TIA (or, that time spring 2017 threw a curveball.)

“TIA,” Danny Archer in Blood Diamond says, offering this acronym as an explanation for a seemingly inexplicable situation.  “This is Africa.”  Although I’ve never been in Africa, my life has plenty of TIA moments.  This is Asia.

I was thinking about that acronym during our Wheaton classes in Chiang Mai.  The wifi in our classroom was apparently of the hold-your-tongue-just-right variety, and as we had better things to do than think about the position of our tongues, it was unreliable.  For me, this mostly meant that my ability to multitask and chat with people on Facebook while taking notes on the class was curbed; for one of our professors, it was a major annoyance.  He’s used to internet that works reliably so that students can upload assignments and group projects within seconds of completing them, and they can be displayed for everyone in the class to discuss.  

We ended up passing around a flash drive to compile projects on.  It got the job done.  None of us were surprised at having to come up with an alternative method to work around non-working technology.  We laugh, sometimes, at the portions of class that focus with great zeal on exciting ways to use technology in the classroom; our classrooms range from having computers and projectors that almost always work (mine!) to chalkboards to water buffalo randomly wandering through.  Not to say that we live in Luddite communities, but the pace and particularly the evenness of technological development on this side of the world has been… less linear, I suppose.  [Trevor Noah escalator video.]  Most of my students do a lot of life — shopping, calling a taxi, communicating — through apps on their smartphones, but they have little to no idea of how to use a word processing program.  

TIA.  You learn to shake your head and not question it too much.  And probably laugh.  If you’re the type of person who laughs, you’re more likely to enjoy living here.  

Anyway, all that is lead up to the current TIA moment that I’m living in.

Last semester, a lot of my students asked if I’d be their teacher in the spring.  I told them yes, as far as I knew.  That’s been the pattern at our university, our teachers have the same students for the whole year.  And it’s great — it provides good opportunities for continuity in instruction, in relationships, in conversations.  We had worked through most of the textbook last semester, so we made plans for what we’d do in the spring semester: curriculum designed around the movie The Ultimate Gift.  

All was well and good.  

I assume that you as a reader know where this is going.  But we didn’t have the benefit of somewhat ominous narration to give us a clue.  Au contraire, we arrived back at school a week and a half before classes started up for the spring semester, giving us time to go grocery shopping and think about lesson plans and… well, not do things on the internet, because for some baffling reason half of the accounts were shut off over the break (did I mention this is Asia?) …and hang out with friends in DJY and start to get really excited about the spring semester and seeing our students again.  And wait for our schedules.

Yeah, you see where this is going.  


So Friday our FAO sent me a picture of my schedule, seven classes, all in the morning, none on Wednesday.  Pretty typical.  But when I looked at the class numbers I realized that half of them were not classes I had taught last semester, so I went down and knocked on Miriam’s door to see if they had just redivided classes in our department or what.  She pulled up her schedule and our confusion level went from mild to extreme in a heartbeat.  Her classes were in several other departments and freshmen, rather than sophomores.  This unexpected development prompted me to take a closer look at my own schedule and I realized that, while I did have classes 1-7 in the English education department, they were the freshmen classes rather than the sophomores I taught last semester.

It is, all in all, a very TIA reshuffling of schedules.  The school doesn’t have enough foreign English teachers for the student body, so things got moved, and since China is not particularly oriented towards information dumping ahead of time in the way that many Western cultures are, it was a somewhat last-minute shock for us.  Different students, different textbook.  It’s not a calamity, and the shift gives us good chances to build relationships with more and different students than we’d know otherwise, but it’s one of the saddest TIA moments I’ve experienced.  While we’ll still be on the same campus and can meet for meals, I’m going to miss having scheduled time every week with the 200-something students I had begun to get to know last semester.  

They are, too.  (At least some of them.)  My favorite messages I’ve gotten so far were from Mary:

Mary:  hello
i miss you

Me:  I miss you too!! How are you?
Mary: terrible
Me:  :-/ what’s wrong?
Mary: first, you don’t teach us. Second, come to school again.
Very terrible.

I told her that we could still eat together and that she’s still welcome to come to the office and to movie nights.

“That’s settle,” she responded.

It is settle.  And although I’m still sad about it, there is nothing to be done about it except trust that there is a reason it’s been settled this way and meeting my 250 new students this week with enthusiasm and love.  (Not going to lie… I do love building scope & sequences, so doing that was fun.)

This is Asia.  Full of moments that remind me that I am not in control, opportunities to trust that it’s better that way.  


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