Monday, February 6, 2012

A Used-to-be in Need of Sunshine Person by Wuthiphong (Hai) Laoriandee

[Beril--Our guest blogger this time is Wuthiphong Laoriandee. As I was reading what Hai had written about his teaching experience as a first year graduate student, I went back to the first day of teaching when I was a first year graduate student. (I cannot believe it was more than four years ago. Why oh why we always remember those bad memories so vividly and forget about the good ones so easily). Ah that first day was awful. I had never taught before and I had a terrible stage fright (made me wonder maybe I chose the wrong profession :-). I kind of felt sorry for my students, but more so for myself. It was a rainy day and I had gotten wet before I went to my classroom. No, I did not have my umbrella. I did not think it would rain in August for some reason. My lovely shoes that I had so carefully chosen for that day was all wet. Not having prior teaching experience and the terrifying idea of teaching Americans how to write, when I did not have confidence in my own writing, combined with all the physical symptoms of public speech anxiety made it a terrifying experience. That day I realized that high heels and trembling knees do not quite go well together ^_^, a lesson I seem to keep forgetting by the way. That day, as I was going over the syllabus with my students, I was pretty sure that I was going to faint. My voice as well as my hands holding the syllabus were shaking and I was not sure if it was because I was wet and cold or because I was so nervous, probably the latter. Physically I was feeling so bad that I had to sit down, something I almost never do when I teach. Actually just writing about this experience brings back the symptoms. My knees feel weak, I think I need something sweet ^_^  
That year I was a full time teacher and a part time graduate student, which was supposed to be the other way around. All my time and energy went to teaching and I could not really enjoy my first year of grad school as much as I wanted to. I guess I was lucky that I was using a different syllabus approach than Hai, which did not require learning all this terminology and cultural references. Fortunately, teaching got not only easier but also enjoyable after the first year. Needless to say, my self doubts about teaching these American students vanished when I read their first assignments. I have to say though I enjoy teaching international students much more. Anyway both Hai and I found our grad school legs eventually. Thank you very much Hai for sharing your experience with us. Now, I leave the stage to Hai.]
A Used-to-be in Need of Sunshine Person by Wuthiphong (Hai) Laoriandee
“The only happy time in my life now is when I’m in bed.” My status on Facebook about two years back might sum up how I felt toward my life during the first year at Purdue.
Every day I had to talk to at least one person back in Thailand on the phone so that I felt close to home. Facebook was also my life. Even silly FB statuses of my Thai friends could always bring me back home. Academically, I was in West Lafayette, but my soul was in Thailand. Homesick—due to the fact that I came here alone without other Thais and lived away from home over 3 months for the first time—was not the main reason for my life reaching the lowest point in that year, but teaching English106 was.
“What the hell is teaching English writing to Americans?... Wutthiphong you can do it, you are the best.” This silly self questioning and prep talking kept echoing in me silently many times a day. Graduating from and having taught at the best university in Thailand for over 3 years, I was like a baby in front of my ENG 106 class at Purdue. Kairos, Chiasmus, Enthymeme and scores of other Greek rhetorical terms, you name it, were packed in the textbook I had to use to teach the class—not to mention the American politics, TV shows, and cultures in the textbook that overwhelmed me when teaching this course. My own courses I took seemed to be a piece of cake. I dedicated 30 hours to ENG 106 every week only to get discouraged after class almost every time. Though there were few students showing their contempt at my verbal English and a mismatch teaching and learning styles, the major source of my pressure was from myself who was never content with my teaching. There was a big crash between me and ENG 106.
“Let it go” and “you come here for studying” are my life-at-Purdue philosophy after the hell year. Teaching ENG 106i that I started from my second year is like cooking oriental food that matches both the taste of me as the cook and people who eat it. My second year was better and I could focus much more on my own classes. I also had more friends especially my dormmates. We started to do real cooking more, not just only quick cooking with a microwave. My diets became better as I eat more food I cook. My life started to have more variety. I went out more, starting to remember names of roads around me, and stopped positioning myself as a foreigner who had paid all the attentions to teaching. I really live my life here. Yes, my life has improved a lot also because I met my life partner at Purdue, who shares all the feelings and cares about all my ups and downs. I have a vaccine now.
Now I’m in the third year of my stay here. My life is healthy enough. I totally understand new comers who are bombarded by many things to adjust. And this year our program welcomed another student from Thailand. Though she does not teach, I also make sure that she has someone to ask and to share feelings to. I hold on to the song “The Sunshine Song” by Jason Mraz that goes, “If there’s a light in everybody, send out your ray of sunshine.”       

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