New Semester

I’m half way through the first week of the new semester. I’ve got new students. Some new English names: Nectarine, Molin (she made it up herself and it has no meaning), Cookie (a boy who likes cookies), Stark *a boy), Jagger I the student never heard of Mick Jagger), Moco (?), Nikey (a misspelling of the shoe company), Ankh *suggested by an Australian friend of a female student), Tab(??) and Garcia (not inspired by Jerry) I’ve had a lot of Cherries and a couple Apples and an Olive as English names, but never “Nectarine.”

What’s very weird is I’m the only English teacher here. The other four are still waiting for their visas. One should arrive this weekend and the others sometime after. I can imagine their frustration with the uncertainty. There’s very little information during this process that started months ago and probably takes longer than any other country.

We’re having weird weather. This past weekend was in the high 60s and today we have snow.

We’ve got one new IT professor and she seems quite nice. She’s got a lot of food restrictions and hasn’t wanted to eat out, which is a shame since food is so central to the culture.

My schedule’s okay, but Thursday I finish at 10 and I don’t teach again till Friday from 2pm to 4pm. I did need Friday morning off to attend my online class, and am grateful for that, but teaching Friday afternoon every week . . . ? First World problem, I know, but how I’d like to move that to Thursday.

The books have all arrived in time and all my students have theirs. For another teacher, who’s teaching IT classes, they’ve boycotted the book because they feel it’s too expensive. I’ve been in classes where the book was expensive, but I just wouldn’t dream of not getting it.

I had planned a few projects for sophomores, but it turns out I’ll just have two sections of freshmen. C’est la vie. I miss my old students, but these new ones will be lovely too.


Not You Again

Yesterday, six weeks into the semester, a student who failed last semester returned. He popped up in my English 2 class, though he failed English 3. His study skills were awful and he missed more than 33% of the classes.

No one explained that he was coming back and his English is so bad that I’m not sure whether he’s now in my class or if he’s just coming this week because he has a test on Sunday.

They give our final exams again to students who failed and then even though my final is only worth 10% of the grade, they pass if they get 60% or better on the test.

I emailed the administrative office and they’re not sure why this boy’s returned. Hmm. If he’s turned over a new leaf, I’ll be happy to take him, but if he’s basically the same, which missing 5 weeks of class suggests, I’ll grudgingly take him.

I hope this gets cleared up tomorrow.


I’m supposed to get my passport and visa tomorrow. I had emailed my supervisor asking to get Sunday delivery for my passport if it came today. I proposed that if my passport arrived on Saturday, I could get the airline ticket to China and get reimbursed. That way I could arrive on Monday and teach Tuesday and Wednesday so I wouldn’t have to make up so many classes (twelve hours). That part of my email was ignored in the first response.

I have been busy today rather than just sitting at home waiting to go to China. After a trip to the bank, yoga and lunch with a friend, I got home and saw another response to my email that said the supervisor, who’s very strict Monday-Friday in his hours would book my travel on Monday. Ugh. I’d leave on Tuesday and now there are no seats available on direct flights. So I’m looking at a 45 hour journey via Korea, Taiwan or Western China (Chengdu).

None of these options are inviting. By Monday there will be less options.

At least there’s an end insight to this saga.

What will I do?

Well, like Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau is known to have said, “Just watch me.”


Still Waiting

Should I give up hoping to get to China by Sunday the 4th?

Rather than sending the paperwork she got back from Immigration to my employer via an overnight express, this woman who’s done the job for years, emailed the teachers for their addresses expecting us to take the paperwork to a local consulate which we’ve never done. (In Hefei, the other site of a program did the same thing and unfortunately, the teacher complied. His paperwork is on its way to Arizona, where there is no consulate. He’ll just have to ship it all to Massachusetts.)

So she wasted Monday causing another precious day to be wasted. I emailed her to find out what day of entry to put on our forms for our paperwork and was told Sept 13th! Luckily, when I asked the woman in China who’s in charge of this, she said if we put Sept. 13th as our date of entry we would be able to enter before then.

Fingers crossed.

I better also say some prayers to be safe.


Though classes start on September 5, none of the teachers going to China have their tickets to Jinan and the English teachers don’t have visas. There’s some unspecified delay in China. The office staff waited till August to do the paperwork on their end. Monday we were told it was submitted (no date was given) and that it will take two weeks there to get it done.

After that they’ll send it to Massachusetts. Then we’ll be asked to send overnight our forms and passports. Then these items get sent to the embassy in New York. I hope they’ll expedite the process so they’re done overnight. Then everything will have to be sent back to us from Massachusetts. Then we’ll get our airline tickets. I’d love to leave late next week.

The woman in China in charge of this says there’s no problem as we can make up the classes. The two teachers will teach 24 hours per week. Whoever teachers with that sort of schedule have had to make up classes (one because her father died, the other because his wife gave birth to a still born baby) at night. So they taught from 8 am to noon and 2pm to 4pm and then from 7:30 pm to 9:30pm and then the next day at 8 am. They had to do that Monday to Thursday for three weeks or more.

I have no interest in teaching such long days. Usually, I plan and grade at night and my days are plenty long. The other option would be to teach on the weekend. Neither of these options appeal to the students. I hate how the students and teachers are stuck in the middle and how no one will offer an apology or sympathy.

What to Wear, Teachers

As the new school season approaches, teachers, especially new ones may wonder what to wear to work. I’ve noticed a lot depends on the context. Yet overall, I tend to believe in looking professional. We’re not paid highly in most places so you don’t want to rack up dry cleaning bills so I’d go with pants, skirts and dresses (the last two for women) that are washable cottons or synthetics. I’m also conscious of the weather. Air conditioning isn’t a given everywhere and you don’t want to melt in August. The first week play it safe by going with short sleeves and skirts or dresses that go to the knee. Once you’ve seen how the other teachers dress and note any negative comments made about other teachers, you’ll figure out the norm.

You want the administrators to have a good impression of you so don’t be too rebellious.

If you’re teaching overseas note what the local teachers wear and be as or a little more formal than they are. While in North America some professors wear jeans, in Korea suits and outfits you’d see bankers wear was the norm. In China they’re less formal. Some men wear a nice shirt and pants, while women can wear dresses and skirts. A few would wear athletic clothes, but I would avoid that. We did have some foreign teachers who dressed like they were going to do chores, i.e. they wore an oversized t-shirt and shorts. None of them got a whole lot of respect.

Jeans are popular and can be dressed up. It all depends on what you wear with them. Still I’ve avoided jeans. Gossip is part of teaching and when someone’s writing an evaluation or criticizing they’ll say, “the teacher wears jeans all the time,” not “the teacher wears dark blue jeans with tops from Ann Taylor all the time.” I also figure if I want the profession to earn the sort of salaries business people and lawyers make, why not dress accordingly?

In Muslim countries women’ll probably be told what’s acceptable. Always ask first. In Indonesia most settings are pretty open, but cover your shoulders and knees. At my last setting we sometimes were asked to wear veils. It didn’t seem to be worth the fight for a three week stint, but we were told that the faculty was debating whether or not non-Muslim visitors from overseas should have to cover their hair. Thus a respectful conversation would be fine. What are the guidelines in the Middle East? Comment below if you know.

Below is a fashion take from an American Middle School teacher, who does go more casual some days than I would.

Last Day

I can’t believe it’s the last day of my three week workshop in Pekanbaru, Indonesia. We had a mini-conference in which the participants all gave 10 minute presentations, Tara and I gave plenary speeches, which we were tentative about doing, but gosh, everyone’s so nice here so how do you say no? A teacher, who’d just returned from two years with the Fulbright program in Michigan where he earned his Masters at Michigan Central University, gave a presentation on that program.

Tara and I had been given local dresses and batik dresses to wear the day before. We also were asked to wear — you guessed it — headscarves so we did in the morning. Later it was just too hot to do so. The big wigs had all gone so it was okay. Evidently, the school is debating whether internationals guests should be required to wear headscarves.

After the event we had a lot of pictures taken and were presented with more gifts — fruit and a huge box of snacks.

Then we were invited to go to a crafts exposition. Tara needed to pack since tomorrow we’re getting taken on a day trip to a waterfall and a temple and Sunday she leaves super early. I figured why not.

Two teachers took me to the new exposition center which is a showplace. It’s got marble and gold plating. We got there a bit late, after 8 pm when most kiosks were shut and shutting down. However, there were some interesting crafts to see from all over Indonesia. I didn’t expect to buy anything, but there was a cool short sleeve dress with batik insets that I got for $13!

Any, a teacher, had brought her sister, who was hungry so  Aleph, the other teacher suggested we go to this rustic coffee shop where artists and actors hang out. It’s beside a striking theater with a majestic traditional design (photos to follow when I get home). We had a lemon ginger drink and shared French fries. Aleph knows everyone in town. So he was friends with the guard from the teacher complex, who let us in the closed building too see an exhibit of paintings. Before leaving an actor we met asked me to do a short video (just on a phone) to draw the tourists to Pekanbaru. I raved about the people and the mosques and tried to repeat “Come to Riau” in a local dialect. (In addition to Bahasa Indonesia there are dozens of local languages in Indonesia.)

I’ve gotten used to surprises in Pekanbaru and wonder what tomorrow’s excursion will bring.

Last Night

This is the big weekend for grading. I have almost 40 students (a few dropped out) so I should have gotten 30-some rough drafts to correct. Still Tara and I decided we should not work on Friday night. We hit the ground running since we arrived and the goal of teaching college lecturers how to write or present at a professional level has been daunting. Yes, the students and administrators have been so kind and hospitable, but what a goal! (They’re under more pressure as to keep their jobs, they need to earn PhD’s by something like 2030.)

So rather than work we went in search of the SKA Mall. With their air conditioning, free entertainment, kids’ play areas and shopping possibilities, malls are the social hubs of any Indonesia city. Tara wanted peanut butter since as a vegetarian food choices are slim. I just wanted to explore. We wound up finding a Starbucks, where we got quiche for dinner. We explored like amateur cultural anthropologists, taking in the mysteries of the Islamic faship shops, arcades and playgrounds and the supermarket where we puzzled over the various snacks, fruits and drinks. (I’ve got lots of photos, as you’d expect, but my new camera and old computer are so incompatible. So photos are “Coming Soon,” after August 11.) They had a lot of local shops, but also a slew of international shops: The Face Shop from Korea, Giordana from Hong Kong, I think, A&W Rootbeer from middle America, Levy’s and Nike.We both got some quality (yet inexpensive) batik items for gifts. As we were leaving we happened upon a local reggae band performing for free so we stayed for that.

Pekanbaru, Indonesia

I agreed to teach a group of Indonesian teachers for three weeks through a program associated with Ohio State University, which is part of a consortium of universities that offer scholarships to Indonesian students so they can study in the U.S. The problem has been that many scholarships go unused because the Indonesian students lack the English proficiency to get accepted.

So after a three day (yes three days) journey from Chicago to Los Angeles, to Tokyo, to Singapore, to Jakarta, I arrived in Pekanbaru. Flying Singapore Air made all the difference. They offer such gracious, thoughtful service: hot towels, good food with lots of choices for special meals, lots of drink choices, cleaner bathrooms. I could check two bags for free.

I’m working with another teacher, Tara, who’s completing her doctorate and has been a conscientious, kind companion whom I’m enjoying getting to know. We’re at Pesonna Hotel, a new nice, clean mid-range hotel, just 10 minutes from school. The staff is taking extra good care of us trying to offer plenty of vegetarian dishes for Tara and going out of their way to ask us what services we might need.

The teaching schedule and goals of the program are challenging. In three weeks, I’m to get my students to write a 3-5 page article for publication and Tara’s to get her students to make a conference presentation on that topic. We’ve got students for 4.5 hours a day. and the students have an extra hour in the morning and in the afternoon with co-instructors who reinforce what we’ve taught or give students time to do homework.

Our students are young instructors or graduate students. One class consists of English Language teachers and the other has an assortment of fields including IT, economics, Islamic accounting, animal husbandry, banking, dentistry and public health. Some students in the mixed class have very low English so I’m not sure why they don’t take a regular English class to up their basic skills, but that’s how it goes in Asia.

The students have been pleasant and eager. Teaching adults should be easier than kids and while the levels may not be what I’d suggest, no one’s been forced to take this class, which makes a world of difference.


Last Class: IMIS 14-2

Before the semester started I emailed our Foreign Affairs liaison to say I thought the IMIS 14-2 sophomores would be best served if another, more authoritative teacher taught the class. I said while I liked the students as people, I felt they weren’t learning as much as they should. Moreover, I’d taught them for two semesters already.

They were a handful and their grades in English 2 were lower than English 1, when I’d hoped the grades would have gone up. Several students had been caught cheating so a clean slate seemed like a good idea to me.

However, I would up getting them. That was okay, and while many goofed off and chatted in Chinese about whatever, I did enjoy teaching those who tried.

We only offer three English courses in this program. The last class for me is usually a movie or something fun. This class should have been held on a Thursday morning, but due to some ball-dropping by an office worker a colleague and I had to go get our medical exams for our work visas on Thursday morning. We had to make up the class on Thursday night, which was inconvenient for several students.

So no one really wanted to be at this class. Well, we watched an episode of Doctor Who after reviewing our finals. When the program was done, I told the students I had enjoyed teaching them and wished them well. I said, I’d see them around campus and would love to hear from them from time to time. Then I dismissed them. What surprised me was that many didn’t leave.

Then Irina, a woman who rarely speaks in English or seems to like school at all, came up and hugged me. More followed suit as they thanked me and a couple said they loved me. It was so touching, especially since China is not a hugging culture. Some started to cry and I did too. It just goes to show, you never really know how you affect people and it’s a big reason why I do what I do.

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