As the technology coordinator of a small school, it did not take long for foreign exchange students to find me for help with email accounts and also to set up a computer that would allow them to use their native languages as well.
It was the beginning of a new year, and I was busy when I heard a voice in a foreign accent say, “Mr. Abright?” I turned quickly and in an abrupt voice said, “What!” which is my nature, and the kids in the school know I am kidding. However, at this moment, I gazed into the frightened eyes of one of our new foreign exchange students from China, who did not know this. I immediately apologized which helped a little but the damage had been done.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I got to know her as “Corina” which is not her real name, not because of embarrassment in this written narrative; simply, nobody could pronounce her name anyway, so the host family named her Corina.
Corina was a tornado with a bubbly personality and a smile that would melt your heart.
A couple months into the school year, I was busy, as always, before school trying frantically to get some last minute tasks done before the bell rang. I heard the sound of someone who obviously was in more of a hurry than me, and a whirlwind came into the tech lab, and without a pause, and before a greeting, or anything else, all I heard was Corina saying, “Mr. A., you have to help me. My Father sent me this, and I read the directions last night but do not (she never used a contraction ever) understand the directions, Can you help me? Thanks. Oh, I have volleyball after school but it is a short practice so I will be here around four. Thanks” and out the door she ran. I had not said one word.
Now, I saw briefly what was in the box she had, and recognized it as a new kind of Internet phone, and all this happened at a time before Skype so the technology was fairly new, innovative and expensive.
Keep in mind that my eight hour day also ends, usually at 3:20, but when school was over for the day, I got busy and hung around. There is always something to do.
Sure enough, I heard someone running down the now deserted hallway at about 4 p.m. and she slid into the room with an entrance that only Seinfeld’s Kramer could love. She slid into the room and plopped down on the floor, so I sat down on the floor too. Again, I didn’t get a chance to say anything as Corina explained that she did not understand the terms in the directions and could I help, as she handed me the directions for installing this Internet phone.
The directions were written in Chinese.
I finally got to talk and explained that between the two of us, we could do this but she would have to translate as best as she could and I would provide the help with the networking terms.
As the process continued, and the final steps were completed, the phone was done with a dedicated static IP address, just an example of the terms she did not understand. As soon as we were done, and the display on the phone lit up, Corina got a look in her that was not bubbly, but showed some indecision; rare for her. She asked if she should pick up the phone which would cause the phone at the other end to ring. Corina’s concern was that her parents would be sleeping in their part of the world, and she did not want to disturb them.
I simply said to Corina, that if she was my daughter, and I had not had a chance to hear her voice for two long months, that I would certainly want to talk to her.
Now the way these phones worked, our phone would only communicate with one other phone in the world, the twin at her parents residence in China and that phone would communicate only with the phone in front of us, using our network and Internet connection. Corina picked up the phone and her eyes lit up and the smile on her face was priceless. “It’s ringing!” (no contraction!)
And it rang and rang and rang. There was no answer. Her smiling eyes turned to the verge of tears. Her smile disappeared as she reaffirmed that “it is too early, they are probably asleep.”
Then the tears happened with the disappointment. There was not much I could do.
After a few moments of silence, she asked what time I arrived at school and I told her and invited her to come in and to try again. That was the best I could do and was acceptable to her.
As always, she politely thanked me for my help and headed for the door. When she was about to leave, our Internet phone rang. She looked at me, and I told her to answer it, and that it could only be one other person in the world on the other end.
As she got to the phone, and lifted it, her face lit up with the huge smile and smiling eyes to go with it. She looked at me and said, “It’s my Dad.” Yes, another contraction.
Now, I am not supposed to leave a student alone in a classroom after hours, but I made an exception and was willing to defend that decision to anyone but I did not have to. I asked Corina to shut off the lights and close the door when she was done but to stay as long as she wanted.
I walked down the hall, and this time, the tears welling up were not in Corina’s eyes. I do not understand one word of Chinese, but I knew exactly what was being said.
The next day as the tech kids filed in, early in the morning before most other kids have arrived, they noticed the phone plugged into a port in the back of the room and not much gets by these kids. I explained what it was and how it worked.
If the phone rang, they were to simply pick it up, say hi, and since we are a small school and have no phones in the rooms, they were to press the “intercom” button that would immediately buzz in the office and explain to the secretary that answered this page, that Corina had a phone call. She would then contact Corina to come to the tech lab.
This process happened several times and worked fine and some of the kids did get a chance to talk to Corina’s Father who spoke a little English.
There was one rare moment though, as one of my students pointed out that the phone was in the back of the room, and what should they do if they were in class or working in the tech lab. She was concerned about Corina’s privacy on the phone. I assured this student, that privacy would not be an issue. After awhile, from across the room, I heard the student finally figure it out with a slight “Oh!”
Submitted by Anonymous
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