Saturday, February 23, 2008

Overwhelmed

I spent most of last week meeting with students about their drafts before their peer editing day on Friday. Mostly, our meetings were helpful, I think. For the Friday meetings, pretty much everyone had a draft, some of them very complete and well written, some not so much of either.

Among my native English speaking students, I generally find that students who have abundant ideas can usually put those ideas into writing pretty well. They've got the basics of sentence construction, and when you ask them for a specific example, they can come up with one and explain it. The students who have trouble coming up with an example usually also have trouble with more basic writing stuff. The two seem to go hand in hand.

For example, say my students are writing to describe a meal. The stronger students tend to get pretty specific pretty quickly; they're likely to talk about who was at the meal, what food was served, what conversation topics came up, where they were, and so forth. My weaker students tend to make generalizations about the meal; they'll say they really like pizza, but when I ask them to describe a really great pizza, they look at me like I'm nuts. Maybe all pizza is equally great for them, or they only think of pizza as having the same ingredients? I'm not sure.

Here, however, I can see that there are students who have lots to say, but can't quite get the English to work, and students who have lots to say and have English sentences down pretty well. But then there are students who don't seem to have much to say, but can write strong English sentences. (And, yes, there are a few students who seem to have trouble on both fronts.)

I went to Nara yesterday with another teacher here, someone who's a TESL specialist. I was feeling pretty good about my students having come to office hours, mostly having well-prepared bubble maps or drafts. But he reminded me that while many of my students are, indeed, engaged in their classes, every student knows that I hold a lot of power because if they don't do well in my class, they won't be able to study abroad. It's true. And, of course, students know about grading power in the US, too. But it seems different, somehow.

There's a faculty meeting next week. Now, I have to admit, I've been loving the relative lack of responsibility for committee work and meetings that I have here. But, I should go to this meeting. And, it will be educational. I'm not sure that this is true of all or most colleges/universities here, but at Host University, there's a pretty top-down approach to management. At faculty meetings, the Dean or other official (depending on the meeting level) explains this or that change that he's decided on (always a "he" here, I'm learning). And the faculty may give some feedback, but basically it's a done deal.

Partly, I'm guessing, the top-down approach is necessary because of the transient nature of many faculty members; they have a LOT of non-Japanese adjuncts who are here for a set year renewable contract, beyond which they can't/won't be renewed. (I'm not sure if this is a legal thing or a business decision thing; it may be Japanese law, or it may be the HU's way of avoiding having to pay into a pension fund for foreign workers.) HU depends on tons of MA level adjuncts, here for defined terms (a set of years), and phud level visitors, here for even shorter terms. Does that affect the development of new classes, or is that counter-acted by visiting folks constantly bringing in new stuff? I'm not sure.

So even though I'm appreciating the break from committee work here, I'm also thinking appreciatively about the level of governance typical at colleges/universities where I've worked. (Though, still, there are times when a "suggestion" comes down from on high, and somehow, gosh, despite widespread faculty disagreement, still gets implemented.)

And Nara. I'm feeling a little overdone by temples and shrines, I think, but there's a great Buddha at the Todai-ji Temple in Nara that took my breath away. I took a picture of the building from outside, before heading in, but once I was inside, I was too awed to think about my camera. The pictures really don't do it justice. It's like explaining to someone about a redwood tree, and showing them a picture with a car to show size versus actually seeing, touching, smelling a redwood.

There are tons of deer in Nara, hanging out, being fed by tourists, eating whatever. They look sort of mangy, but maybe they're seasonally shedding?

At the tourist station, they called a volunteer guide for us, and once again it was wonderful. So I asked my guide about the deer.

In the Northwoods, we have a deer problem, too many deer, problems with overpopulated deer eating young plants, especially trees, so that they don't grow and replace the forest. Scientists have published studies that show the sorts of damage deer do to forested areas (ideal habitat for White-Tailed deer is more open than forested, but the overall predation is still a problem). The Northwoods solution is to add to the hunting season, hoping that hunters will remove more does, especially, from the population every year.

So I was wondering, given the density (there were literally deer EVERYWHERE, following people around and such), about damage to plants. Some tree boles were wrapped with wire fencing, which I guess was to protect them. And then there was a fenced off area, and it was LUSH with growth at all sorts of levels, and really demonstrated how utterly barren the rest of the area was in the parks all around. It was striking.

But, my guide said that people here don't eat deer.

I'm fascinated by how cultures decide what counts as food (or potential food) and what doesn't. Seaweed counts as food here, but not in the US. Deer counts as food in the US, but not horsemeat (except for pet and livestock foods), or whale, or dog. (There are exceptions, but I'm thinking in broad cultural terms.)

(I'm pretty open-minded about food, or so I usually think, but I realize that my open-mindedness isn't so open when I think about eating dog.)

I've been here almost a month now, and I'm pretty happy with how things are going, with my learning curve, with my teaching and students, and with the areas I've been to visit. I'm planning a trip to Hiroshima next weekend, and I'm looking forward to that. But for now, I'm going to spend some time this afternoon in a museum, and look at art rather than architecture or great Buddhas.

1 comment:

  1. When I was in Nara 25 years ago, the deer were definitely mangy.

    The deer on Miyajima (off the coast from Hiroshima) are trained to come running for their dinners to the sound of Copland's "I'm Coming Home"...

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