Letter to an Expert

By Jasmine Parmley

 Photo: Starr Sandoval

Photo: Starr Sandoval

During training last week, my fellow interns and I were asked to draft a letter to our future selves. We were told to write about our hopes for the coming weeks, what we were excited about, what we wished to achieve through helping others learn English, and how we felt about meeting our new students. 

A time capsule in letter form. You know the drill.

We were to revisit these letters at the end of the program.

Perhaps we were supposed to write something heartfelt and emotional— something to help us reflect on our summer in Japan. 

Although I did not yet have a clear vision of what I wanted to achieve as an English Camp intern, I was certain that I could at least write a decent letter.

“Dear Jasmine,” I began. After staring blankly at the empty lines on my paper for far too long, I jotted down a quick sentence or two about needing to purchase sweat-proof makeup to survive the Tokyo heat and closed my notebook.

There is a saying that “less is more”, but unfortunately in this case, “less” was simply “less” and nothing more.

In my defense, I had just suffered through a long, humid, jet-lagged Tokyo morning, but this did not change the fact that I was not proud of my letter.

I had not given this incident any more thought until a couple days ago, when my students had the task of writing a letter to an expert about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals

During this activity, one of my students experienced a mild case of writer’s block. I advised him to include questions that he had about the United Nations and their goals.

When stuck, asking questions is usually a good place to start.

Remembering my own case of writer’s block that I had the week before, I took my own advice and tried again.

In lieu of my almost-letter that I wrote during training week, I filled the margins of my textbook with questions I had about my impact as an English Camp mentor. My words were addressed again to the same person that I had failed to write to before: myself. 

So far, my small collection of questions covers topics such as discussing gender equality with students, keeping motivation levels high, and being aware of the space I take up as a foreigner. I have yet to figure out how to approach these ideas, but they keep me thinking.

While these new questions to myself take a very different shape from the letter that I originally wrote, they still have the same purpose of helping me figure out how I can best contribute to this program.

I can’t wait to find my answer.