Blog » China: Impromptu teaching

8 Jun 2006

China: Impromptu teaching

Filed under: Personal — paulcook @ 3:22 am

I’m in China! Beijing, specifically! I’ve been here nearly two days now, teaching scientific English to 28 graduate students at the National Institute of Biological Sciences. It’s a 10 day course I’m co-teaching with Valerie (whom some of you have met) who is currently working here. Thereafter, I’m attending the Strings 2006 string theory conference, and then doing some touring.

The course is going well so far, and the students are getting involved nicely. They been given the afternoon to read and prepare 15min journal club talks on Nature papers, in groups, so no doubt they’re working hard now! It certainly is a disadvantage not have English as a first language — they’re clever people, but miss a lot of what I say first time round.

Anyway, the theme so far has been: minimal lesson preparation. I arrived at midnight and started teaching at 9:30am the next morning. Luckily, I’d done a little work on the plane — since getting packed after my candidacy exam last week took all the time I had in Pasadena. And thank goodness the lessons are in the morning, so jetlag isn’t a problem.

Today had three and a half hours of lessons, including discussing a paper the students had been asked to read (and extract the main points from) overnight; a session of presenting informal talks; and a session on asking and answering questions in talks. So no problem, we had all afternoon and evening yesterday to prepare, right? Uh, no.

At around 5pm, with some of the paper analysis worked out, we went to dinner with Valerie’s lab group. One of the members is going to Yale for two years, so was having a farewell party. We went to a nice Korean barbeque place: you have a little grill with coals between each group of people, and the restaurant provides platters of little slices of all sorts of meats to grill. Really, really tasty.

Also present were some bottles of beer, and little tumbler glasses. No problem, right? Till they started getting knocked back at a great pace. The departee started doing glasses with each person in turn, so had a LOT to drink — and the party soon featured his renditions of the best line of each of a number of Bon Jovi songs (why Bon Jovi? Uh, missed that part. There was much Chinese being spoken). english_beijing06/Korean_BBQ_as_the_evening_wore_onRenditions complete with air-guitar and great hand contortions. For some reason, more drink meant more English, and soon anyone declining a drink was met with protestations of, “You disappoint me”, and “You hurt my heart”, in full accent. Great party.

Anyway, we finally made it home at 10pm, with me suffering some serious jetlag by this point. So the rest of today’s prep was done in the half hour before the morning’s session, and during lunch break. Despite all that, it seemed to have gone very well! This afternoon, the institute organised me a bed to have a nap on, so I’m feeling much recovered now. So, what’s the plan for tomorrow again….?

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  1. “It certainly is a disadvantage not have English as a first language”

    I’ll say!

    Luckily they make these illiterate Africans do tests of English as a foreign language before letting them into the US.

    Comment by Spleen — 8 Jun 2006 @ 3:29 am

  2. Couldn’t resist, so:

    Again, “It certainly is a disadvantage not have English as a first language”

    Following still you not! Have barrier apparently you language. It hope intentional was. African, regards illiterate an :)

    Comment by Chris — 8 Jun 2006 @ 7:26 am

  3. Hi Paul,

    I hadn’t realised you were out here already. If you have a few minutes in between teaching, drinking and being sung to before Strings 2006 starts, give me a shout. I see that you are in Zhongguancun so you’re not far from my campus.

    All the best,


    Comment by Jon Shock — 10 Jun 2006 @ 12:26 am

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