My Most Chinese Day So Far

Today has been my second favourite day in Shanghai, only to our three year ‘meet-a-versary’ on the 26 of May. I spent my morning at the Chinese Cooking Workshop near Hengshan Road, and had an absolutely wonderful time.

I learned, in meditative silence due to the language barrier with the friendly and helpful ayi (auntie), to make two different types of Dim Sum: sesame-covered red bean dumplings and black sesame dumplings. They are both so tasty!

The workshop is in a residential building with an extremely Chinese network of alleyways behind it. The kitchen where I learned was in a garden, with the rain falling on the roof and making atmospheric noises. I felt so at home and so very much like I was in China at the same time.

IMG_8542My compatriots were Japanese and had much better Chinese language skills than me. I watched in silence, extremely attentive to the ayi. we made a paste on the counter (that freaked out the Japanese girls) and then kneaded sticky rice flour into dough for the Dim Sum. My dough was apparently the best, better even than the ayi’s! She made a small ball of hers and of mine, and pointed at mine to say, “Very good! Mine’s got a little too much water, see?”

It was brilliant to be immersed in Chinese as well, while I cooked. I find myself remaining silent a lot here. Silent grocery shopping. Silent refilling of mobile phones and metro cards. Silent shopping. Charades is very important. I feel as if my language skills have all been stripped away and I am a small child. Still, I pay my dues every single day at work. I am compassionate to my students in English, in the hope that they will learn well and the hope that I will garner some language karma that can be put to use outside class.

I spoke the most Chinese I ever have today. Full sentences. I answered questions and understood when the ayi told me to sit down (if only because I hear ‘SIT DOWN, MIAOMIAO’ in Chinese in my lessons constantly). She said to the other girls that I was really good at cooking. Made my day.

Our landlords both spoke to me in Chinese today, about our gas bill I think. The woman, in her 60s, came up to our apartment and talked to me for about 15 minutes about everything from how I should definitely buy some cling film (hilariously motioning dire diarrhea and vomiting if I don’t cover our leftovers) to when my husband gets home. She spoke very quickly and I tried my best to keep up, repeating everything she said as close as I could with the right tones. She slapped me repeatedly in a good-natured way on the arm if I messed up.

I managed, after practicing in my head all day, to ask her what her name is.

‘Ni de mingzi?” (Not really right. I forgot the question particle and it’s like a two-year-old asking…)

She explained to me that she has a long name, three syllables. She only uses the first two, though. No point in using a last name, she said.

IMG_8535We fixed our fridge, which was wobbling, with teamwork and a bit of folded cloth. I explained that our wall decorations are stickers and can come off. It was very successful.

I’m trying so hard to learn Chinese. It’s coming, slowly. Slowly. As she left, my landlord instructed me in how to say bye-bye in Chinese.

Da I Jie!

I’m so happy. Happiest when I’m learning both language and cooking. Absolute bliss. I signed up for five more classes. Can’t wait!

Predictions for the Next 100 years

I recently finished reading The Next 100 Years, a book by George Friedman that outlines the possible political, technological, and social trends of the next 100 years. It was published in 2009. The author predicted, among other things:

  • A new Cold War, with Russia back on the offensive
  • World War Three between the US, Japan, Turkey, and Poland (including Pearl Harbor part 2: Moon Attack)
  • Microwave energy power beamed from space
  • Conflict between the US and Mexico as demographic changes take over and the US splinters on Spanish-American War lines

Friedman relied heavily on geographical limitations for his geopolitical system and predictions, and seemed to consider things from a distinctly 20th (or 19th?) century view. Also, he seemed genuinely afraid of demographic changes. Holy shit, we might be a bilingual nation already?! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. He completely dismissed the dangers of an unstable Iraq, failed to predict the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, and totally missed the signs that a group like the so-called Islamic State might arise in the Levant. Oh, and missed the boat entirely on the largest economic crisis since the 1930s. Little things. Space warfare is cooler.

I like to think that I’m well-informed, I decided to test my own predicting powers and publish them. You know, so that my great grandchildren can look at this and laugh. Or be awed by my perceptive predictions (hah). It’s hard to see into the future with any kind of precision. I don’t know where we’ll be living in three years, for example.

For simplicity’s sake, I broke it down into ten categories, with three predictions each. They are in no particular order of importance on the global stage. You can find a list of sources at the bottom of this page.

I begin now. It is 17:00 MST on 2 April 2015, and I am sitting in Bittersweet Coffee shop in downtown Louisville, Colorado, USA.

Louisville, CO

Louisville, CO

Coleen’s Next 100 Years 

North America

  • Marijuana will be legalised on a federal level in the United States by 2035. There will be considerable backlash (as has already started with the state-level lawsuits from states bordering Colorado) for some time, but by the end of the 2020s there will be legislative or de facto legalisation in more than half of states, beginning in the near future with California, Nevada, and Massachusetts. This will have major cross-border effects for Mexico, and may lead to a reduction in cartel influence in the Southwestern US. By the end of the century, it will look like the 1920s Prohibition to our great grandchildren (complete with gangsters!).
  • The US will continue to play an important role in the world, but the influence it has will not be as strong as it is now. This is not a terrible situation to be in. In the early parts of the century, we can influence economics and geopolitics, and the pressure to maintain world order and spread a particular ideology will wane. However, this will take a very long time to sink in for a nation whose identity is tied so very closely to being the very best in the world (at everything!). A new period of semi-isolationism will come into play in the middle part of the 21st century, similar to the way that the US behaved in the late1800s/early 1900s. Domestic social issues will become the fixation, and the US will use covert measures such as drones to carry out the vast majority of any foreign intervention. Around 2050, following years of deepening trade ties, the US will make an open border policy with many EU states. More US citizens than ever will have dual nationalities, and pressure will be on for governments to make provisions for this growing demographic group. Eventually a ‘passport’ of sorts for the whole economic area around the Atlantic may become a thing (see Brazil below).
  • The US will enjoy a brief period of high natural gas and oil production, which we are in the beginning of in 2015. The methods for extracting these fuels from shale will be efficient, but the scars from the process will be frequent and persistent. Gasoline will remain artificially cheap, because the US will not want to give up its relationship with private transport, until at least 2030. At that point, it won’t be possible anymore to sustain the current car culture. Fewer young people now are buying and keeping automobiles, and fewer of their children will as well. At some point around 2040, the US will *finally* get a high speed rail system that is up to 2015 standards in China, the UK, and many other developed countries. By the end of the century there is likely to be little accessible oil left, and it will be necessary to find other ways of getting around. Possibly, cities and towns will move toward walking cultures and downsize after the middle of the 21st century.
In front of the Blue Massif in Torres del Paine National Park

In front of the Blue Massif in Torres del Paine National Park

South America

  • Brazil will continue its upward trend in economics, social issues, and especially education. Eventually, the US will have to contend with Brazil as a large, powerful country in the Western Hemisphere. There may be some tension over this, because it will coincide with the decline of American superpower-hood in the first half of the 21st century. Eventually, Brazil and the US will be on mostly equal footing. That will be really interesting! Brazil is not the same as the US, but we have many similarities including our size, income inequality issues, mixed immigration history, and vast natural resources. At some point, Brazil may join the EU and the US in a sort of Atlantic Alliance where trade will be protected and people will be more free to relocate. That wouldn’t happen until around 2040, and only if Brazil continues to make strides. If by 2060 this economic pact is going well, then Brazil may institute freedom of movement with the US and EU.
  • Colombia will become a favourite destination for US vacationers by 2030. There will be better travel links and the reputation of the country from the 20th century will fade away. It is essentially the new Vietnam for tourism, a former dangerous conflict zone that will be hugely popular for tourism. This is already happening, and is likely to increase over the next 20 years.
  • If their recent instabilities are any indication, Venezuela is in for a rough start to the 21st century. Maduro won’t last as a president, but those in real power will continue to consolidate it. This will make their neighbours a bit anxious, especially as Colombia and Brazil rise. Like most oil-rich countries, Venezuela will face a major problem in the middle of the century when its reserves begin to falter. It will have a choice; remain isolated and try to disrupt the Atlantic Alliance trade and political unity, or modernise and attempt to participate in that group. For a long time, the former will be the choice. Some armed groups may rise up and even try to bother border regions of its neighbours around 2045.


  • Nigeria will continue to suffer the effects of Boko Haram for at least the next decade. Although the world will condemn the attacks over and over, the coalition of governments seeking to root out this particular jihadist group will not be able to make sweeping changes. It is possible that in addition to their recent supposed allegiance-swearing to the ‘Islamic State,’ Boko Haram will attempt to join forces in public with Al-Shabaab in Somalia/Kenya. This coalition will not make any major gains in the region in terms of politics or territory, but they will be difficult to completely get rid of. Nigeria will grow in power in the region despite this irritation. By 2050, the nation will have well surpassed a Brazil-in-2015 level of potential and economic prowess, exporting talent and capital all over the world. By the end of the century, it is possible that Nigeria will have some status in the Atlantic Alliance states. Toward the 2090s, they may join the free-movement zone.
  • Major extinctions will become more and more commonplace in African species, as pressures from development and external poaching markets continue to grow in the early part of the 21st century. It is unlikely that all the species currently under threat will survive the onslaught. Northern white rhinos will be extinct by 2022. Mountain Gorillas will become extinct in the wild by 2035, kept only in sanctuaries and zoos. Elephants will scrape by, but may face a fate similar to the bison of the northwestern American plains and be dramatically reduced in number. The environments will only begin to recover around 2050, when major conservation efforts will gain traction. Damage will remain, and the environment of these animals will not return to how it once was.
  • An unexpected power may rise in Africa during the next century, coming from apparently left field in a similar rise to wealth and influence to that of the Gulf states (Saudi, UAE, etc) in the 20th century. This will most likely be due to a discovery of immense material wealth in the form of energetic resources. This could be oil reserves if it happens in the next 40 years, but after oil begins to decline the focus may fall on some yet-unknown resource. This could raise an unstable and economically-poor area to relative power. My guesses include the Congo, the CAR, or even Sudan. After some conflict over the resources, the beneficiary of this boom will be able to choose from the bids of many outside countries in Asia and Europe and build material wealth so great that the conflict will subside (or at least be largely ignored in the rest of the world).
Annecy- La Petite Venise

Annecy- La Petite Venise


  • I count Russia as part of Europe, although their influence will remain important in Asia. If recent trends are to be believed, Russia will continue to press on its neighbours to establish another round of Cold War-esque intrigue. It will be necessary to remain friendly with Russia for the US and other states interested in space exploration, however. They have the best space-bound flights and manned programme at the moment, although of course NASA remains important. Until Vladimir Putin dies, the Russian Federation will be in trouble. He will always be pulling the strings, and he will always be nostalgic for the Soviet days (even if some regular Russians are not). We have already seen the EU working as a bloc to influence Russia’s borderlands (especially Ukraine), and as more countries join the union Russia may get more aggressive, sensing that a powerhouse that could challenge it on the Eurasian continent is growing more and more powerful. After some tense years in the 2020s, Russian desperation will grow to be included in technological and economic advances of its neighbours to the West. At some point, Putin will die and after a few years of confusion Russia will calm down and be ready to contribute again. They will remain their own thing for the whole of the century, and potentially lose clout in the region. If Iran manages to move ahead (as I predict it will below), then Russia and Iran may begin working alongside Turkey to influence trade and counter the Atlantic grouping that will be going on with Brazil, the US, and the EU.
  • The European Union will grow in power and number over the next 20 years. At some point, a more European identity will come to the fore, as opposed to nationality. Freedom of movement will lead to friction in the 20-teens to 2020s, with pressure on governments to keep national identities in place. Once free movement turns 50 in 2045, the feeling will be much different. The EU will continue to have distinct national identities for member states, but a growing sense of European Identity will gradually supplant nationalism. The Euro may continue to falter for years, but it is unlikely to go away completely. By 2035, the EU will have weathered the new Cold War tendencies of Russia and come through that period with more solidarity than ever. The EU and US will begin to share even more, and eventually freedom of movement will extend to Statesians (and later, Brazilians). Some areas of European nations (Scotland, Catalonia, etc.) will attempt independence…but this will grow to be a fruitless enterprise as European Identity replaces nationalism.
  • There will be an attempt to hold an EU referendum in the United Kingdom before 2025. However, it will be overwhelmingly pro-EU, especially as the federation grows to be more closely associated with one another. Until then, it will be a stumping issue for UK political hopefuls. It’s possible that there will be another referendum later in the century to decide about entry into the Atlantic area, but this too will go in favour of more integration and not isolationism.

buddha hallAsia

  • This is potentially the hardest region to predict for, if only for the sheer size of the place! Former Soviet republics will gain influence and power as the Middle East’s oil reserves begin to dwindle, starting in the late 2020s. Based on meeting many of their young people in London who were hell bent on making it into a powerhouse, Kazakstan is likely to enjoy a rising tide. Income inequality in that country may eventually push it to rapid social change in a protest movement, or they may move forward in a way similar to Brazil’s path from the 1990s to 2015. I hope for the latter, but I think the former is more likely. As these countries move into the space in the global economy left by Brazil, Turkey, Russia, China, and Nigeria’s development, they will gain influence. In general, the 21st century will be more about Eastern and Southern influences in the world than the 20th century’s Western dominance.
  • Japan will face serious demographic issues in the near future. Before 2030, the birth rate will have fallen desperately low and the numbers of elderly citizens will be growing even faster than now. Japan faces a choice; they must open to more immigration to sustain themselves as a nation, or they will not be able to remain a world economic power. This is *the* story of the 21st century. Nations will become less important as migration takes off even more than it already has. Reactionary movements from within countries will become more common (see the EDL and UKIP in the UK, and those idiots screaming at children last summer in US border states). It is possible that Japan will become more militaristic and nationalistic as it sees this future of immigration coming, as is already happening to a certain extent under PM Shinzo Abe.
  • The biggest prediction for Asia: North and South Korea will begin to reunite by 2030. There is too much that we don’t know about North Korea’s power structure, but it will become harder and harder for the government to keep the same influence and control over its citizens. It seems crazy now, but I’m sure that in 1974 the fall of the Berlin Wall would have seemed unreachable in 15 years. This may be one of the last great diplomatic breakthroughs that the USA will broker in it’s role as superpower, as after the 2030s the decline will begin to take hold and we will take more of a backseat approach to geopolitics.


  • Indonesia will rise on the same tide as Brazil and the former Soviet republics in the beginning of the 21st century. As the most populous Muslim country in the world with a degree of separation from the volatile Middle East, Indonesia will have a role to play in the re-structuring of that region. If they manage to get a grip on domestic issues and political problems, Indonesia stands to become a bit of a regional power through diplomatic gains. By the latter half of the century, Indonesia may partner with India and China to form a similar organisation to that of the Atlantic Alliances between EU, US, and South American powers. This will be more of a trade organisation than a political one, and freedom of movement is unlikely to become as easy as in the Atlantic nations. Still, by the late 2080s this organisation may rival the Atlantic one, causing some friction.
  • If climate change predictions follow through, many island nations in the Pacific will be lost entirely by mid-century. Nauru, Palau, and parts of Micronesia will band together and ask more and more insistently for redress. If the devastation is bad enough and the people of these nations feel ignored enough, it might be possible that in the 2050s small terrorist groups will form in the region and attempt to harm trade. Regional powers like Indonesia will be the beneficiaries of their efforts, however…they will get to show off newly-acquired military and geopolitical capital.
  • Australia will remain closely tied to the US and the EU, but will begin to feel somewhat isolated after the Atlantic free movement zone is created. They will play a role not dissimilar to that of the US in the early 20th century, independent and somewhat isolated, but able to work with almost anyone in either of the two major trade/political zones. As part of this, they will loosen ties to the British Monarchy and have their own head of state (if indeed the monarchy manages to withstand full republican leanings in the UK). Australia will benefit greatly from migration and trade as an outsider, and if there ever was a conflict between the Pacific and Atlantic regions, it could com out of it as a power much like the US did at the end of WWI.

Middle East

  • There’s a reason that this one is the last region I focused on. Everything that happens everywhere else will directly and indirectly impact the region. In the immediate future, Daesh (al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham, the self-styled ‘Islamic State’) and its offshoots will continue to exist in the region for at least the next decade. Although they will garner a fair amount of worldwide attention, their impact will be largely local. By 2018, I doubt that ‘IS’ will even be a consideration as it fragments and largely loses territory and supporters in all the areas it current hold sway, with the possible exception of Syria. If at any point in the near future Bashar Al-Assad kicks the can, one could expect Daesh to make gains in that country. By 2020 Daesh will be gone and replaced by some other regional radical group/groups. If the Assad regime is fully forced out, one could expect to see a military junta of sorts in Syria to come up as a governing body.
  • Iran will be a major player in the region, and if sanctions are lifted (as the agreement reached today stipulates, albeit with conditions to be met) it could become a stronger economic power. Their influence in the conflicts currently underway in Yemen and Iraq/Syria is important. They could potentially move toward rivalling the Saudi Kingdom, especially if oil starts to run out in for that country. While Saudi holds Mecca and will be able to leverage some major Hajj-related tourist money, it may over-reach soon and have to retreat to being a peripheral consideration instead of a major US ally in the region. By 2050, given the right circumstances in the meantime and a commitment to change once the old guard of Supreme Leaders dies off, Iran could be a major world player.
  • Most of the gains and changes as a result of the Arab Spring will not be permanent. Libya, Egypt, Beirut, and Tunisia will remain in flux for a few decades, but any popular uprising will not be sufficiently organised to make lasting changes. Turkey will drift farther toward both authoritarian rule and waning secularism under the current leadership, and Erdogan will continue to consolidate his power over the next few elections. Despite having a vibrant economy and close(ish) ties to the West, Turkey will not reach its potential. I would not be surprised if by 2050 Turkey is a fully authoritarian state, with major upheavals before then.
  • Bonus: Israel. Oh, Israel. So hard to predict what’s going to happen with this volatile little country, which was essentially an idea at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite many efforts both internal and external to disband this tough little nation, Israel will still be around in 2115. However, a two-state solution will come into effect in the mid-2030s. Eventually, other concerns will overtake the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the general rise of Iran will cause Israel major fretting. It might be possible, once Iran is stable enough in the 2040s, that they could work together and mitigate some of the regional problems linked to decline in oil production. This major policy shift will render the nuclear question obsolete.

IMG_7974Social Change

  • The US will do away with capital punishment before 2035. As more pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply the necessary drugs for executions, more states that still use the death penalty will have to adopt extreme measures like Utah just did. Firing squads. Unfortunately, the dearth of death row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence in recent years will not be enough to change this practice in the United States. Not even the harrowing testimony of those who have witnessed botched executions will suffice. The death penalty in the US will only disappear when the public is exposed to the sheer violence of a firing squad execution, when the drugs run out. I’m not sure that the first one will be enough, either. But it will happen, especially when cell phones are everywhere and leaks are inevitable.
  • There was a strange spot, about 1950-2009, where it was expected that when a child reached the age of eighteen they would leave their familial home and never return. I’ve done a lot of ancestry research while hanging out unemployed, waiting for my visa documents. Every census I could ever find indicated that at least three generations lived in the same house. This will come back into necessity, and already is for many people my age. We are denigrated as ‘Boomerang Kids’ or liabilities for our parents, but this is the way it has always been. Throughout all human history. The nuclear family is a bizarre 20th century invention. In the 21st century, familial living will become more prominent. Education, low employment, and automation will drive us back into communal living in order to mitigate the effects of a changing economy. Parental leave will finally come into practice in the US, catching us up with all other developed nations, before 2025.
  • By the end of the century, my great grandchildren will be living comfortable but crowded lives. In some ways, a huge amount has changed in daily life since 1915. In other ways, not much has changed. My great grandchildren will still need to eat, will still like tea and coffee, and will still want to have time for family. They may be able to walk through the same ancient cities that I visit around the world, so long as they aren’t too close to the water (Venice might become a nice scuba destination!). The large houses of the present in the US will give way to smaller apartments and duplexes similar to those in England. I imagine that fashion will look less like Star Trek than loose and flowy, and I hope that rampant consumerism might have calmed a bit.


  • Self-driving cars will be commonplace by 2025. Yes, in ten years. Maybe even sooner. The changes are already in place, and semi-autonomous systems are already being driven on major roads. By the end of the century, it will seem barbaric that people once died on the roads in their thousands.
  • A major medical breakthrough on par with the polio vaccine will come about mid-century. This could be a way to safely mitigate cancer, a cheap nanotech diagnostic tool to catch diseases extremely early, or a water-purifcation technique that will render millions access to safe drinking water. More than likely, reversible male birth control similar to The Pill will become available by 2030. By the 2040s, male contraception will be as common as female methods are today. Hooray equality!!
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) may come closer to being fully conscious, but it will be difficult to tell how to proceed. It’s likely that by the end of the century people will have robotic cleaning help (not like the Jetsons, more like a dishwasher that can collect the dishes). Still, due to shortages of electricity and oil it will be simultaneously necessary to return to old ways of doing things. For example, it’s likely that clothes dryers will become less and less common, and outdoor clotheslines will see a comeback in the US (they are already the standard basically everywhere else….).
  • Space travel will become somewhat commonplace by mid-century. It will still be out of reach for the vast majority of people, akin to travelling first class on the Titanic. By 2040, it is possible that the first manned mission to Mars will take place, but those who go to the Red Planet will not be able to return to Earth. By the 2070s, a moon colony will be established by the recently-incorporated Atlantic Alliance, followed by the other two major trading blocs. By 2080, it is possible that some back-and-forth traffic with Mars will be established, but it is unlikely that a major colony will come into place before 2115.

Climate Change

  • Easily the biggest wildcard for the next 100 years is global weirding. The world has warmed on average 0.85 degrees Celsius. Even if we adopt big changes in carbon emissions, the world is looking at about 1.5-2.0 degrees of change by 2115. The predictions of people far more qualified than me range from ‘meh’ to apocalyptic.
  • If the change happens as predicted, the resulting climate problems will push more and more people to migrate to safer areas. This will happen both within and between nations, further upping the ante when it comes to immigration policies and the cultural mixing that will be necessary. The US will have a head start on this process, as the drought in California will extend for at least a decade and force people out of jobs in the region. This is more serious than just any state suffering a major setback; California’s economy is bigger than Russia, Italy, and Brazil. This will be the start of major problems with climate change for the greater US. Florida will also suffer, as will New York and the states in Tornado Alley. Large, destructive storms will become the norm instead of the exception. Despite this, people will continue to live in the path of weather problems until the end of the century.
  • As discussed above, some nations may be lost totally in the sea rises that are predicted for the next 100 years. In addition, many urban areas will have to deal with flooding and potential loss of territory to the sea. Building giant dykes like in the Netherlands is not an option for many places, and some major migration to other population centres will happen and change the landscape of powerful cities. New Yorkers may retreat to Chicago. Denver may become a major centre of trade and experience a huge population boom (dependent on the availability of water, ironically). London will have to build an even bigger Thames Barrier. Costal cities will experience depopulation, and economic and demographic power will centralise inland.
  • If the Antarctic melting gets worse, all this could be even more severe. By 2115, climate change will have affected daily life for every person on Earth.

Major themes of the 21st Century

Climate Change



Major trade blocs: USA-EU-Brazil~Nigeria (Atlantic), India-Indonesia-China (Pacific), Russia-Iran-Turkey (Eurasian)

And I’ve finished, at 13:26 13 April 2015. Took longer than I had thought to predict the next 100 years!


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Does Teaching English Abroad Make You a Neocolonialist?

Paris 2011

Paris 2011

I read an article on my beloved MatadorNetwork last night that got me thinking about TEFL once more. It’s been nine months since I was a teacher, and I’m now back on the side of the student while on my MA course.

The piece is called “How to teach English abroad and not be a neocolonialist.” Loaded title. Let me start by saying that I have considered this at some length, throughout the times I was teaching English abroad and in the US. I  agree that neocolonialism is bad, and that many of the ways English is taught around the world are extremely problematic. I’ve even shown my students Patricia Ryan’s fantastic talk about the globalisation of English, and hope that English never becomes the wasteland that TOEFL seems to hope it would be.

I wrote about neocolonialism and my own place in the great English Machine in the first few weeks in Chile, in 2011:

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 13.20.55

In Chile, “neo-colonialist” sometimes seemed to become synonymous with “gringo” (which is not particularly offensive in Chilean Spanish, although it may be in other places). The idea that I could exist as an anglophone volunteer who tried her hardest to learn the local language and to avoid cultural imperialism like the plague to the best of my ability was ignored, because all that could be swept away with a single utterance of that term. Given my background, my ethnicity, and my native language, I could never be anything but a neo-colonialist in the minds of many, no matter how many rules I followed.

Tia Coleen, with my students on July 8th, 2011

Tia Coleen, with my students on July 8th, 2011

In Korea, the situation is equally complex. Historical considerations of the USA and perhaps a far more developed “Cult of English” made some of the points in the article from yesterday much more apparent. But was it my fault that I was asked to keep an English-Only policy in the classroom by my employer? Is it the fault of the native speaking teacher that demand in Korea is high for them, based on expectations of what “good English” is or where it comes from? Can I help the fact that I was born into English, and not just any English…accents from the Front Range of Colorado tend to be highly-sought after even in the US (Let me put it this way: We basically sound like news anchors.)?

Gyspy Pirate Fortune Teller Teacher, Halloween 2012

My required costume for a few days, Pirate Teacher, Halloween 2012

And yes, we had Halloween at my Korean Hagwon. I had no say in the matter. It was a corporate decision and we had to participate as part of our job. The kids liked it well enough, and we were careful to say that it was just one holiday that is not better or worse than any other. Some parents removed their children from classes that day, claiming that they should never get a day off from TOEFL. Now that’s oppressive.

I wanted to respond to the article, from my own perspective. I originally posted this as a comment, but as I explored the issues and my experiences, I found myself with nearly 800 words. Nobody’s got time for that in a comment. That’s why I’ve re-posted here, and why I used “you” throughout to refer to the author, Alyssa James.

To me, it appears that the piece is saying that most TEFL teachers *are* neocolonists. It appears to suggest that this is the default position. That inevitably most who teach abroad are in a “Teacher > students. English >any other language.” mentality, and not even aware that they are. I just do not see it that way at all. I do not believe that I was a neocolonialist while teaching abroad, either. At least not of my own volition.

We are living in a post-colonial/neocolonial world, and it is oppressive. I agree with that. But the teachers who move abroad and do all the things Alyssa James asserts are neocolonialist behaviour (feeling like an Other, acknowledging English as one possible part of success, being unable/unwilling/told not to learn the language of the students, keeping an English-Only policy in the classroom) are not operating in a vacuum. Any analysis of their behaviour must be informed by the knowledge that they didn’t choose to be native speakers any more than their students/colleagues chose their own native languages. Furthermore, I’ve been a language student many times. I know that the types of things described in the article are not limited to English alone, and I believe I have a well-informed idea of the most-effective teaching I’ve known as a student of French, Italian, Spanish, and Korean.

Please see my original comment below.

While I agree broadly with most of the piece, there are a couple things that you simply get wrong. (Obligatory personal background: Originally from the US. I taught English in the US (as a tutor), in Chilean Patagonia, and in South Korea. I wrote about these experiences here on MatadorNetwork  and for BridgeTEFL I’m currently on an MA course in Linguistics in the UK.)

First problem: Assuming that by ‘feeling like the Other’ teachers were referring only to their classroom experiences, and asserting that those feelings are not legitimate.

In Korea, there are about 22,000 foreign English Teachers. Roughly 0.04% of the population. By my definition, a minority, and a tiny one at that. It’s reasonable that foreign teacher might feel somewhat singled out or at least as though they don’t quite fit in in broader cultural, linguistic, racial, or other terms. The nature of being a native English teacher in a country where English is not the most-used language is to be in a minority population.

We could resolve this by assuming that the category of ‘The Other’ is fixed and can never include certain groups, which appears to be your analysis of the English teachers (essentially: You are not the Other, and you never can be because you were born into English). This is simply not true. It is possible that under certain circumstances, being a native English speaker could be detrimental in a specific culture or scenario.

You appear to assume that the people with privilege (like being born into English) can control their own position in the system, or that they are even able to be aware of it. Being born into English is a chance accident over which they have no control, any more than the students in their classes or their non-native-speaking colleagues could control not being born into it. It is fairly well established that an oppressive, unequal system can trap and constrain the Oppressor as much as the Oppressed.

Second Problem: Assuming that by speaking in only English in the classroom, the teacher is being inherently oppressive to their students. Firstly, most TEFL teachers have little control over the policies that are chosen and put into place by the schools in which they teach.

Their job may be at least partially contingent on maintaining English-only in the classroom. I find it a stretch to say that the teachers themselves are being neocolonialist, as opposed to the TEFL system of the school or more generally the system of English in the world that the teacher is merely one tiny person in. Those systems may be neocolonialist, but holding an English-only policy under some coercion is a by-product of that oppressive system and not produced by the TEFL teacher themselves.

Furthermore, not all classrooms are the same. Not all students are the same. Some classrooms need a mixture of English and more language(s). Some, especially higher-level courses where the goal is to hone English rather than begin it, need English-only as a matter of pushing students to learn to express themselves in complex ways without translation. With everything translated into the native language, or even with some translation, there is the constant possibility of an ‘out’ (that is, the ability to use a word from the native language without translating instead of finding a way to use the target language alone). Students eventually stop progressing.

This is not unique to English-teaching. French teachers do it. Italian teachers do it. Mandarin teachers do it. Arabic teachers do it. Basically any native speaker of any language does it when teaching that language, at a certain point. The goal is not to promote the hegenomy of a single language, but to approximate the pressure of an immersive environment. If the environment outside the classroom is not immersive and not pushing students to use the target language in their everyday lives, one possible way to approximate immersion is to use English-Only in the classroom.

Frankly, if we assume that TEFL teachers have ‘the antithesis of minority status’ because ‘what you do or don’t do in the classroom can affect your students’ life chances,’ it would be irresponsible not to prepare students for a situation in which they cannot use their native language, and they cannot translate. This is what the goal of learning a language is; to actually be able to use it in practice outside a classroom setting, ostensively with native speakers of that language.

Yours is a fine analysis from a particular perspective. However, it misses clear things that should inform why certain things happen in the world of TEFL and how the teachers within it behave. There are, of course, ways of teaching English that are neocolonial, but the blame for that should be placed more on the systems that produce the hegemony of English and the effects of this system on those within it, teachers included. Blame the system, not the teachers.

But the question remains open: Does teaching English abroad make you a neocolonialist?

I don’t think so. What do you think?  


Colorado 2011

Colorado 2011

I’ve been ruminating over this post for well over a year now. Three continents, four countries, and a circumnavigation of the world later, it’s still on my mind.

At some point, I became nationless. I am not English (or Korean, or Indian, or Chilean, or Italian). I am not “American,” either.

This is the product of my transitional life. Everything changes each time I move country. Food. Language. Circumstances. Job. Currency. Taboos. Friendships. Time zones. There is a definite immaterial bent to the material changes. I am still the same me in each new location (or at least I think I am), but the slow accumulation of these differences has slowly changed who that ‘me’ actually is.

If that weren’t confusing enough, the net effect of these combining changes is also manifested in the reactions and perceptions of those with whom I interact. People talk about third-culture children, but what about third culture adults? This is the two-pronged shitstorm of living abroad: #1, being an immigrant and all that entails, and #2 being unwelcome in one’s ‘own’ culture. One could put these in terms of being both immigrant and émigrée.

I am an immgrant. My presence in this country is contingent on my finances, my relationships, my studies, and my continued eschewal of anti-social behaviour. A government agency has decided for the moment to allow me to remain here, and can revoke that decision at any time. I have been an immigant in several countries, in several senses of the word. A student, a teacher, a volunteer, a worker, a tourist with a long visa. Five visas, four years. I’m getting rather good at this.

But being an immigrant is so much more than my visa. Huge swaths of cultural, racial, traditional, and linguistic aspects of society are challenged by immigration. This produces fear on the part of the challenged, or at least widespread discomfort. This is where the constant buzzing over immigration in most countries comes from. Those who feel more attached to their culture or society through an accident of birth often talk about immigrants and our impact.

Is this my nation?

Is this my nation?

The effects of this talk are easily visible. The huge debate about the NHS and how ‘health tourist’ immigrants cost the UK £2 billion per year, culminating in the proposal to make immgrants pay for their care in a supposed single-payer system. There are the weekly claims by government officials about the numbers of immigrants engaging in antisocial, illegal, or generally annoying behaviour. People in power can claim 1 in 5 marriages is a sham for immigration, despite that claim being practically unfounded. News agencies in Korea can run stories about how foreigners rape, steal, and generally spread pregnancy and HIV with impunity. US politicians can claim that for every immigrant brought in by their parents who is a valedictorian, there are 100 who are drug mules (that the only immigrants to the US are Mexican is of course the unspoken subscript).

To be an immigrant means to live with the the ever-present fear of immigration law changes. The legislatures of mine and my boyfriend’s countries are both currently debating immigration reforms, which often hurt those most likely to follow the laws (i.e. us). It is very difficult, if not impossible, to legislate a stop to illegal immigration. But governments want to show their xenophobic bases that they are acting on it, and thus try to bring down the overall numbers by attacking groups like students and couples whose passports don’t match. I have firends who live in exile from their own country because they don’t want to be separated from their spouses, who are citizens without the benefits of their birthplace.

Estimates of how many immigrants there are, what we do, and how much we ‘cost’ an economy are regularly off by ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE.This is not a locally US or UK phenomenon, it is global. I’ve never set foot in a country (and I’m up to eighteen now) that didn’t have a pejorative narrative about immigration in general, or at least some particular groups of immigrants. Politicians use false and harmful claims to energise their base, and to unite people around a common goal of retaining ‘Englishness’ or ‘American Culture’ or whatever they feel like promoting. No, no, surely that is only present amongst the Tea Party, the EDL, and the Golden Dawn. I wish it were. It would be much easier to dismiss the opinions of fascists and openly ethnocentric people, but the biases against immigration run far deeper than that.

People spout flawed and biased narratives about immigrants without considering that their own families and friends are likely to be affected in an increasingly global world. They are taken in by the pervasive falsehoods that fly in the face of facts and then use them to guide their lives, and especially their political decisions. They say innocent-sounding things like, “No one follows the immigration laws of the US” despite the fact that at least 14 million enter the US legally each year, and more than one million legally become citizens per annum. Of those who obtain permanent resident status in the US each year, 66% are being reunited with their families. But screw those people, who paid thousands of dollars and lept through bureaucratic hoops of fire to live in the same place as their families. Immigrants aren’t worth anything! They take jobs from us! They break the law! By pandering to narratives instead of looking at reality, they alienate immigrants and make us feel nationless.

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

I miss my old Korean neighborhood, the Gok.

To anyone I pass on the street, it is fairly apparent that I’m not from England. I’m a bit tall, really, and I have the characteristic chub of North American sedentary lifestyles. I open my mouth and it only gets worse. Sometimes, I don’t feel comfortable enough in a pub to order drinks, for fear of being singled out as foreign by my (rapidly-adjusting) accent alone. There is at least some (albeit very rare) evidence that my fears are grounded; a student from the US with a foreign accent was attacked by some men in an area of London I frequent, for being ‘obviously not local’.

I feel nationless because my nationality is not compatible with my daily reality. It’s the big questions that weigh on me: What is “American”? What is my nation? What is my culture? Where am I welcome?

Being an émigrée is just as difficult as being an immigrant. When I meet other people from the US, the changes I’ve accumulated in a few years living abroad are like a giant red flag waving in their faces, with ‘Other’ written on it. In fact, it is often more difficult for me to relate to those with whom I supposedly share the most. If there is a cultural misunderstanding between myself and someone from outside the US, I automatically get a pass as a foreigner (and I automatically give them a pass since I assume it must be a cultural difference). If I break some US cultural taboo, I my own national identity is in jeopardy.

This was a lot more common when I lived in Korea. I was called Anti-American at least four times while there, which is not an insult easily leveled by a Korean. Others from the US saw my political, social, and linguistic beliefs as indications that I was actively engaged in destroying “American” culture. Not least is in my informed choice not to use the term “American” in favour of “from the States” or even the newly-coined term from my boyfriend, “Statesian.” America is a continent. The USA is a country. If those who dislike my terminology had the same experiences in Europe and South America that I’ve had, they might consider Statesian a welcome alternative.

Taquile 2011

Taquine 2011

It’s true that the mould of my nationality is rigid and chafes me. But there are people defining facial features by degrees of American-ness, defining where my clothing styles fall on the spectrum of US cultural acceptability, criticising my bathing habits and deoderant use, my low use of electricity, my food choices. It’s fucking ridiculous! How could anyone be “American” enough? Not to mention that this assumes there is such a thing as being truly and throughoughly “American,” and not a walking amalgamation of cultures, traditions, and languages that constitute being from the States. Every time I go abroad, at least one Statesian tries to lump me in with them just because we happen to share passports, expecting that I must by definition share their beliefs and cultures.

It’s like reverse immigration. As someone moving outside the “American” that most know, I’m not welcomed by those who grew up in the US nor am I welcome in other countries as someone other than “the American.”

Politically, I’m just not sure that I care anymore. In England, I cannot vote. In the US (where I have not lived full-time for four years) I don’t know enough about the candidates to do so. When I send my absentee ballot, it is rejected on some strange grounds, returned to sender, or replaced with a paper ballot that arrives two weeks after the election. How can I be expected to take political processes seriously, when I can’t even participate? Not to mention that I’m not particularly proud to be part of a political system that can’t even pay its bills and which goes against most of its founding principles. I’ve tried to participate, traditionally and not, and gotten little response or change.

In England, I was able to register with the NHS the other day and access it just like a citizen, but in my own country up to Oct.1 I wouldn’t have had even basic coverage without the support of my parents. This year I did not have to pay much in taxes, but I did have to pay into the national health scheme of Korea each month. If I got similar services from the US, I’d happily pay a bit more in tax. The problem is that I don’t have a choice, even if I live abroad indefinitely. I have to pay taxes in the US for services I can’t use, or I have to give up my passport like the thousands of Statesians who do so every year.

I feel disillusioned about nationality and confused about where I fit in, but I’m not alone. There are major transnational phenomena at play in my own personal disillusionment and identity crisis. Forced out by the policies of their own countries (i.e. UK spouse visa, US healthcare, Spanish unemployment, ongoing conflict and war in North Africa), more are on the move between countries than at any time in previous human history. I don’t want to speak for all 200 million+ of us, but my experience as a nationless or émigré person is at once representative and not for all globally mobile people.

In Korea, I was living 7000 miles away from my friends and family and what were the benefits? Health insurance? A salary? The ability to live in the same country as the man I love? These are things that should be found in my own nation, and yet they aren’t. The economic crisis pushed my generation to leave in record numbers, taking the places of people fleeing their own nations’ problems. I have an immense amount of guilt that because of my race and background, I don’t have to risk my life on a boat in the Mediterranean or run across the border at night. Millions are still willing to risk it all in order to seek a better life abroad, and thousands die each year in the attempt. One particular story in early October brought me to tears on my morning commute: a young woman who gave birth to a son who never saw the light of day when the boat caught fire and sank off Lampedusa.

30,000 made it to land. 19,000 died at sea.

30,000 made it to land. 19,000 died at sea.

As recently as three generations back in my family, it was that kind of harrowing immigration that brought my ancestors to the shores of the US and Canada. Am I dishonouring their sacrifices by becoming an immigrant myself, leaving the place and the culture that they fought so hard to get to? Or am I following in their giant footsteps, fighting for a better life for my own descendents in a way they would recognise all too well?

I am nationless, but we all are. What are nations or countries but arbitrary divisions of the human imagination? The divisions do not serve us, and the immigrant/émigré embodies the discomfort we must all take on in some way if we are to thrive in this new century. The recognition that movement is not a crime, and that immigrant/émigrés are not outsiders to the human condition will come, but only with the recognition that we are all the product of the movement of thousands. Humans did not spread out over the Earth by remaining in their tiny communities, thousands of years ago.

There are no answers to all these questions, and no ways to make my multi-faceted multi-national multi-cultural life into a coherent nationalistic identity. But this is not something that only effects me, or indeed, that only effects that country who owns my passport. This is global, and I’m a part of something bigger than you or me that is defining the 21st century on this tiny planet of ours. There is nowhere on Earth you can run to where you will encounter a pristine, non-global, no immigrants culture. Not even at the ends of the Americas in Tierra del Fuego. Not in the pressure-cooker of Korean desires for ethnic and national purity. Not in the towns that outlaw foreign food in Italy. Not in the whitebread and highly-educated Colorado town I was born in. Certainly not in the neighbourhood I call home now.

Nationless may be the state of the 21st century. I’ve just got a headstart.

EDIT: This awesome study on immigration to the UK is from my very own university, UCL! Defending immigration with science:

“Immigrants who arrived after 1999 were 45% less likely to receive state benefits or tax credits than UK natives in the period 2000-2011…Immigrants from outside the EEA (like me, from the US) contributed 2% more in taxes than they received in the same period, the report showed. Over the same period, British people paid 11% less in tax than they received. 

The report also showed that in 2011, 32% of recent EEA immigrants and 43% of non-EEA immigrants had university degrees, compared with 21% of the British adult population.

Meanwhile, a separate UCL study released on Tuesday warns that the government’s target to cut net migration to the UK to the tens of thousands is “neither a useful tool nor a measure of policy effectiveness”. That report argues that actions to cut work-related, student and family migration have damaged the UK’s reputation as a good place to work and study.”