Another interesting week

My full teaching schedule kicked in at Sichuan University, 2 hours each afternoon, Monday through Friday. It keeps me busy enough to hold my interest and to challenge me, but not enough to weigh me down. The online class isn’t a lot of work, but it’s fun being a student again, and interacting with a class full of people in the full fluency of my native language.

Monday night last week I was taken to dinner by the four graduate students I’d been tutoring for 7 weeks. That afternoon, three of them had their visa interviews at the U.S. Consulate (the 4th had already completed hers), so we had ended our daily class sessions. The meal was tasty yet not expensive: rabbit legs (for some reason called “David Beckham’s left legs”), “spiral fish,” a whole baked fish with its flesh cut and twisted into spiral shapes and covered in a sweetish red sauce, rice noodle and pickled cabbage soup, watermelon juice, and other delights. The students will attend the following schools as visiting research scholars in September: University of Maryland (College Park), Colorado State U. (Fort Collins), U.C. Berkeley, and U.C. San Diego.

Thursday I got caught in a torrential downpour, sans umbrella, as I approached Sichuan U., giving me the opportunity to teach the class expressions such as “drenched,” ” soaked to the skin,” ” soaking wet,” and “dripping.” Oddly enough, I had packed a fresh shirt, so I was able to look presentable.

My classes on Tuesday and Friday for the English teachers were OK, but I felt the first one was too easy, and the second a little unfocused. We practiced a jazz chant called “A Bad Day,” in which everything that can go wrong does, but it felt a little silly.

Film fare for the week included Brit flicks The History Boys and Billy Elliot, and tonight the docudrama Nanking.

Some verbal gems from History Boys:

Mrs. Lintott: And you, Rudge? How do you define history?
Rudge: Can I speak freely without being hit?
Mrs. Lintott: You have my protection.
Rudge: How do I define history? Well it’s just one fucking thing after another.
[raucous laughter]

[To Hector, after he has gotten the sack, for fondling boys’ genitals on the back of his motorcycle]
Mrs. Lintott: A grope is a grope. It is not the Annunciation.

I may have quoted Hayley Mills (in The Trouble with Angels) before, but I think I’ve had another scathingly brilliant idea. For a class, yet. Here it is:

My class of university teachers needs to improve their English for many reasons, but one of them is the need to attend international conferences where they will need to speak English. I thought, why not let the class of 16 students organize their own conference? Since they’re from all different disciplines, from literature to dentistry to scientific research to teaching Chinese, they will have to settle on a conference topic that’s useful to everybody. The project can stretch over one or two weeks, taking all or part of each class. Here are some of the steps I jotted down today:

  1. The class will form a planning committee, charged with choosing a conference theme, a location, issuing invitations, and a “call for papers.”
  2. Students will each come up with an idea for a presentation or a topic at the conference, and submit a proposal or “abstract” for their paper or talk.
  3. A vocabulary lesson will include terms such as roundtable discussion, task force, moderator, keynote speaker, registration, workshop, hospitality room, plenary session, opening/closing ceremony, etc. etc.
  4. Drawing up a schedule for each conference day, including meals, room assignments, speeches, workshops, sightseeing, and other arrangements.
  5. Check-in on opening day, role-playing attendees and conference staff.
  6. The conference itself: delivering speeches, having panel discussions, interviews, and other conference events.
  7. Evaluating the activity, and producing a “conference packet” with all information produced by the students, as a souvenir and for future reference.

I thought that good themes might be “Teaching in English” or “English as an International Tool.” The students could bring in their own areas of expertise and how using English could be helpful or a hindrance to them. Anyway, the idea has me kind of excited. I’ll present it to them on Wednesday.

Parting shot – from The History Boys [Hmm, am I seeing dramatic readings in my classes in the near future?]:

Pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do.
Take it, feel it, and pass it on.
Pass it on, boys – that’s the game I want you to learn.
Pass it on.

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