Peace Corps Armenia: Narrative Arc

“I know this!” My student said in English. She grinned.

“I like this song,” I told her, glancing at my laptop screen. Let it go, from Frozen, had just started to play. I smiled to myself—I had been hoping they would recognize this part of the movie.

“Me too,” She and her friend craned closer and elbowed each other, smiling. “Yes haskatsa,” She whispered to her friend. I understood.

This is the same girl who pulled me over in the hallway after the 7th grade English club two weeks ago and told me in panicked Armenian that her English was bad, and she was embarrassed, and she wanted to be in the 5th grade class instead. I had told her sure, whatever you want, and assured her that her English was right where it needed to be if she wanted to stay in her class.

My game plan for Frozen was about 15 new words or phrases for every ten minutes of the movie—just enough so that they could understand the plot. The previous week, I spent about 4 hours going through the whole movie and deciding which words they would already know, which they would need to know, and what questions I could ask them to check comprehension. Then I picked out colloquial phrases that were useful, like “hang in there” and “just roll with it”, and tried to figure out how to explain those in either basic English or my broken Armenian.

So when only two of the eight students I invited to the movie came (despite somehow having 30 students for the previous lesson on basic questions?) I was a little frustrated. Was the lesson even worth it? If I was going to have to do the exact same lesson with a different two students next week, and hear that song again?

My two students sat side by side and wrote translations and notes on the words and phrases I gave them.

“Absoutllllley,” One repeated back at me, smiling. The word appeared like clockwork two minutes later in the movie and she perked up and grinned at me. They leaned in and whispered to each other, pointing at the verb list I made and translating. They laughed at the funny parts, and I did too, and I could see them understanding.

More importantly, they were proud that they were understanding. Seeing that—them look at each other and laugh, and understand, and feel good and smart for understanding, made me feel guilty for thinking for even a second that it wasn’t worth the prep time.

So much of what is on TV and in media, both in Armenia and all over the world including in America, follows a man’s achievement. There is so much that uses violence against women as a plot tool, where women and girls exist as cogs in the narrative arc but are rarely the hero. The girls and young women here and everywhere deserve so much better than that; they deserve to feel important, valuable, and proud of themselves.

Our world is coded in languages and corresponding cultures, and English and learning foreign languages can open up a lot of the world for kids and everyone. In headspaces that allow for the confounding of violence and love, where girls and women are plot tools or objects, it can help to have a separate language, a separate code and access to different narratives, where someone like you is a hero.

The truth is, I don’t think watching Frozen or other movies alone can change the world, and I certainly don’t think I am capable of any mass change. (I’m only 5′ 4 and not super organized.) I don’t really get to see the results of any work I’m doing, or know concretely if it is “worth it” per se, but that’s okay. Even if just one of those students decides that they deserves to be loved the way they want to be loved, or that they are important and can be a hero of a story, or feel proud and smart for understanding a foreign language, even for a second that’s completely worth it. If one student decides they’d rather be kind than tough, or decides there’s nothing wrong with them for not understanding, that’s worth it.

Language is so powerful. It’s the one thing that cracks us open, lets us explain ourselves, and helps us connect.

The only thing more powerful is a story.

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Photos of Lesson Plan so no one else who wants to do this has to watch the movie and come up with a word list!

(All views expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government or the Armenian government!)


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