Sunday, April 5, 2015

First Visitors from U.S.

I assisted with two tutorials for Engineering students where they had an hour to ask questions about formatting and grammar for their upcoming assignments. This was the first time I saw a classroom packed out, standing room only, and even though they were required to be there, I couldn't help but see the disparity in the attendance with Arts events (lectures, my tutorials, seminars). People keep saying that these students are more driven and have harder degrees -- I could see where they might get that impression.

Speaking of attendance, I was disappointed to have very few students in my tutorials this week, and there were only about a dozen out of sixty in the lecture. Sure, it was the day before the break, but I can see why professors get really frustrated at teaching to an empty room after they put all the time in to prepare. I had visitors in town but still went to school to run my tutorial. Since there were so few of them, we ended up spending the last half hour discussing the Arts and ways to improve its profile on campus. The reading for the week was really good too, a short story by Isaac Asimov called "Profession". In it, people don't need to go to school to learn how to read or do things because they hook up to a computer and have the information downloaded to their brain. They are assigned a profession at age 18 and sent off to do that job until they retire. It raises really interesting questions about education and whether or not humans would be happier if they had fewer choices. Certainly, for Arts students worried about what they'll do when they graduate, it's a great conversation starter.

In my International Relations class, I saw the second half of a film I hadn't seen before, Why We Fight, about the U.S. wars in the Middle East. It was made in 2005 but not much has changed in the military-industrial complex since then. It was an uncomfortable feeling to hear people snickering at the U.S. politicians in the film, and it makes you wonder how people in other countries have been viewing the U.S. since WWII and what impact that has had on foreign relations.

I spent a significant amount of time writing proposals for conferences. It takes a lot of thought and energy with no guarantee of getting in. I have another one to do for a journal article due in about a week, too. Hopefully at least one of them bears fruit.

In conversations around campus, I met an American student on exchange and we complained about the cost of living here, especially food. It was nice to chat about some of the differences with another American. From NZ students, I learned that there are no foodstamps or free/reduced school breakfasts or lunches here. I couldn't believe it. They have a welfare system, but the money isn't restricted so it can go toward rent or gas or other things instead of food. Seeing things done differently reminds you that there are other systems with their own pros and cons, although I asked them how hungry kids were supposed to get much learning done.

We had our first visitors from the U.S. and spent a wonderful day driving them around the city and catching up. It felt a bit voyeuristic, but we drove them around the still-earthquake-damaged central city and stopped at the cathedral. It was our first time there as well, and it was sad to see all of the crumbling pieces. Next we drove them up into the Port Hills and did a little walking around. The hills were brown with a few sheep still wandering around. We had a really good lunch of home-made Mexican food and then we went to the university where they and D were picked up by their relatives and I stayed behind to do my tutorial. After that, I drove out to the farm where their relatives live and got to see some of their cows (they all got a tour of the cows being milked, but I was too late). We all had pizza for dinner and then D and I made the hour-long drive back to our house. They had a really cute gray and white kitten that was very frisky but then slept on my lap for a long time. I wish I could have taken it with!

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