Wednesday, September 21, 2011

School Begins

The Fulbright experience is definitely first rate. It certainly opens alot of doors in China. I have spoken on the government's international radio station (my first ever media appearance anywhere) on Obama's leadership style and will so again in a couple of days on Six Party Talks on Korea ( I missed a chance to be on national tv for the 9-11 anniversary as I was out of town for the Mid-Autumn Festival that weekend. Hopefully I will get another chance. I will also give 1-2 day lectures at other universities around the country over the course of the year (though the government is increasingly sensitive about political issues which some university reps said may make it difficult to approve my lectures), with one scheduled next month here in Beijing.

I have finally begun my teaching duties (two MA classes, with a TA for each), though already faced some frustration and a mild confrontation with the university administration. Apparently my courses are not compulsory, and in fact are not in the computer-based system at all, and students will not receive any credit for taking my courses nor receive a grade for their transcript. The students complained to me that I have assigned alot of work, and since they receive no credit they don't know if its worth the extra time (a valid concern). I met with the department chair and post graduate administration officer to no avail, though the professor agreed my assertion that if I cannot assign grades, I have very little ability to compel students to read, write essays, take exams, and take the course seriously. He and the administrator got into a rather heated debate that the professor lost, though I only was privy to the occasional word that I know (like jiade,which means fake, i.e. my course is essentially fake, not in the system). I continued to lobby that students should get credit, but was told that the computer prints out the schedule, this is the system, they cannot control it. And I explained that people control computers, we can change the system. And so they fell back to the red herring that this is a cultural difference between China and America. So, I am deciding whether to take their advice (not likely) and just lecture and students can just sit and listen as if auditing, or teach with grades that are meaningless and try to convince the students that this is a measurement of American standards and set it up as a task, a competition. After some discussion with students, perhaps the system is really set ahead of time; my TA has now told me that next semester my classes will count for credit.

Meanwhile the undergrads are away for their compulsory military training for several weeks, which means I can actually get a seat in the student cafeteria where meals are subsidized for as low as 50 cents per meal (one dish plus rice). One of my classes was also scheduled up against the mandatory PE class for grad students from 3-5pm, which severely cut enrollment. I'm in the process of trying to change the time.

Otherwise, I've joined a gym nearby that has yoga and taichi classes; I will start with yoga, based on watching the last class, I will be the only male among 30+ females and only Western face in the entire gym, so I hope I don't scare them.

I'm anxious to experience more of the classroom environment; and tomorrow the Embassy has sponsored us to bring our students to some ex-pat play of a cross-dressing farce called Love, Sex, and the IRS to further spread American culture; the students appear excited, especially when I told them tickets (which are free) would usually be $50 for the playhouse in Beijing.

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