Or they don't ask because they're too shy or confused. And then they haven't done the reading. Or they wonder why everyone else is handing in an assignment (as last Thursday -- oops!)
Some of them are brand new to the country, living in North America for the first time, eating different food in a Homestay family's dining room, or trying to recreate a dish from China, Africa, Saudi Arabia, or India with groceries they've bought from the "exotic foods" section of the local (surely overwhelming) grocery stores. They've figured out how to take buses to get from the apartment or basement suite they've managed to rent, but they're anxiously waiting for their student loans to come through before October's rent needs to be paid (so they want desperately to know which books they absolutely must buy this month and which could be worked around until their budget is more elastic).
An African student speaks and writes English adequately enough to have got himself sponsored here on scholarship, but is struggling to understand the various accents it comes in. I struggle with his. I also struggle to understand students who learned their English in Korea, China, Burma/Myanmar, Egypt, Turkey, and Russia. It feels very important to capture their meaning the first time they're brave enough to try out their tongues in a new classroom -- but sometimes it takes all my intelligence and listening skills, every drop of energy I own (and I wish, intensely, for an upgrade of my hearing aids).
A student catapulted only last week from his Chinese home to his new Canadian one explains ruefully that he forgot his newly purchased books on the bus he'd proudly figured out how to take. I worry about what buying replacements will do to his careful budget. I worry more about how he'll catch up on the reading over the weekend -- he tells me that he has to look up every third or fourth word in a dictionary, but ensures me ever so earnestly that he will work very hard and he hopes he will do well. He puts his hands together and bows slightly toward me several times as he thanks me and leaves my office, then in a supposedly more Western gesture, adds an endearing wave. "Bye-bye," he waves. "Enjoy your lunch." And I go back to the now-cold soup whose hasty devouring he'd interrupted, catching me during my lunch, rather than my office hours. Who could have said "No, I'm on my lunch now," and shut the door. Not me, although I'm recognizing yet again that I'll hurriedly have to erect some boundaries, barriers even, if I'm to survive the term without letting all these needs exhaust me.
I'm faced with marking and prep that will take up many hours of my weekend, and I'm committed to a two-hour run today. Part of me is already panicking at the evaporation of time before I start another week whose pace sometimes seems unsustainable. But I've got a little plan: I thought I'd try assembling some images into posts that will remind me, and show you, the ways that beckon me to calm. I am unlikely to have a full free weekend from now until the end of term, but there are pockets of sustenance, and it seems important to choose them, to honour them, to note and acknowledge them with mindful attention.
So here's a start. Remember that each of these images can be enlarged with a simple click of your mouse. I have a large screen and find it very satisfying to call up the whole sunrise, mountains, mist, ocean waves, cliché flying bird and all. I dissolve into it, breathing, letting the day's stresses recede for a moment or two.