Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My first undergraduate class

The Fulbright grant I received calls for me to teach two classes while I’m here in Shanghai. Prior to arriving, I had worked out with my home institution in China that I would teach one introductory undergraduate course on American politics and one graduate course on U.S. State politics. Despite some of the difficulties associated with starting up my graduate class (like finding out the time, place and schedule), that class is going swimmingly. I really like my students, and they seem to be enjoying the class. I took the boys in to meet the class last week (Berkley is excited about returning tonight), and we’re all going out to dinner tonight after class. This is exactly what I was hoping for – a chance to teach students something about the U.S but at the same time a chance to learn about China

My undergraduate class, though, has been a bit of a train wreck. Since students don’t have any free electives and since my class is not on the books (and hence doesn’t count for anything), only two students were signed up (totally understandable – why sign up and pay for a class that doesn’t count?). As a result, that class was canceled due to an institutional policy that only undergraduate classes with 15 students or more can run (of course, they’re not actually paying for my salary – the Fulbright grant is – so they would have made money on the deal, but it is what it is). So – what to do now? After confirmation with the state department that it was okay, we settled on me doing some lectures in an existing undergraduate course.

Thus, once again, this morning, I set out to teach a course with little to no information. I was told to catch the bus to the new campus (most Chinese universities have an old campus where graduate courses are held and a new campus where the masses of new undergraduate students reside) at 7:00 am. I didn’t know where my class was, what the regular subject of it was or when it was. I knew it started at 8:00 as when I asked how long it was I received a reply of 8:00-10:35. That may seem clear, but since I had been vaguely told that there were two classes – or maybe three – that I was going to guest lecture in, that range didn’t help me ascertain how long I needed to talk in each class.

I arrived at the bus stop at 6:55 to find no bus. Did I miss it? No – it turns out that it arrives at 7:00, departing at some vague time after that, something that would have been nice to know as I could have scored another 15 minutes of sleep. I hopped on board what I hoped was the right bus (there were two there and no signs) and began the long drive to the new campus. Approximately an hour later (yes – that’s right – at exactly the time class was supposed to start), we pull up to the new campus. But only two people get off the bus. Umm – wait a minute. No one told me there were stops – at which stop do I get off? I try to peer through the steamed windows to determine if I could see the person who was supposed to meet me, but I see no one. I can’t ask either because (see above) I don’t know the name of my class or where it is being taught. Sigh. So, we drive through four more stops (repeating the peering procedure at each stop) and then I’m forced to get off at the end to find – no one. At this point, it’s 10 after 8, so I call my contact on campus. She then calls the department chair, who calls me to ask where I am. Where am I? How the hell do I know? So I hand my phone over to some random stranger (with a thank you to get him to take it) which allows the chair to locate me (she had to abandon her own class to come get me). She takes me over to her colleague who takes me into the class where I start. But wait – I STILL don’t know when the class ends. Luckily (or not so luckily) last night, I had done a quick calculation and figured that if there were two classes (this is what I was told – sort of), then the first class should be over at about 9:10. With a 15 minute break between classes, that would make the classes even in length.

At approximately 9:10ish then, I finish talking to find (after some awkward back and forth) that no – I actually have 25 minutes left. SHIT. I’ve just rushed through what I prepared, now I have nothing left, so I open it up for some Q&A. Right when that gets rolling, the professor tells me – class is done. Okay – now it’s 9:50. Is there another class? A 45 minute class? No – that’s it; I’m done for the day. Alright, fine, except for the fact that there is no midday bus that returns to the old campus (on Wednesdays only and we’re in the boonies, so apparently no buses, taxis or metro stations). So, it’s 10:00 am, and I’m not meeting the department chair (who will show me how to get back) until 12:15, and I have nowhere to go. Greeaat. Despite this, I have managed to make my way to the student cafeteria. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get food here when it opens at 11 as I only have large bills (they may only take cards and/or the food is so cheap that may not take a $100 yuan bill) and as I don’t speak Chinese and I’m a vegetarian. Should be interesting.*

So what does the future hold for my undergraduate class? Who knows? I was told that I could do as many lectures as I wanted; I asked to do four, but from the look on the face of the professor this morning, I’m not sure he was aware of this (and really – I can’t blame him. He’s apparently teaching a class on Soviet politics and has been told he has to make room for some random professor to come in and lecture his class on – American politics?). I’ll try to straighten this out tonight at my graduate class with the chair, but for now, I’m just trying to flow like water and have a good laugh about this. And really – I have learned through all this stuff to just laugh about it, which may blow the minds of so many of you who know my type-A personality. I don’t want this blog to sound so down about things, so I want you all to picture us writing all these crazy posts as we smile, laugh and have a drink (well – the drink part will come later). I mean – while all this is crazy, it’s not often that I get applause after I teach a class (which happened today), so all in all, life is pretty good.

*Updated to add: No – I could not get food in the cafeteria as they don’t except cash. I did manage to find a small store though, so I lunched on the granola bars I packed, a small coke (needed some caffeine), and pizza flavored vegetable snacks (really cheese crackers) – aka the lunch of champions. After this nutritious lunch, I wandered around for a bit and then met the chair. At that point, I learned two things: 1) the faculty cafeteria accepts cash (hope to find that next time) and 2) the bus to get to the metro was just a short jaunt from the main gate, so I could have been home at noon opposed to 2:00. Oh well – you live and learn.

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