Monday, September 22: My first class of fall semester begins at 8:40 this morning. Every Monday I teach Academic Writing to freshman class #1407A (20 students) & #1407B (16 students). I teach 1407A from 8:40-10:10 with a 10 minute break in the middle (so 80 minutes). Then I teach 1407B from 10:30-12, with the same 10 minute break. Thus I meet 36 students today.
I’m pretty upset to find right away that the air-conditioning isn’t working in the entire building. This is not a way to start our first day of class. When we ask the building people when it will be fixed, they say: maybe today, maybe tomorrow, this week sometime. I turn on every fan in the class, but it’s pretty miserable despite that. We alternate between opening and closing the windows and opening and closing the curtains. I’m taken back to bad memories of Korea, where I never had climate controlled schools, and I think to myself, THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR. I specifically asked if classrooms were air-conditioned and was told they were. Trying to be patient, I decide to wait and see how long it takes to get the system fixed.
While going through the boring business of the syllabus and the class schedule, as well as my expectations, I pass around a piece of paper with the student numbers and names, written of course in Chinese characters. I ask the students to please write their English names beside their Chinese names. This is normally done here, I’m told, and it was also done in Korea. I have mixed feelings about students using English names in English class, but I’d be hard pressed to remember the Chinese names of the nearly 71 students I’ll be teaching this semester. Unless I knew some typical Chinese names, or unless I knew some Chinese in general, I’d never be able to even pronounce them, much less remember them.
When I teach in Virginia, I call my Asian students by whatever names they want to be called. Sometimes they choose an English name and other times they want to be called by their Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese names. I can learn those and call them the name they choose because I have a mixture of all nationalities in my classes. I may have only a few Chinese, a few Koreans, etc. I can learn these names in small numbers. But give me a class full of 20 Chinese students, multiplied by the four classes I’m teaching, and I’m and not likely to remember any of them. It’s overwhelming.
It’s always fun to see the names the students choose for themselves. Sometimes the meaning or pronunciation of their chosen name is not what they think it is. This morning some of my students write on the list: White, Worde, Ilan, Vincent, Lancy, Angel, Vivian, Darren, Shally, Victor, Jacky, Tab, Amily, Zerg, Livingston, and Arrow. I ask White if he knows that his name is a color, and as I happen to be wearing white, I point to my shirt. He nods that he knows. If he wants to be called a color, so be it. I ask Worde if he knows he is calling himself the word “word” with an “e” at the end, and he nods. I tell Vincent, who is a girl, that Vincent is a boy’s name. Livingston is apparently some famous sports figure and I think Zerg is a character from a video game. By the end of class, White changes his name to David, Worde to Ward, Ilan to Allen, and Vincent to Vera. I have two girls who choose Amily and I ask if one would mind changing hers. She does, to Maleah.
After the boring business, I draw a chart on the board that looks like this (don’t laugh, I’ve never pretended to be an artist!):
I tell the students this chart is about me and ask them to guess what each of the symbols and numbers mean. Can you guess?
Then I show them a super-long Power Point presentation about me: where I’m from, my house, my family, Washington, and then all the countries where I’ve taught and traveled. I think many of them want to tear their hair out after that experience.
After that, they have to create their own chart about themselves, then work with a partner to try to guess the meaning of one another’s charts. While they unravel the mystery of their partner, they have to take notes. In the end, I ask them to write a paragraph about their partner, in 3rd person, using their partner’s English name. On Wednesday, they are to read their paragraph, introducing their partner to the class, and turn in their paragraph for a grade.
I think it all goes pretty well for a first day. The best thing is, I’m finished by noon. I don’t waste any time rushing home to my air-conditioned apartment. This is the first job abroad where I’m not required to be in the office at any particular time. In fact, hardly any of the teachers here use their offices at all. I come home and relax, work on plans for my Listening & Speaking classes on Wednesday, and write a blog. At 8:45, I meet Carole and Paul from Liverpool, and Caleb from North Carolina, to eat dinner at a fancy Japanese sushi restaurant across from the main gate of the campus.
At dinner, we tell stories about the funny English names our students choose. Paul and Caleb say they have students called Yogurt and Biscuit. Carole believes that we shouldn’t try to talk them out of the names they choose, because the chances of them ever going abroad and being embarrassed by their names are slim to none. They’ll probably stop using the names the minute they finish studying English. She tells of a student who called herself Potato. Carole never tried to dissuade the girl; she called her Potato all the school year. The next year, the girl ran into Carole and told her she’d changed her name to Bella. Carole said, “Oh, Bella! You’ll always be Potato to me!”
We all had a good laugh over that one.
Tuesday, September 23: Today, I go through the exact routine I went through on Monday, except for freshman class #1408 A & B. Thus I meet 35 new students. The total of these two sets of students (71) will be my students for the semester. That is until the classes are reshuffled after midterm and we get a whole new set of students.
Confusing? To say the least. Why? Don’t ask. You really don’t want to know.
At least the air conditioning is working today. My class is still not the coolest pad on the block, but I can survive it.
This time some of the English names chosen by my students include such names as: Bob, Albert, two Leos, Lance, Estelle, Vivi, Yuki (technically Japanese), Martin, Sherry, Fiona, JoJo, Stone, Jocelyn, Adlene, another Sherry, Kitty, and Nico. These are not too unusual, but some of them are a little on the old-fashioned side.
After class, I squeeze on an elevator packed with students and a young man asks me what I think of SCIC (Sino-Canadian International College, part of Guangxi University and where I actually work). It’s so rare that students talk to me that I immediately strike up a conversation with him and his friends. They’re not my students; they belong to my colleague Richard. Nevertheless, they chat with me as we drop the nine floors to the exit. Our conversation continues outside of the Experimental Building, and at the bottom they invite me to have lunch with them. Here we are at lunch, Lilly and Lucy, me and Donald.
When I get home, I lie down to read a bit and end up taking a two-hour nap. Even though I only work till noon, teaching is such that I’m always “on.” I’m exhausted.
Wednesday, September 24: Today is a tough one. I have classes at the same time I had Monday and Tuesday, but instead of Writing, they’re Listening and Speaking. These are my same 35 students from class #1408 A & B. In addition, I have one 40 minute Writing class at 7:50 with all 36 students from my 1407 class. This is a long haul, and awfully early to start especially considering that I was awake last night from 2-4:30 a.m. (probably due to my 2-hour nap on Tuesday). Once I finally fell back to sleep, I was not happy when that alarm went off at 5:30!
My Writing students read their paragraphs introducing their partners, but we don’t get through all of them in the 40 minute period. In my Listening & Speaking class, we do a mingle game where each student has to find students in the room with the same hobby as them or the same birthday as them. They have to find the oldest and youngest student in the class, a student who likes snakes, one who hates ice cream, one who likes Lady Gaga, etc.
After break we go over Wh- and Yes/No questions and then we brainstorm questions they could ask someone if they were trying to find a friend or a mate. After this, we play a version of speed dating, except I call it speed meeting, because there is no dating to it. It’s a fun first class. After the game, students share some of the things they found out about each other.
At the break, the 1408A class, my last class of the day, asks me if I’d like to have lunch with them at the student canteen. I really don’t know how on earth they plan to do this, as the student canteen is packed at noon, when everyone on the campus eats. I can never find a seat in there even when I’m alone! But we all go together and somehow or another, they manage to arrange three decent sized tables in a loose cluster; all 19 students and I manage to squeeze together. They’re so kind, shuffling me around to the prime spot closest to the air conditioning, because they know I crave A/C in this tropical climate. We have a fun lunch, taking loads of pictures with everybody’s phones. Yuki makes a group on WeChat and shares everyone’s pictures. Kids these days are so technologically savvy. I have to get up the learning curve and fast. 🙂