Friday, October 10, 2008


I may just have had one of the most awkward discussion group nights in mi casa I've ever had. It all started with a simple misunderstanding. I teach two sophomore English major classes (both of which happen to be on Tuesday), and in both classes I have a girl named Becky. Because of October Holiday, I have to make up both classes and decided to meet with the students outside of class in a discussion group setting (with one of the classes) and in one-on-one meetings to discuss pronunciation (with the other). Tonight was dedicated to the one-on-one meetings, whereas, tomorrow night was allotted specifically for the discussion group. Yesterday I received a text message from Becky saying she wouldn't be able to come on the previously scheduled day for her one-on-one meeting. Later I received a text message from Becky (using a different number) asking if she could come Friday night instead. I said she could, and she replied that she and her roommates would come Friday at seven. I thought it was a little odd that she included her roommates, but I let it slide since the students usually come in packs even when only one of them is supposed to show up.

Around seven o'clock this evening as I was pouring banana bread batter into the pan, I got a phone call from Becky asking me what floor I lived on. I opened the door and before me huddled four girls from my discussion group class who weren't supposed to arrive until Saturday evening. I was a little startled, confused and dense enough to think that Becky (the one-on-one meeting student) was still wandering aimlessly about looking for my apartment. I hurriedly invited the girls in and then yelled Becky's name in the hallway to direct her to my floor. The response, "I'm Becky," came from one of the girls in my apartment, and thus the evening of awkwardness commenced.

I never again regained solid footing. Nearly as soon as I dealt with the fact that my evening would no longer be my own (discussion groups last much longer than the one-on-one meetings I had planned for the night), there was a rap at my door. I opened it, and there stood two of my one-on-one meeting students ready for their critiques. I couldn't do anything but invite them in and tell them we'd be doing their meeting discussion group style. A few minutes later, more students from the one-on-one meetings group trickled in until I had four student from one class and five students from the other. The division couldn't be any clearer either with the four girls from one class sitting on one couch, the five from the other class sitting on the other side of the room, and me smack dab in the middle. Conversation was awkward as I tried to ask each of the one-on-one students a question to which they could give an answer adequate enough for me to be able to pinpoint their personal pronunciation problems all the while including the students from the other class in the discussion. It was not going well.

Then, there was Leon. After I chatted gaily with Becky No. 2 from the discussion group class about Xinjiang Province (where she spent two years of her life and where I spent two weeks of mine), I asked Leon what he was thinking. I can always depend on Leon to add some flavor to any discussion, and he didn't hold anything back. He said, "I was just thinking how the minorities in Xinjiang have a high talent for causing problems with us." I just looked at him. Seriously? Are we going to discuss the terrorist attacks in Xinjiang Province and blame the minorities for their "high talent" in disrupting the peaceful Han existence whose existence has only been in Xinjiang in recent years? I love Leon and on any other occasion, I would be happy to discuss nearly anything with him, but this was not a particularly good time or place for politically heated topics so I segued away from Xinjiang to something else.

The one-on-one meeting students left fairly early. They were, after all, only supposed to have relinquished ten minutes of their time this evening and had already given me over an hour. So now, with one group gone, balance was restored, and I relaxed a little. Now I could grapple with what the purpose of our meeting was, and the girls, though still congregated on one couch and making my room seriously off-balanced, were freer to talk and laugh and share. These girls are new students for me, and I was enjoying getting to know them. We were just getting into a decent, comfortable exchange when one of the girls (after I asked her a "would you rather" type question) said, simply, "I'm sorry. I played badminton today, and now my hair bothers me. I think I will leave." I said, okay, and then another girl said, "I will follow." And finally the other two reluctantly joined the two leaving.

After I closed the door behind them, I stood there trying to figure out what had just taken place. I felt like I had been outside my body the entire evening watching this sad debacle, and there was no solution I could have conjured up to make things smoother or less painfully awkward. On top of all this, half of my banana bread was consumed by a group of students who could merely (and inadequately, I might add) describe it as "strange." Bu hao yisi!

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