Thursday, June 12, 2014

Time to Talk

The time showed 4.45 pm. Time to get ready and pack it home.

Suddenly, there was a loud, almost rude knock at the door of my office. I got up and opened the door, only to find Tzeng, the exchange student from China at the door. 'Oh great,' I thought. 'He's probably in trouble now, exam week and all'.

Like I said, Tzeng was an exchange student from China, here at my Uni for 10 weeks of no credit study. He was free to enrol in any classes which stroke his fancy,and earlier in the semester, he had sat in my Audio Visual Digitisation class. Which he DROPPED out of the very next day. The reason: He had already learnt the material in his first semester in China. So I imagined he was now in trouble for dropping my class and now seeking a favour from me to either allow him to sit in the exam or worst, write a support later to allow him to complete the class as an audit course. Sigh. This was not going to be a speedy meeting, for sure. 

Now, I was actually glad he'd dropped the class, by the way. Tzeng spoke very little English and it took him forever to any point across which in turn took valuable class time away. It was hard enough trying to get my local students to understand the theories persenetd to them, so forget a language-challenged student. Plus, he'd joined in at week 7, a very awkward point in the semester. Test 1's result was actually given out on the day he entered my lecture, and he didn't see me at my best. I was furious with my students as almost a quarter of the class had failed the test, so I was going over each questions with them step-by-step. Angrily too, I might add. But Tzeng's departure delivered a punch that I had so wanted to give to my students - he said the stuff I thought was baby stuff he already did in China. So yes  dear students, I am not here to be mean and teach you stuff that can make your brains bleed, but the subject is a necessity and not only is it thought to first year undergraduate students in the UK, but in China too, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, TZENG.

Now, at my door, was Tzeng again. He'd said that he came to see me because his friends (my other students) had said that I had attended a top school in the US. 'The UK', I corrected him. He didn't mind which country it was as long as it was a developed country, he said (I am paraphrasing here. Again, English took forever to comprehend). 

He wanted me to talk about my experience of studying for my PhD there.

Oh God. I debated whether to answer him or not. There was no direct Yes or No answer to his question. Should I talk to him or should I shoo him away? It was almost 5 pm, man. This was the only week I get to go home a tad bit early, plus I was fasting. I'd really wanted to go home there and then. 

But I talked a bit. The more I talked, the more enthusiastic he talked (or asked questions, more like it). Turned out his English wasn't that bad, it must have been nerves that was making him tongue tied all these while. He asked about the style of supervision over there, and what was expected. So I share what I found was most different between Asian students and European students. I told him that they conducted their study more freely and flexible over there, that most of the research was driven by their own passion in the area instead of being shoveled a research title under your nose which you had no way to say no to (very common in Asia, Sifu is always right), etc... etc...

By the end of the fifteen minutes, he seemed satisfied. He then asked which Uni in Msia would I recommend for him to apply for a PhD in computer science. I named a few. Then he started talking about wanting to attend, but how much it was going to cost him. And how he already had a Master degree but it was no good in China as good job was scarce (he mentioned corruption and had no big strings to help secure him a job). Which was why he did his exchange program. The program alone costs him almost RM20000 he said, but he saw it as an investment that would hopefully give him an edge over the rest of the other job seekers in China. 

By the end of it all, I really felt bad for Tzeng. Since it was ten past 5 pm, I suggested that he come again tomorrow, so we could chat again, to which he replied, 'No, no. It's OK. Tomorrow I'm flying back to China. I just came back from Singapore yesterday (sightseeing, I imagine, but I don't blame the guy), which is why I came today. Today's my only chance to see you'.

I was surprised to hear this. Had ten weeks already passed since I first saw him in his tracksuit bottom clad self in my class? Wow. I wished him all the best and we exchanged email addresses, and he'd asked if it was ok if he emailed questions like these again. Sure, sure I said.

My Lord. Imagine if I had shut the door on this boy earlier. His last day and his only chance, and not a soul cared. 

I'm so glad I took the time to listen today.


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