Category Archives: blog

End of Year Class Reflections

At the end of the year, I always scare my students and tell them the last test will is going to be really, really hard, but then, what I really do is give them a class reflection. I’m often pleased with them. This year I taught 42 students at level World History and I didn’t get any negative feedback. 20 of them were incredibly positve. Three said this was the best class of their life. I think I might be an okay teacher.

Below is a link to a PDF a about half the “tests” I gave. I got really emotional and cried during two of my classes today. It was dumb, but that’s me.

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Modern World History Fair

I am a Modern World History teacher and I like to have a History Fair each year I teach, but during my past three years of teaching there’s been a pandemic so I couldn’t have large gatherings. This year I’m back at it! I organized the fair at the international school where I currently work.

My students were hesitant and didn’t understand what a history fair was. In the end, they were all proud of themselves and I think they’ll want the school to do it again next year.

It was a six-week research unit culminating in 42 unique projects. The assignment was open-ended. The students were to choose their own topic out of absolutely anything we’ve studied this year, do their own independent research, and then do a project based on that research. It was an 8-part unit where they learned all the key facets of research:

  1. Choose a topic
  2. Create a research question
  3. Write a thesis
  4. Minimum 6 sources
    1. 3 primary sources
    2. 3 secondary sources
  5. Annotated Bibliography
  6. Outline
  7. Come up with an idea for a project
  8. Submit the project

I was brutal on them during the research part. I knit-picked their research questions, I made them re-write their theses so many times I think some of them were ready to curse me and I drilled the difference in primary sources and secondary sources so many times I think they could teach next year’s class. They’ll never forget how to do an annotated bibliography and I was shocked by how many high school sophomores acted as if they had no idea what an outline was.

I discovered that the French Revolution, Otto von Bismarck, Joseph Stalin, and the Holocaust are what many of my students enjoyed learning about most this year. I’m impressed with the Bismarck thing; I don’t know how many high school students around the world are enthralled with him.

As is always the case some students obviously threw their projects together the day before it was due and it showed, but others turned in phenomenal work. Many people asked me if this was my AP class, nope this was my at-level class.

I had an amazing poem and a podcast written about the French Revolution and a student even made a pop-up book based on fashion during the French Revolution.

One student made an oil painting representing Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and another wrote a metalcore song based on the Opium Wars!

Two students wrote poems about Otto von Bismarck’s realpolitik rule.

This was made about Stalin.

This student made his own Soviet propaganda posters based on World War II.

Three students based their projects on how art changed in the Inter-War Period, the years between World War I and World War II. He made a scaled paper model of the bat bomb!

I had a project on the Russification of Lithuania and I had a student write a historical fiction short story based on the bombing of Nagasaki told through the eyes of a dog!

This is only a taste of the projects. I hope to continue this tradition year after year no matter where I work.

Kazakh Games

Today is Republic Day in Kazakhstan. October 25th, 1990 is the day they declared sovreignty from the Soviet Union. They didn’t actually get their independence until the Soviet Union collapsed a while later in December of 1991 but today’s the day they celebrate claiming sovreignty.

We went to watch the Kazakh Games at the Almaty Hippodrome and it was amazing. First, I’ve been interested in seeing a game of Buzkashi played live since I was 20 years old.  It’s not called Buzkashi here. It’s called kokpar in Kazakhstan but it’s the same game. It’s played all over Central Asia and the name varies region by region.


So, I’m way over simplifying here but it’s kinda played like football but instead of using a ball they use the carcass of a dead goat. We saw a bunch a guys on horseback on the field, then my husband noticed a couple guys with a goat, and then I noticed they were killing it and I said oh my god!!! I bet they’re going to play that game!!! It’s the game I’ve wanted to see played live for years!!!

I took a very short video of the game. You can see the “ball” with the guy on the white horse in the front.

Then we heard this amazing neo-ethnic folk group  perform. Here’s a link to their performance with bonus horses riding by.

Then we watched Audaraspack! Kazakh horseback wrestling! And wow!!! These guys were so cool! I loved it! I took a video and have the link here. 




We’re Going to Help- You Can Too!

I know you’re used to reading about my summer adventures every year. I met my husband almost 13 years ago and we’ve traveled together all summer every summer since then. I always write about our travels, but this year it will be something different.

We’re off to Poland to help Ukranian refugees. We’ve been in touch with several organizations already and we know exactly where to go when we arrive. We also know what’s needed. What do they need most? Luggage and hemostatic bandages. Refugees have no bags for their belongings and donations in Poland are running dry. Fill your old bags and suitcases with bandages and ship them to me! I’ll get them in the right hands.

I’ve set up a GoFundMe and I’m asking you to donate. I promise any dollar you give will go to help. We’ll use it to buy gas, to pay for transport, to buy supplies, to help in any way we can, and I also promise when we leave I will give every unspent dollar to a shelter.


“I have Hitler in My Bag” and another little story from the first 10 days of the school year

We’re a little less than two weeks into the 2021-2022 academic year and I’m already full of stories but it’s been an exhausting day and I just want to share my favorite two.

  1. Last year, the pandemic year, there were a couple students I taught all year but never actually met face to face. I truly bonded with one of them. On the first day of school, after school, he came to my classroom just to meet me in person. He told me it was really important to him. He told me I was the first teacher he had had ever met that truly cared about him and that he learned more from my class than he had ever learned in all his other classes in school in all his life put together. Well, um, that made me feel pretty good. I don’t really know where to go from there. It was the first day of school. I mean, how do I top that? He has continued to visit me every day after school. He wants to talk about nothing but current events in Afghanistan, what my opinions are, and what I think is going to happen next. I love knowing that I have inspired such immense curiosity in a 16 yo kid.
  2. I teach high school juniors AP world history, high school sophomores world history, and 7th graders cultural studies (social studies). This afternoon one of my 12 year old students walked into my classroom, approached my desk, and very gingerly said “Mrs. Givens, I have something to say” I looked at him and was like, um, okay, and he said “I have Hitler in my bag” and I was sure I must have misheard him so I said excuse me? And he repeated “I have Hitler in my bag”. I had no fucking clue what this kid was talking about and I am sure that was all over my face. I said I don’t know what you’re talking about. He pointed to the wall and I said OH!!!!!!!!!!! So, I have a display of World War II leaders on my wall and Hitler was missing. I hadn’t even noticed. The kid said someone must have been playing a joke on him. He swore to me he did not do it. He got home on Friday afternoon, opened his bag, and found Hitler in it, and had been worried all weekend he was going to be in trouble. Poor kid. I think it’s funny. But I did have to lecture the class. It’s not funny to make him worry all weekend but it was funny for a kid to show up at my desk and tell me he had Hitler in his bag. Kids are funny.

I’m Done.

All my life I have always been told I am the friendliest person anyone has ever met. I smile at people, I talk with strangers, I help people even when it is an inconvenience for me. I go out of my way to make people happy. If I know I can do something to make someone else’s life a little easier I always do it. That’s who I am.

People ask me frequently how/why my Chinese is so good after studying so little and I credit it to my personality. I am super friendly and I speak to pretty much everyone I see. I think this is a main reason that I have many experiences in China that lots of others seem to not have. Also, I have not been working so I did not immediately walk into an English speaking environment and an instant circle of friends. When I moved here I spent my days 100% alone while my husband was at work and my daughter was at school. I did not meet my first English speaker for the first 8 months I was here. I was in a sink or swim situation. I was either going to be depressed and crying at home or fucking go out, learn the language, and make friends. Anyone that knows me knows I would choose option B.

It has not served me well. As of today I give up. I refuse to speak to strangers anymore. I will not go out anymore unless it is with the very few people that I know and trust and if any stranger approaches me I very well may tell them to fuck off. It has taken a long time and a LOT of bad experiences to make me, ME, embittered but I am finally there.

I’m not the super friendly, outgoing, smiley, helpful woman that I was two years ago. I’m just not.

I have experiences here that others seem to not have. I have people not believe me, I have people tell me that China is the safest place in the world for women, I have expat women tell me they have never had such experiences here and you know what? Fucking good for you. I’m happy for you. I can already imagine now all the comments I’m going to get saying nothing like that happens/happened to me in China. I have thoughts on why that is:

Most expats I know live in expat bubbles. They only hang out with other expats and the only Chinese people they know are their co-workers and perhaps their co-workers’ friends. They also speak little to no Chinese so they have no clue what strangers are saying to them most of the time. Their Chinese co-workers speak English and are college educated and they base all Chinese people off them. According to Wikipedia 6% of Chinese people speak English and 17% of Chinese people go to college. So they are basing all Chinese people off the maybe 10-15 people they know from the top, top, top tier of society. Sure, maybe they talk to the parents of the kids they teach. You know, the kids whose school tuition is at least 3 x’s higher than the local minimum wage. That’s like a Chinese person going to America and attending Harvard for one semester then basing all Americans off the friends they made there.

I have far more interactions with local people than any of them do. They are at work all day and I’m out talking to people. I talk to 15-20 people a day or more. I stop and have conversations with security guards, I talk to the cashier at the market, I talk to the person next to me on the subway, I talk to the other people that are out walking their dogs while I am walking mine, I talk to the person at the table next me at the coffee shop, I talk to the person in the elevator, I talk to the taxi driver, I talk to the waiter, I talk to the lady doing the awesomely huge cross-stitch I’ve been watching for a year now that sits on the sidewalk every afternoon working on it, I talk to the lady at the cardboard recycling place across the street, I talk to my neighbors. I freakin’ talk to everyone. And my Chinese is pretty decent these days. I can have conversations with these people I speak with.

I have lived in Xi’an, China for 2 years, 3 months, and 7 days. In that time here are a few the experiences I have had:

  1. While standing at a bus stop with my husband a man walked over and groped my ass.
  2. While reaching in my pockets to find money a motorcycle taxi driver grabbed my breast.
  3. While standing in line for a restroom 3 men tried to drag me into a room. Your guess is as good as mine what they planned to do to me in there.
  4. In an elevator a man grabbed my arm with one hand and my breast with his other while pushing me up against the wall.
  5. A man walked straight up to me on a sidewalk and molested my breasts.
  6. While dancing in a club a woman dropped to her knees and began giving me oral sex through my clothes.
  7. A woman jumped on me and began dry humping me and I had to fight her off me.
  8. A woman grabbed my breasts with both hands and refused to let go.
  9. A taxi driver, while I was handing him money through the bars, grabbed my hand and began kissing it while repeatedly begging me to have sex with him.
  10. I have had 6, yes 6, taxi drivers ask me to go to a hotel and have sex with him during his break.

Is ten enough? Naw… let’s just talk about my past 4 days. Friday night I went to a concert at a very small venue. I was there by myself and I was seated on a couch with some people I did not know. I was my normal friendly self and all of a sudden after about half an hour the guy next to me just takes my hand. I was a bit startled and before I could even react he asked me to go home with him. That’s not even where the story ends. When I refused and he left angry his friends seemed shocked I did not take him up on his offer. They told me he was rich, he could do anything he wanted with women, and I should have gone with him. I told them he picked the wrong woman.

Then today, and remember that was Friday and this is Monday, I was feeling a bit lonely because my husband and daughter are in the US for Christmas and I went to a coffee shop. The guy at the table next to me spoke a little English and was thrilled to practice it. My Chinese is way better than his English so we spoke about 75% Chinese 25% English. He was very pleasant and we had a really nice talk. We spoke for about twenty minutes when I told him I was going to go home. That’s when he said…drum roll please… “I can drive you home and we can fuck.” (In English)

And I haven’t even touched on how many people here so frequently call me fat and ugly since I already blogged about that a few months ago. It hasn’t stopped.6055443e0392de0f563187a91882cf92

Am I saying that every single Chinese person I meet is an asshole or a disgusting pig? No. I have met some truly wonderful people here. Am I saying that I have met enough assholes and pigs here to make me, ME, an angry bitter woman that does not even want to talk to people anymore? Yes.

Can these things happen to me anywhere in the world, even the US? Yes! They absolutely could but the fact is they have not. This is my own empirical evidence based on my own personal experiences. I have never had such a high rate of such incidents in my life and I have traveled in over 20 countries. I know it’s not a China and only China problem. I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is these are some of things that have happened to me while living here. Why do I not write more about all the good times I have here? Because none of the good things need to be changed. If we don’t talk about the bad shit that happens in the world how will it ever get better?

Oh! And here’s the best part. I will have more people call me a racist bitch over this blog entry. I wrote about 12 creepy sexual assaults or comments but if I had to come up with a number I would say I have been either assaulted or been told something sexually crude, called fat and told I eat too much, and/or been called ugly somewhere between 300-350 times. And that’s on the low end. I have lived here 827 days. That means that every 2.2 days here I have been assaulted either physically or verbally. I don’t like it here and I am ready to go. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: maybe I’ll hate the next place too! But I sure am ready to give it a try.

Big advantage of the next place: I will be working too! I get the luxury of English speaking all day and the instant friends.




NAFTA, New Balance, TPP, and Trump

I am deeply saddened from all the pro-NAFTA posts I have seen from my otherwise well informed, left leaning friends. Please stop it. You are doing exactly what the other folks do. Just because Trump is against something does not mean you should love it. Life is not that simple.

Absolutely everything out of Trump’s mouth is not wrong. While the things that he says that are wrong are so very, very wrong I could never look past them, some of the stuff he says is alright. Like NAFTA was a bad idea and the TPP is too. Don’t want to trust me? Bernie Sanders is against the TPP as well. So were many of you until all of sudden now when Trump says he is against it many of you have back tracked and are saying maybe TPP isn’t so bad. I mean if Trump is against it then I have to love it, right? WRONG.

Let me guess… you don’t really, and I mean REALLY, even know what NAFTA is right? Outside of the North American Free Trade Agreement and possibly a middle school level explanation a teacher gave you years ago. It’s okay. No one can see you reading this, even me, so you only have to admit it to yourself.

Let me tell you a little about NAFTA:

Corn farmers in the US get government subsidies. That means the US government pays them to grow corn. Mexican farmers do not get paid to grow corn. That means that in small, local markets all over Mexico corn that was grown in the United States and shipped on trucks all the way to Mexico is still cheaper than the corn Jose right down the road grew on his farm. So Jose goes broke because if you’re a poor Mexican you buy the cheap corn.

NAFTA took land away from the indigenous people’s of Mexico and sold it to US corporations. People that had been living on the land for hundreds, even thousands, of years all of a sudden found themselves kicked off their homesteads with nowhere to go. Men in suits came with papers saying this land belongs to us now, built fences, and bull dozed homes. What were the people to do? (Look into the Zapatista movement)

imagesUS corporations, took the indigenous peoples’ land and built factories on it, told them they could then have jobs paying shit in the factory that was on the land their ancestors had lived on since the beginning, the wages are menial, the products are then shipped back to the US (tariff free) and sold at incredible markup to keep the companies getting ever richer.

When people lose their ancestral homes, or lose their farms due to cheaper US foods coming in they often turn to the only thing they can to keep their families alive: crime. Cartels grow, murders grow, kidnappings grow, theft grows, the gun trade grows and more. These gangs are often formed by families that lost their land and lost their livelihood to NAFTA. Most of the drugs are then shipped to the US to be sold to the very people that took away the only way of life they had ever known. So we, the people of the United States, took what was theirs, called it our own, and now blame them for the crime we created.

Others, the ones that don’t turn to crime, may risk their lives to get to the US. They illegally cross the border, to live in the shadows, bust their asses working long hours and living in shit conditions, under the constant fear of being found out and deported and all the while being harassed by the right just so they can send money home to support the families that they used to support with their farm. Their farm they lost because of NAFTA .

And I haven’t even touched on how NAFTA is responsible for the sad state of Flint, Michigan these days. I haven’t mentioned how over one million US jobs have been lost do to NAFTA. And I won’t. You have Google. Go!

tpp_finalNow the TPP is a plan that will do the same things and have all the same effects but on even more countries. New Balance, as a company, is anti-TransPacific Partnership because of the worldwide negative effects it will have. Donald Trump is also anti TPP. When Matthew LeBretton of New Balance said “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and, frankly, with president-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” he was not speaking of hate, he was speaking of keeping factories in America. On this topic I agree with Trump and I am not ashamed to admit it. I am anti-NAFTA and I am anti-TPP. It has been a complete PR disaster for them and we, the left, should stand behind them and show them our support.

I will still wear my New Balance shoes and I will wear them proudly. 960x0

Every gun article I saw in 12 hours of one day.

I’ve lived in China a year and a half now and people still ask me almost every day if I miss America. My answer is not really. It’s not that I think China is all that.  It’s just I don’t really miss America. Sure, I miss a few things like clean public restrooms, conversations with strangers, finding clothes that fit, and coffee shops that open before 11AM. And don’t think I’ve forgotten you, I miss some of my friends too but let’s be real we probably talk more now that I’m in China than we did for the 4 years I lived in the hell called Gainesville.

It’s like the gods wanted to remind me of how much I don’t miss America. Yesterday I saw a record amount of gun related stories stream across my Facebook wall. I collected a list. Here is every story I saw in a 12 hour span of one day, January 3, 2016:

Good Guy With Gun Kills Shoots Teen for Ringing Doorbell

Good Guy With Gun Shoots Child in Car

Responsible Gun Owner Shoots 9 Year-Old during New Year’s celebration. 

Responsible Gun Owner Tries to Use Gun as Alarm Clock

Armed Militia Has Taken Over Federal Building

Road Raging Good Guy With Gun Shoots Woman in Head

Student Crashes Car After Being Shot

Open Carry Nut Fatally Shoots His Own Two Toddlers

Man Fatally Shoots Self While Securing Dog to a Chain

Four Dead From Gun Shot Wounds After Arguing Over Laundry

Responsible Gun Owner Mistakes Gun for Wallet, Shoots Self

Gun Discharges in MRI Machine at VA Hospital

US Cops have already killed more since Christmas Than UK Cops Have Killed in the Past 5 Years

Ammosexual Robbed of His Gun at Gunpoint

Man Dies of Stupidity. Puts Gun to Head While Joking. 

Texas Businesses Adapt to Open Carry Law

Man Fatally Shot Inside Fast Food Restaurant

Gun Violence Archives

Empathy for strangers does not exist in China

A couple weeks ago my husband and I were walking down the street and there was an old woman lying in the middle of the sidewalk. People were just bustling past her as if they didn’t even see her. We stopped and tried to see what we could do for her but she didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand her. When others saw us helping her they stopped too. Soon someone had called the police to come and help the woman.

Before that I had seen two guys riding a motorbike get hit by a car. They were both thrown off the bike and we left lying in the middle of the road. The cars just drove around them. I headed over there but before I go there they were up and riding off.

3 months ago a tourist fainted on a subway in Beijing and everyone on the train simply ignored him and left him lying there while they exited the train.

1 year ago a woman got her head stuck in a railing. People passed by her all day. Stopping to stare. Taking pictures with their cell phones. She died.

1 year ago a 2 year old little girl was hit by a car. A security camera shows over 15 people walking past the child lying in the road. Eventually a 2nd car hit her body and killed her.

The stories go on and on. Why is this? How can people be so cruel?  Those are shocking stories but there are the tiny almost mundane ones too like if a little old lady drops her bag of groceries in a crowd not one person will stop to help her gather them (but me).

I’ve been researching this for a few days now and it seems to stem from Taoism.  Apparently Laozi’s utopia was described as “Let your community be small, with only a few people. He said that “to do nothing is actually to do everything.”Laozi_002

So there we go. They have a 3,000 year old tradition of not caring for their neighbor. Only have a few people in your community and don’t ever help anyone with anything. It’s tribalism to the extreme.

In the lobby of my friend’s apartment building there is a sign that reads:

Look on and Do Nothing.

That about sums up life here.

It’s not as if Chinese people are not capable of empathy. They are very friendly to people they consider part of their group as in their family and their small circle of friends but anyone outside of that may as well not exist. It’s as if in Chinese culture there are two distinct, completely separate castes: my circle and the untouchables. They don’t separate themselves by class or rank or anything like that it’s just me, my family, my friends, and then the untouchables.

Then everyone lives in their little worlds like that. There are millions and millions of microcosms in China. Millions of groups of 20 or so people that are wonderfully sweet and helpful to each other that never intermingle with other groups and wouldn’t lift a finger to help the other even if a life were at stake.

For anyone interested there is a Chinese professor at UCLA writing a book on the topic. I have emailed him to learn more.