I teach language to adults, mostly professionals, in the great and sovereign State of South Kackalacky. And I rock it polyglot style, teaching English, Spanish, and occasionally, Portuguese. Most of my work comes from contracts through a company that serves BMW in upstate South Carolina. BMW will transfer workers, mostly Germans, over from other plants around the world to the plant here, and pay for English classes. They will also pay for workers here to learn another language (i.e. Mandarin, Spanish) if business needs justify it. This means I interact with a lot of interesting people with interesting backgrounds. Even if my student is a good old boy who likes riding motorcycles, he's likely a good old boy from Bavaria. Obviously this would not be super-interesting to someone from Bavaria, but it's super-interesting to me. The diversity of people with diverse backgrounds is something I've always enjoyed about teaching or studying languages. But recently I've had several students with more fascinating backgrounds than usual sit across the table from me (yes, I sit across from my students and judge them based on how interesting their story is, so what?).
One is a first-generation muslim German from a traditional Turkish family, married to a German Turk from a less traditional family. He is not only Turkish, but from a minority people group, the Laz, who were in Turkey 1,000 years before the Turks.
Another German looked Amerindian to me when we first met. When she mentioned that she was also Russian, I asked her about her look. She said she was "Siberian". When I pressed her on that, she told me she was Tatar. She spent her young childhood in Russia, and her teenage years on in Germany. How did she get to Germany? Her grandmother was a Volga German, which is a community of ethnic Germans who have maintained their language and religion since emigrating to Russia in the 18th century. Although many of them were expelled (and many died in that process) from the Soviet Union during the war, her mother was one of those who stayed on until her family moved to Germany in the 80s. I confess that I might have shed a tear when my student told me she remembered seeing her grandmother keeping and reading her old Bible during Soviet rule. My student is now married to an American martial arts instructor who enjoys bow hunting.
Then there's the German I was sure was a Pole when we met, until he said his last name out loud. It sounded like a common German surname and I asked him about it. Turns out he is both Polish and German, with a fascinating tale to go along with it. His grandmother was a Polish slave laborer transported to Bavaria during the war. Toward the end, when the S.S. came to take her to a camp, the family to whom she'd been given somehow convinced the stormtroopers that it would be better if she were left alive and with the family. The Polish girl ended up marrying the son of the German family. In the 50s they moved to Poland, where they had a big house with a big garden, and where the changed the spelling of their German name. Their grandson, my student, played some professional soccer in Germany (Dortmund, I think) before becoming an engineer.
I love the actual work of teaching languages, of tackling grammar, of talking about language and life, of moving into literature and culture. And I love working with motivated students, something that not every teacher gets to enjoy. But maybe most of all I love the different kinds of people my job allows me to interact with every day. I haven't even told you about everyone. But man, I could.
What a great job.