I met Nhu three years ago in my ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom at Hoover High School. She had just moved to the U.S. with her family from Vietnam. Right away, we connected when we found out we shared the same birthday. Nhu’s written English was incredible- her grammar was perfect 🙂 But she didn’t speak the language or understand me at all.
Me: “What is your name?”Nhu: “Yes.” (smiling and nodding)Me: “How old are you?”Nhu: “Yes.” (smiling and nodding)Me: “Am I the most beautiful teacher you’ve ever had?”Nhu: “Yes.” (smiling and nodding)
I would have to teach her survival English. Fast. My teaching experience is very diverse- I’ve taught English to refugees illiterate in their native language, personal hygiene to factory employees and swimming to individuals with autism. I’ve spent my career helping students decipher information by breaking concepts down into easy, bite-size pieces of material that are comprehendible for the learner. Every individual is different, so I am always thinking of different, innovative, memorable ways to deliver information. For example, the name of my Project: Face in Water. My main idea gets broken down again and again until hopefully it is universally understood:
“Your FACE goes IN the WATER.”“Put your FACE IN the WATER.”“Put FACE IN the WATER.”“PUT. FACE. IN. WATER.”“FACE. IN. WATER.”
I knew that Nhu was very teachable, since she flew through beginning ESL and went straight into the advanced program. When she e-mailed me three years later to see if I would teach her how to swim, there was no way I could refuse. She was a determined young lady and the ideal student. The timing was perfect for her to participate in Project: Face in Water:
“I like the water but I am afraid. I can say I have no experience with swimming. I never swim before so I really want to learn. My current relationship with water is strangers!”
Nhu had NEVER BEEN IN A POOL! Yes, you read that correctly. I was ecstatic to teach her yet another survival skill. We worked for an hour together and I felt like a proud mom, watching her conquer a huge fear. She walked in with a swim suit, cap and goggles that she bought for the occasion. She was adorable. As my photographer, cousin Daylen, observed, Nhu was like a young child experiencing the pool for the first time. Her firm grip on my hands, my arms and around my neck made me aware of how much fear was really there. You’d never know that just from looking at the pictures of her lesson.
Nhu was beaming with pride when she left The Swim School San Diego that day. What a phenomenal accomplishment. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to experience the pool for the first time as an adult. Or to move to another country where you don’t speak the language as a teenager. What a brave girl. And she texted me a few days later to see when we could swim again- she’s excited to learn more. See Nhu’s YouTube video to see what a superstar she is: