Friday, January 13, 2012

School's In!

This was my first week teaching and glad it's behind me. Not because anything went terribly wrong, but because I spent the last ten days worrying that something would. Sure, I had to adjust to a new environment. But under the circumstances, things went very well.

I'm teaching in the masters program in common law at the University of Carthage. The dean of the program introduced me to a few key people the week before classes started. The program is supposed to be conducted entirely in English, so I don't have to worry about teaching in a different language. However, outside of the classroom, everybody speaks Arabic, everybody has an Arabic name, and each one seems to have at least four syllables that I can't pronounce. I'm sure their names sound like "Bob" and "Sue" to them. To me, it all sounds Greek. I now carry around a piece of paper so that I can make a written note of the people I meet and the way to pronounce their names. I'm sure they chuckle at me behind my back.

I gave myself two hours before my first class to do a couple of simple things, like print my lecture notes. That alone took a whole hour. First, the school's computer could not read my USB flash drive. So I mailed the file to myself thinking I would use the school's computer to log into my mail account and print the file directly from there. That's when I discovered that the computer keyboard doesn't look like the one I'm used to. I couldn't even type in a web address! Luckily the dean walked in and got it done for me. That may actually be in her job description because I don't believe the school has a technology department.

I'm teaching two courses to a group of 24 students. After my first day, I did not think they were much different from any group of students you would encounter in the U.S., aside from the fact that English is their third language. But on the second day, I discovered something else. By the time class was supposed to start, only one student had arrived. She told me that it's typical for students to take some extra time to show up. On that day I had to wait 15 minutes. It's something they call Tunisian time. Because the students are supposed to be learning about how things are done in the U.S., I decided to introduce them to the American adage that time is money. The next day, not a soul was late.

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