A Three-Week Container

Visitors from Totorri University (Japan)

japanese students 1From February 20 through March 13, I was one of seven teachers who taught in a three-week intensive English program hosted by our Taiwanese university. Our students were 20 students from Totorri University in Japan. My part of the program was to teach them Writing Skills. With each group of ten students, I had six two-hour sessions.

The students also had some field trips to the Yingge Pottery Museum that I wrote about a few weeks ago (see Containers of Surprise below), as well as some sites in Taipei.

On Wednesday of this week, we had our closing activities with the students before they boarded the plane heading back to Japan on Thursday. In many ways, their three weeks here were a whirlwind for me, because the rest of my schedule didn’t stop. In addition to the 8 hours of teaching I did with them each week, my regular teaching hours continued. And as mentioned in my last post (see the Busiest Week(s) below), the other tasks on my to-do list were all doing their best to make their voices heard.

In spite of it all (and the unexpected events that turned up last week), I found myself thoroughly engaged in every moment of those classes. I was excited to be with these students. They were unsure about whether they even wanted to be in a writing class, but over the 12 hours with each group, a transformation started happening. They began exploring ideas, digging deeper to uncover memories and thoughts, and began to write papers that showed their interest and their growth. They embraced the writing process and discovered writing isn’t so bad when they had a few tools to work with.

Too Much Diversification?

The reason I bring all of this up (other than to celebrate three weeks with a great group of students) is that I noticed that while I was totally immersed in this project, there were still other things that got done. I started comparing the things we juggle in the short-term with those we do in the long-term. According to a variety of research, multi-tasking in the short-term has questionable benefits, but it’s long-term counterpart (planning, time management, whatever we name it) is necessary.

While it is possible and desirable to focus our attention on a limited number of tasks in the short-term, we don’t have that luxury over larger periods of time. We all have a variety of domains in which we must function. What surprised me about these three weeks were overly full in general, specifically it wasn’t as stressful as I had anticipated. My immersion in the Japanese student program was like a block of time that was superimposed over the regular schedule. From one day to the next, it could seem arduous, but as I adjusted to the pace AND as I got to know the students, this added activity began to energize me even with the added demands on my time.

A Different Experience of Time

As a result, something happened to my experience of time during these three weeks. Not only the sense of being totally engaged, but the way that time seemed to flow differently. Even though my calendar showed blocks of times marked out for various activities, the boundaries between those activities blurred. It may be that these three weeks allowed me to nearly totally be a teacher. That my attention wasn’t as divided. That having a large number of things to shift to and from over a longer period of time can be just as difficult to manage effectively as multi-tasking in the present moment.

On the other hand, it seems at this moment that I have more time. That time seems a lot more spacious, even though the to-do list is still long. Yes, this program and a few other items have passed during the last three weeks, but the hours aren’t as tightly packed. I felt like I experienced both the expansion and contraction of time during this week that was based on my perception of the tasks at hand. I may have learned a few things in these weeks that will make my approach to the next few weeks more productive while less stressful at the same time.

Japanese students 2In the meantime, I’ll fondly remember the new Japanese friends I’ve made and look forward to our continued conversations made possible by technology. The opportunity to spend time with these 20 wonderful young people is just one more example of how small the world has become.

One of the things I love about teaching is that no matter how much I share with my students, I always seem to learn something myself. I want to thank my students from Totorri University for your enthusiasm, your humor, your willingness to learn, and for helping me to learn more about myself. Keep in touch!

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