Into the Story



Episode 39: A Story About Having A Thick Skin

Nivel: Intermedio
Acento: Canadiense

El primer día de escuela es difícil para todo el mundo. Acostumbrarse a un sitio nuevo y emocionante a la vez que conoces gente y intentas hacer amigos no es una tarea fácil. Pero nuestro invitado de hoy, Alykhan, tuvo un primer día de escuela especialmente difícil cuando a los 8 años su familia se mudó de Tanzania a Canadá. A pesar de todo, lo que aprendió ése primer día le ha servido para llegar a ser lo que es hoy; un reconocido diseñador de interiores y toda una personalidad en la televisión nacional.

Today’s episode of Into The Story is about having a thick skin (ser fuerte). As you listen to Alykhan describing one of the most distressing experiences of his life, you will learn very useful expressions, such as ‘to go downhill’ or ‘to be taken advantage of’. Listen to the end of the episode to hear how Alykhan has managed to become such a strong person and how he deals with these situations in his everyday life. 

[00:00:02.890] – Into the Story Intro

Did you know that listening to stories in English helps you remember new words and expressions while improving your listening skills? And what if, while you enjoyed different stories and different accents, you also got top life tips from each person? Welcome to Into the Story.

[00:00:25.950] – Bree

The first day of school can be difficult for everyone. Trying to make sure you’re in the right class, meeting new people, wondering if you will fit in. All while trying to get used to a new environment. It’s quite a challenge. But today’s Storyteller had an especially hard first day of school. When he was eight years old, his family made a big move from Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania, and West Africa to Calgary, Canada. The weather, the food, the faces. It was a whole new world, and it was not quite what he had expected.

[00:01:07.470] – Alykhan

I had no idea why I was getting into trouble. I hadn’t done anything. I was just trying to eat my lunch. I got brought to the principal’s office and saw my brother sitting there, and I was like, oh, my God, what have we done? I’m like, I hate this place.

[00:01:23.670] – Bree

Today we’re going to hear a story from Alykhan Velji, a top interior designer and one of Canada’s most recognizable design personalities. But once upon a time, he was just an eight year old boy on his way to school.

[00:01:40.050] – Bree

A really quick thing before we talk about the vocabulary in today’s Story, do you know why we believe in the power of stories to help you improve your English? Just think about this: humans have been telling stories since we were literally living in caves. And after 30,000 years, our brains have evolved to love stories by releasing Dopamine, also known as the feel-good neurotransmitter. And that helps us remember things like vocabulary. So if you love listening to true stories to improve your English, then we would love it. If you would share this podcast with a friend. Just click the share icon on whatever podcast app you’re listening on and just send it right over to a friend. Thank you so much.

[00:02:34.470] – Vocabulary Section

Okay, let’s look at five words and expressions that Alykhan uses today. First, “to go downhill”. So “to go downhill” literally is easy to picture you’re gradually going down a Hill. But when something in life starts to go downhill, it means that it’s gradually getting worse. For example, our team was winning the match, but in the second half, it all started to go downhill. In the end, we lost. To go downhill.

[00:03:10.110] – Vocabulary Section

Then we have the rhetorical question, “what am I getting myself into?” So this is a question you ask yourself when you’re in a difficult and often surprising situation. For example, imagine you offer to help someone with their bag, and when you pick it up, you realize it’s super heavy. Then you’d say to yourself, what have I gotten myself into.

[00:03:38.550] – Vocabulary Section

Next, “to take advantage of someone”. So to take advantage of someone means to treat them unfairly to ask more of them than what is reasonable to take advantage of someone.

[00:03:53.490] – Vocabulary Section

Next. To have boundaries. A boundary is like a border, a limit. But to have personal boundaries means that you have limits, usually in your personal relationships with other people. To have boundaries.

[00:04:12.580] – Vocabulary Section

And finally, to have a tough skin or to have a thick skin. This is a very important concept in today’s story. When someone has a tough or thick skin, it means that they are strong. They aren’t easily hurt by other people’s comments or actions. They don’t care, or they do their best not to care when other people criticize them. To you have a tough or thick skin.

[00:04:40.890] – Bree

In addition to these words and expressions, you have an extended vocabulary list, the transcript, and a quiz on our website acingles.com/podcast. You’ll see a link in the show notes. Okay, let’s get into the story.

[00:05:00.250] – Alykhan

My name is Alykhan Velji. I am from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I am 42 years old and I’m an interior designer. This was 1988 in Calgary. We arrived in the summer. We had moved from Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania, which is in East Africa. So feeling very good and comfortable. My grandparents were here and we were living with them at the time. And then of course, the first day of school came along. I was placed in grade two. Yes, I was just very excited for the first day of school. It was a nice fall crisp kind of morning. I remember my mom had packed me at lunch, which was hot dogs. I’d never had a hot dog in my whole entire life until I came to Canada and fell in love with hot dogs. So that’s what I wanted for lunch and that’s what I got.

[00:05:51.910] – Bree

Eight year old Alykhan is already for school. He’s wearing his backpack and inside he’s carrying the lunch his mom has packed for him. In Canada, kids bring their lunch to school, normally a sandwich, maybe a couple of snacks, but he has asked for his new favorite food, hot dogs. Alykhan’s mom then starts walking him and his brother to school.

[00:06:15.490] – Alykhan

Ya, she walked us to school and this is kind of where it all started going a little downhill. We were walking and my mom had just stopped to, I think, to tie my shoe lace. And as soon as she stopped, we were just actually on someone’s lawn. And the lady actually came out that the house belonged to and just basically started yelling at my mom and telling her to get off her property. Again, very traumatic for the first day of school. I just didn’t know what was going on. I saw the look on my mom’s face and it was a look of shock because obviously we did nothing wrong. So my mom obviously proceeded to get off her lawn. She grabbed my brother and I and we just started walking.

[00:07:03.980] – Bree

Once they were yelled at for stepping on someone’s lawn. The excitement that Alykhan felt about the first day of school has now turned into anxiety. Depending on where you live, the concept of lawn, L-A-W-N, could be new for you. So a lawn is the front part of someone’s house where they normally have grass, and often there’s nothing separating the lawn from the sidewalk. So stopping to tie your shoe on someone’s lawn is a totally normal thing to do. Definitely not a reason to be yelled at. Alykhan’s mom is holding on tightly to his hand as they finally make it to school.

[00:07:43.520] – Alykhan

And, I mean, I could tell that the way that she was holding my hand that she was pretty traumatized as well. So, yeah, we proceeded to go to school. She dropped us off. But it just left me with a really, kind of, like, eerie sort of feeling. You don’t really want to get yelled at when you’re walking anywhere and then, let alone it being your first day of school. So went to school, got into our class. Everything was brand new to me. We went to private school when we were in Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania. So going to a public school was very different. There were lots of kids, lots of white kids, which, again, was a bit of a shock to me. And so anyway, we got put into school throughout the day, started meeting some new friends, and really kind of getting into that kind of first day of school moment where you just kind of realize what you’re going to get into. And so the bell rings. We all go for lunch. And I have my hot dog pack. I’m ready to eat it. And so I look for my brother, and I can’t seem to find him anywhere.

[00:09:01.210] – Bree

The lunchroom is stressful for any kid. You walk into this big room and you have to find somewhere to sit. Alykhan can’t find his brother. So he sits down alone.

[00:09:13.210] – Alykhan

And so opened up my lunch pack, started eating my hot dog. And I had those little ketchup packets to put on my hot dog. So, you know, I took those out, put it on my hot dog, and the boy beside me yelled out to the whole lunch room that I was putting blood on my hot dog. Again, I didn’t really know what to do. I was shocked. Everybody was kind of looking at me and staring and laughing. I kind of went into a bit of shock, actually, because I didn’t realize or didn’t know why this kid started saying that to me. I didn’t even know him. I didn’t even have two words with him. Anyway. People were laughing and just looking at me really awkwardly. And I just basically went into a shell and put my hot dog away. It still gets me a little emotional to this day because it was so hard for me. I didn’t have anybody around me that could either stick up for me. I didn’t know where my brother was.

[00:10:21.890] – Bree

Little Alykhan is totally shocked. Why did that boy say he was putting blood on his hot dog? Where is his brother? He stands up to try to find him.

[00:10:33.410] – Alykhan

And then the lunchroom teacher comes up to me and she’s like, what are you doing here? And I was just having my lunch. It’s lunchtime. I’m having my lunch. And he’s like, you’re not supposed to be in the lunchroom. And I had no idea. So anyway, she took me to the principal’s office. Again, I had no idea why I was getting into trouble. I hadn’t done anything. I was just trying to eat my lunch. And so, yeah, I got brought to the principal’s office and saw my brother sitting there, and I was like, oh, my God, what have we done? I’m like, I hate this place. I hated the first day of school. I was like, I don’t want to be here. I just want to go home. I want my mom is basically what I was thinking and basically got told that because we walked to school, we weren’t allowed in the lunch room, and we had to walk home from school for lunch.

[00:11:34.730] – Bree

Alykhan and his brother are sitting at the office. I can completely picture him sitting there so innocent and confused. Feeling that tight, aching feeling in his throat that we all feel when we’re trying not to cry. Most of us know that feeling of being in a new place and not understanding what’s happening.

[00:11:53.990] – Alykhan

My mom ended up picking us up and just took us home for the afternoon. And I remember getting into my dad’s car and just crying. I was like, I hate it here. I don’t know why I got into trouble. I was always a really good kid, and everyone loved me. When we were in Africa, my teachers loved me, and I just had stupid relationship with every single person that I met. I just didn’t realize why we were getting yelled at all the time. By moving to this new country where I thought I was so excited to move to Canada, I thought it was going to be a great experience. And that first day just was not for me.

[00:12:35.090] – Bree

Alykhan went from being around people that looked like him and understood him in Dar es-Salam to being in a place where he was different. He describes himself as an emotional person. Someone who likes to please people. And this first day of school experience taught him to toughen up. He had to find a way not to be as easily hurt by people’s comments and actions.

[00:12:59.810] – Alykhan

I don’t like being stepped on. I don’t like being taken advantage of. And when that happens, I feel like a conversation needs to be had to say, those are my boundaries. I mean, you have to have boundaries. And I feel like because of all of the things that I went through, it really gave me a tough skin. In order to be able to persevere and get past those things that maybe made you a little sad, made you mad, made you angry. I feel like all of those kind of experiences are teaching moments. Having a thick skin and just not letting things get to you is kind of what I’ve learned from all of those experiences.

[00:13:44.030] – Bree

Today. Alykhan appears on numerous TV shows thanks to his unique sense of style and professionalism. But it isn’t always easy to be a person who appears in magazines and on TV. And it can be especially difficult when you’re a sensitive person, as Alykhan describes himself, being the new different kid at school taught Alykhan not to let mean kids affect him so much. So when you find yourself in a situation where you’re the new different kid or where you’re just trying to do new different things, remember the importance of having a thick skin. To find out more about Alykhan and to see a photo of him around the time of this story, you’ll find a link on our website acingles.com.

[00:14:31.650] – Bree

And that’s all for today. Make sure to subscribe to Into the Story wherever you listen to podcasts. And while you’re there, support us by leaving a five star rating on Apple podcasts or Spotify. It really helps other listeners find us. Thank you so much. Okay, everyone, until next time, we hoped you have a good time or at least a good story to share.

Quote of the episode

“I was so excited to move to Canada, I thought it was going to be a great experience, but that first day was just… not for me.”

Wonderful Words

An area of grass, especially near to a house or in a park, that is cut regularly to keep it short.

Strange in a frightening and mysterious way.

A large room in a school where children can sit down to eat.

The limit of what someone considers to be acceptable behaviour.

Excellent Expressions

To gradually become worse.

A question you ask yourself when you’re in a difficult and often surprising situation.

to be treated unfairly, to be asked to do more than what is reasonable.

An ability to keep from getting upset or offended by the things other people say and do.

Listening Exercise

Alykhan Velji as a young boy.
Alykhan Velji as a young boy.

We hope you enjoyed today’s episode of Into The StorySi quieres ver los diseños de Alykhan, no te pierdas su web Alykhan Velji Designs. Y si quieres seguir avanzando con tu inglés con nuevos episodios, vídeos, masterclasses y más goodies, suscríbete a la AC family newsletter rellenando el formulario de aquí abajoWe can’t wait to see you there!  

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5 comentarios

  1. Muchas gracias por vuestro trabajo de transcribir los audios. Es una manera muy divertida de aprender inglés. Por las mañanas los escuchos conduciendo y por las tardes los vuelvo a escuchar con las transcripciones. Muchas gracias

    1. Tomás, thank you so much for your comment, it makes us so happy! 🙂 We’re recording the next season with amazing new guests and stories, so stay tuned!

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