and hour and a half and last three months.

Also, I conduct a reading club once a week at a library in Yerevan, the capital city. We read and discuss short stories. 

Outside of the scholarship requirements, I also have volunteered at Habitat for Humanity Armenia. I also attend two universities once a week to help out Armenian teachers of English in their undergraduate classes. 

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: Teaching classes Monday through Friday in the afternoons. Planning lessons and socializing in the evenings. Basically being awesome, it's a full-time gig.

I don't really notice weekends. It's business as usual. I'll email folks back home or meet with students for a walk-n-talk around the city center.

Q: What’s been the best part of your experience?

A: The ability to travel around the world and make a difference in a complete stranger's life. Granted, my students aren't strangers anymore!

Q: Have there been any challenges?

A: There have been a few cultural adjustments I've had to make. Some people would be considered rude or blunt by American standards, but in Armenia it's just the way they talk or conduct themselves. It's a different culture with a different way of doing things. It's new to me, but everyday life to them. 

Q: Has anything funny happened during your adventure?

A: When speaking a new language with natives, there are bound to be misunderstandings. In some instances, there are no direct translations and one has to be exact in the correct phrasing in the host language. It also helps to be good at charades.

In English we would say, "I don't feel like...". As in, “I don't feel like seeing a movie, going for a walk, doing my homework.” In Armenian, the direct translation is "I don't have a mood." As in, “I don't have a mood to see a movie, to go for a walk, to do my homework.” Colloquially they say "hahvess choonem" (transliteration of "I don't have a mood" or with word order "mood I don't have"). I knew from my Armenian classes that it's possible to show possession at the end a noun by adding an 's' to signify "my." Based on that, I thought that the ending of the first word meant "my.”

So, armed with my confidence, any time an Armenian would ask if I wanted to do something and I didn't, I would respond with "hahv choonem." I was met with confused looks, but I attributed this to my American accent. This continued for some time. 

One day during class I brought up the use of “mood” in English with my students. Correcting their usage, I also mentioned the Armenian equivalent "hahv choonem." Again, I was greeted with confused facial expressions. They corrected my Armenian to "hahvess choonem". 

All this time I had been saying "hahv choonem," which means: "I don't have a hen."

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