27 September 2006

50+ years ago

This week my students are presenting the information they've found about their "Famous American." In order to show them how things would work, I did a mock presentation last week on tennis great Billie Jean King. I gave them some basic facts about her, all her career tennis victories, her struggle for women to earn equal prize money, her victory over Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes," and of course her life-long dedication to the game. I asked them to please ask questions based on this information, but I can never get them away from their favorite question...

It's always the first thing I'm asked when I meet a new group of Ukrainian students.

It's not about the U.S....though I may be the first "American" they've met,
It's not about my choice to live in their country for 2 years teaching English,
It's not about whether or not I miss my family (though that usually comes 2nd)...


Do you have any children?

Interestingly, (though not surprisingly), Larry doesn't get asked this nearly as often.

So they couldn't care less about Billie Jean King's legendary tennis career, they just wanted to know why she didn't have a "normal" family. And they demanded an answer. They wanted to know how I could choose my career over having a family, didn't I feel lonely in my life without children, and why I devoted time to helping underprivileged children but didn't have any of my own.

I literally didn't know how to answer these questions. When I said I (BJKing) was divorced, they demanded to know "why?" I told them it was a personal question, but they were unsatisfied.

This week during their presentations, the questions have continued. They consistently ask their classmates, who are acting as famous celebrities, first and foremost about their families. If they are unsatisfied with the response, nothing else seems to matter. No career achievements or international acclaim are as acceptable to them as having a "normal" family.

It's strange to be the only person in the room shocked by something. To everyone else, these questions seem normal. At first, I tried to explain to them that in the U.S. it would be more appropriate to ask "DO you plan to have children?" rather than "WHEN do you plan to have children?" But the concept of having children as a choice is something I feel my students are years away from accepting.

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