NYC Tutor Spotlight: Tibo Halsberghe
What class do you teach?
University Writing: Readings in Medical Humanities at Columbia University (Freshman essay writing class)
I grew up in Belgium speaking Hungarian and Dutch, and worked as a freelance translator, bar owner, and B&B host while I got my BA and MA in Literature at the UK Open University. I studied French, German, and Italian and taught English in Budapest. I moved from London to New York because I wanted to pursue an MFA in fiction with a minor in translation at Columbia. I’m working on a hybrid collection of essays and short stories titled “God, I hate Belgium”.
What surprised you most about the students in your class when you first started teaching this course?
A lot of my students are pre-med, and I think that major attracts type A personalities who are simultaneously very skilled at navigating academia and fully uninterested in challenging the system. The upside of this is that these students basically teach themselves. They follow the syllabus, do the reading, and hand their assignments in on time.
What skills do you find students having the most difficult time with in your classroom?
They have difficulty taking intellectual risk and disagreeing with one another. Especially in discussions that touch on race and gender they will often vocalize what they think the right thing to say is, rather than how they experience something. They will close-read an image of a busy ER for twenty minutes, analyzing everything about it but unable to address that none of the nurses are white. Getting them to take intellectual risk in their essays continues to be a challenge.
What knowledge or skills do you wish that all students had when they came to class on the first day?
The skill to think deeply about language. To hold up a word or phrase and think about its denotations, connotations, etymology, collocation, derivatives, and translations. Where did you last see or hear it used? How does its feel and weight shift depending on who it is that is speaking or where it is being spoken? Many students cannot feel the weight of a word and don’t know how to take a step back from their writing and consider its texture. Because they’ve never tried to feel its edges, they also don’t see all the possibilities it holds for deepening their analysis and enriching their writing.
What do you wish they were learning in high school that they aren’t?
Culture and history of the 20th Century. The political is not confined to Major Events. Students were taught about Rosa Parks — in their own words — “six times” but none of them know who Tina Turner or Lorraine Hansberry are. None of my students have heard of Katherine Hepburn or Catherine Deneuve, Yves Saint Laurent or Issey Miyake, Agatha Christie or Rebindranath Tagore. All I hope for is a simple “the name sounds familiar”.
What do you think the most successful students in your class have in common?
It depends on how you define successful. Out of 40 students roughly 6 got an A grade for the entire course. All of them were girls and only one of them identified as white. Most came from immigrant backgrounds and had, through their lived experience, been forced to examine their own position as well as the cultural difference that surrounds them. The most successful students in terms of finding new ways to think and express thoughts through writing are probably athletes.
What advice do you think that your former students would have for your future students?
It won’t be as bad as you think it will be.
How would you recommend that students prepare during the summer between the end of high school and the beginning of college?
Go somewhere you’ve never been and talk to people you’ve never talked to about things you know nothing about.