The Other Side of the Tutoring Table

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Today marks my 10th week of working in the PSU Learning Center, and I can say without hesitation that it’s the best job I’ve ever had. If you haven’t heard of the Learning Center, check it out! It’s a free service for PSU students and offers academic coaching and tutoring in nearly all subjects. You can visit on the second floor of the library…and be sure to come say hi if you do!

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Photo copyright The Learning Center. Psst…I’m on the left!

When I was in College Algebra, my required math course, I pretty much lived in the Learning Center. See, I’m a French major…which means I’m good with languages, but not-so-good with numbers. I became familiar with the student side of the tutoring table (and it saved my grade!) It was a completely different experience being the tutor, but one that I find extremely enjoyable and fulfilling.

Being the French tutor has allowed me to help other students learn this amazing language. I’ve gotten to help with verb conjugation, adjective agreement, conversation practice, and more…all of which has improved my own knowledge of the subject. If I don’t know the answer to a question, then the student and I get to learn together. It brings me immense happiness when the lightbulb goes on for somebody, or the way I explain a concept helps them understand it.

Tutoring can seem scary if you’re unfamiliar with it. But trust me, tutors are nothing more than fellow students who want to help you learn. There’s nothing scary about me, an overexcited French nerd. So come by the Learning Center and say bonjour, or guten tag, or whatever your greeting of choice may be. We’ll be happy to welcome you!

What I’ve Learned From 10 Years of French Classes

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I started taking French in sixth grade, which makes this my 11th year of studying it. But I’ve learned way more than just how to conjugate verbs. Studying it has made me more empathetic to people from different cultures and who don’t speak English as their first language.

When you start a new language, the first thing you realize is just how much there is to learn. Although this can be intimidating, it’s pretty cool to think about all the stuff you’re about to discover. Still, it’s made me much more humble by helping me realize how little I know in the grand scheme of things. America doesn’t value multilingualism the same way other countries do, which is a shame because speaking another language increases a person’s worldview so much. 

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When I was a teenager, I had the amazing opportunity to attend Canoe Island French Camp, a French immersion summer camp in the San Juan Islands. Several years later, I spent a summer working there as a program assistant, and those were the best summers of my life. We kayaked, swam, sang campfire songs in French, fell asleep while watching meteor showers, and feasted on French food. I even learned to like le fromage bleu. It was une opportunité merveilleuse to put my French to use in real life.

Learning a second language actually helped me appreciate my first language more. When I’m struggling to express a thought in French, it’s a relief to later be speaking English and easily say what I’m thinking without a struggle. It’s given me a much greater appreciation and respect for people learning English as a second language. Learning a language isn’t easy, and it’s important to be patient and kind.

The French language has also taught me to appreciate that English doesn’t have a subjunctive tense. If you don’t know what le subjonctif is…consider yourself lucky. French has a lot of verb tenses.

B.A. in Crochet

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

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My backpack is full of everything you might expect from a college student: textbooks, notebook, three-ring binder, a few candy wrappers, and a purple crochet dinosaur. Wait, doesn’t everybody have that last one? This particular dinosaur serves as my pencil case and has been an excellent conversation starter. That’s just one of the many benefits that crochet has brought me in the eight years I’ve been doing it.

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A lot of people hear “crochet” and think lace doilies or itchy sweaters. But crochet has come a long way since its early days, and it’s an amazing hobby. Crochet is my way of de-stressing after a long day of classes. When I sit down with a ball of yarn and a hook, the familiar movement of the stitches calms me like nothing else does. I love creating something out of nothing more than a ball of yarn, whether it be a sweater, hat, or dinosaur pencil case. Now I even have a job designing patterns for a popular crochet website.

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Crochet is perfect for a college student because it doesn’t take a lot of money to get started. You can get a crochet hook and a ball of acrylic yarn for less than $10, and there are plenty of YouTube tutorials to guide you on your journey. Crochet is one of the best things that ever happened to me, and I encourage you to give it a try. Who knows, you might just discover a new favorite hobby.

Taking Notes Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

Taking notes is one of the best ways to retain information. We’ve all heard it before…writing things down helps them stick in your mind. That doesn’t change the fact that taking notes can get a little boring. But I’m a huge nerd who loves taking notes, and there are a few ways you can spice up your everyday notes to make it fun. Here’s a picture of my notes from class last year. Keep in mind that not everybody is as obsessive as I am, so your mileage may vary. Do whatever works for you!

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First, get a notebook that you love. You don’t have to get any particular kind. Just find one that makes you smile and inspires you to fill it up. My notebook for this term was $4 from Muji, a store by Pioneer Square just a few blocks from campus that’s a great source for inexpensive school supplies. If you’re tired of lined paper, try graph paper or dot grid to change things up.

To go with your notebook, of course you need a writing utensil. Whether that’s a mechanical pencil or quill pen, just make sure it’s easy to write with. My latest obsession is fountain pens. Some students enjoy multicolored highlighters to color-code their notes. And many students prefer taking notes electronically, whether on their computer or tablet. The idea is simply to try changing things up if you’re bored with your notes.

When it comes time to actually take notes, be creative! You don’t have to write in a linear fashion. Try putting important facts in boxes or other shapes. It’s easy to experiment with different headings and bullet points to keep the process interesting. A few doodles never hurt, either. With a few little changes, taking notes can be both an educational and a creative process…and a lot more fun!

Writing an Essay Without Tears

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

We’ve all been there: the deadline for that five-page essay is looming, and you don’t know where to start. I’ve written a lot of essays in my three years as a writing student, and this is the process I use to reduce stress.

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  • Leave yourself plenty of time. Although a Red Bull-fueled typing frenzy at 3 a.m. is certainly an effective motivational tactic, it usually results in mistakes and a subpar essay.
  • Find your thesis. This is simply the main idea of your paper – the more specific, the better.

  • Make a haphazard outline. An easy method is to write the general topic of each paragraph, followed by a few bullet points of things you want to include.
  • Find your quotes. When you’re on a roll with a paragraph, the last thing you want to do is stop to scour the text for quotes. The nice thing about finding quotes before you start is that you can tailor the paper around them rather than trying to fit them in at the end.

  • Write! There’s no need to write in a linear order if you don’t want to. Just use your outline at the end to make sure everything’s in the right spot.
  • Read it out loud. This helps to catch grammar and syntax problems you might otherwise miss. Don’t forget to run it through SpellCheck, too. 

By the way, the Writing Center is a fantastic resource to visit anytime during this process. Take a deep breath. You’ve got this essay under control.


Five Beautiful Things a Day

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

It feels like just last week it was summer, and now fall is upon us. It’s easy to lament the loss of long, sunny days. As somebody who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly abbreviated as SAD), the transition into fall and winter is difficult. Lots of people have SAD. If you’ve ever felt more gloomy in the winter than you do in the summer, you may be one of them. 

There isn’t much you can do for SAD, because whatever you do, the seasons will keep on changing. Your doctor can advise things like Vitamin D supplements or spending time under a sun lamp, both of which are extremely helpful for me. However, I’ve found that the biggest difference comes from actively trying to change my mindset. 

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One way I do this is by making an effort to see the beautiful in the everyday. On my walk to the bus stop, I look for five beautiful things. It can be anything from a neat-looking rock to a cute corgi waddling along the street. The point is to engage with your surroundings and get out of your own head. 

I’ve been doing this for over a year, and it’s second nature now. The picture in this post was taken on my way to class when I got distracted by this cute little dandelion. It’s amazing how much beauty there is in the world once you start looking. 

Park Block Encounters

Untitled design-3 by Claire Golden

One of my favorite things about Portland State is its location, right smack dab in the middle of the Park Blocks. These blocks have the vibe of a traditional college campus, but they also have the energy of downtown Portland. I’ve had a variety of interesting encounters in the Park Blocks. 

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Photo credit: PSU Facebook

Just last term I was reading a book in the grass when a group of students came up to me with a clipboard. “Do you have a moment to rate your experience with the squirrels in this park?” This was such an unexpected question that of course I said yes. Turns out they were doing research on the aggression levels of squirrels in various Portland parks…and the PSU squirrels are overly friendly. (If those students find this post, good luck on your survey!)

I once stumbled upon a group of people doing yoga. They looked so peaceful and serene that I felt calmer just walking past them. On another occasion, I encountered a monk who was handing out books, and we had a pleasant conversation before I continued on my way (a few books heavier).

There are often events and music in the Park Blocks, which is a nice surprise. Because the Park Blocks are a public space, sometimes there are protests and demonstrations for various things. It’s all part of the PSU and Portland experience. I enjoy walking through these blocks on my way to class because I never know what I’m going to find. Who knows, you might even spot Cow Pigeon!