My First Day of Class at Zhejiang Agriculture & Forestry University, Lin’an, China
I was really nervous about meeting my classes here at Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University for the first time, and not everything went as I would have hoped. My first day of the teaching week is Tuesday, a long day although my freshmen afternoon group has military practice for two weeks, so I had three two-hour classes instead of four. The 90 degree heat makes everything more challenging. Although the room for my 8-10 am class has fans, the students are so stuffed in the desks, it is hard for them to move around and do groups. The 10-noon class has no fans! But the students are eager.
So I met three of my classes: two sophomore level 20 year olds and one class of minors (which doesn’t mean what we mean when we say minors). It does mean that many of them didn’t have dictionaries with them and a lot didn’t have English names, so I felt like I was getting to name children: Jesse, Mike, Kate, Emily, Lily, Christine, Sara, Ann, …. Because all the classes are oral English, my goal is to get them to speak as much English as possible in our two-hour class. They may be used to straight lecture classes and rote drill practice, but the classes respond well to the opportunity to talk and interact. (They don’t want to volunteer, but that isn’t unusual in Maui either). Each of them got to speak to the whole class twice. As an ice-breaker, we did “Who Am I?” where they write down a sentence about themselves on a card that I redistributed. They needed to go around the room asking, “Are you the person who wrote, ‘I have a dog named Pua'” or whatever. Later each wrote a biography poem after groups came up with possible words for each line. They had fun (me too) and all spent most of the two hours thinking and speaking in English. Each class meets only once a week, which isn’t ideal for language learning, but I hope to get them to think critically as well as improve their English speaking. It should be fun.
The big drama of my first day was my night class that began at 7. I had left our cell phone with Barry since I’d be in class while he would be out walking around and could easily get lost. Anyway, I had checked out Building 5 for my night class. ZAFU has an intelligent system of numbering each building to facilitate everyone being where they should be. All my other classes are in Building 3. I saw that Building 5 is behind Building 4, which is next to Building 3. But when I got to Building 5 that night in the dark about 15 minutes before class, the room was locked and no one was in the entire building. In my earlier classes, some students were already at their desks when I arrived, so I thought it was really strange. But I waited. It got to be 7 and darker and still there were no students. Leaving a note on the door, I was about to bike home to get to a phone to see if class had been cancelled or something when a Chinese guy showed up.
I can’t say much more than “Ni hao”and he didn’t know much English, but when I showed him my schedule, he started pointing and explaining. I had no idea what he was saying. So he put his stuff in his office and indicated I was to follow him. He zipped me across campus on his moped (with me in my straight-skirted dress) and delivered me to another building. There seem to be two Building 5’s. ZAFU’s organization may not be quite as organized as I thought, or if I could read Mandarin, I could have understood the difference. I loved the ride. All I could say was “xie xie.” I was about 15 minutes late, but my students were waiting, and we went on to have a good class.
When I left after 9, there was another little challenge since I didn’t really know where I was on this huge campus, but I followed Barry’s advice just to follow the majority of the students. I did that and made it back to our apartment where Barry wanted to know where I’d been. He’d spent much of the two hours walking around looking for me. When I hadn’t been in class at 7, one of the students had called the head of the English Department. She figured out that I must have gone to the wrong Building 5 and so dismissed the class, but then I showed up and none of the students said anything about the call to the department. So Barry and some of the foreign teachers had been looking for me for two hours. I don’t know why no one looked in Building 5 (#2). But I was back. I just had Barry walk with me back to Building 5 (#1) to get my bicycle. It was about 10:30 when we really got back to the apartment and then too late for dinner, so I had a trusty p&j sandwich. And that ended my first class day adventure. I think I will really like the students and the challenge of being at ZAFU—especially now when I know where to find my classrooms.