Saturday, September 6, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way to the university

After a both exciting and stressful first week of teaching, the weekend has finally come. I am teaching seven classes right now, five classes of sophomores and two classes of juniors. The sophomore classes are great. Their English is fantastic and they are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Here is a quick example of just how good their English is. I wrote the word "roommate" on the board but accidentally spelled it "roomate." Within seconds, about fifteen hands shot up to tell me that I had spelled the word wrong. Embarrassed and unsure of the correct spelling, I said "really? Are you sure?" Immidiately fifteen dictionaries came flying out. I was wrong. I had spelled an English word wrong and my Chinese students corrected it for me. On the one hand, I was happy to learn of their finely-tuned spelling abilities, on the other hand, I felt like an idiot. The experience was certainly humbling, but I can't beat myself up over every little spelling mistake I make (after all, I was a social work major not an English major right?)

On Thursday, however, I had my first class of juniors. Unlike the sophomores, the juniors are not English majors, therefore their English is minimal and their motivation to be there is pretty low as well. Most of these juniors are studying international trade and will be studying abroad next year in Korea for two years. Peter, our director and their writing teacher, explained to them that English would be a very useful common language in Korea so it would be an important skill for them to aquire. So hopefully I will be able to do some fun classes with them and raise their engery level. Something interesting though: class with my juniors seemed to be awkward and unsucessful. When I would ask them questions, they would stare back at me like I was an alien. They laughed a lot, and it felt like they were laughing at me. By the end of class, I was discouraged, to say the least. For that reason I was shocked when two of the girls approached me and asked me if I would like to go to dinner with them tonight. Surprised but enthralled, I gladly accepted their invitation. They said they would pick me up at my apartment at 5:30.

5:30 rolled around, and after gaining the girls' permission to do so, I invited Nick, Olivia and Karrin to come along since I was a little nervous about the communication barrier. We got picked up and the girls said that we had to wait a few more minutes for everyone else. "Who else is coming?" I asked. They told me that other students from the class would be joining us. I was shocked when it turned out that nine students, three girls and six boys, had gotten together to all take me out for dinner. Realizing that this invitation meant that they were going to be treating me to dinner, we decided it would be best if two foreign teachers stay behind and one come for moral support (it was a bit intimidating...) Olivia kindly obliged and they took us to a delicious restaraunt where the food didn't seem to stop coming. The meal was somewhat uncomfortable since we don't speak any Chinese and they speak very little English, but they put so much effort into trying to speak with us, which was very nice of them.

After the meal we decided to walk home in a group from the restaraunt. On the way, the strangest thing happened. These nine students, who had been so quiet and reserved in both the classroom and at the dinner table, suddenly opened up. They were all of a sudden unafraid to use their English and I was amazed to see just how good their English actually was. Maybe it was becuse they were no longer in such a formal setting or maybe it was because they had just learned that we were actually their age, not older than them, but something changed. The walk home took about forty minutes, and each one of them had a million questions for us about America, everything from life at our college to our favorite music groups. I was so pleased to see them open up like this and I was also able to finally learn more about who they are and where they come from. The night out was truly a sucess. My students and I got to learn more about one another and the exchange eased my tensions about how difficult the class might be to teach.

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