Newsletter No. 122

2 No. 122 4th March 1998 CUHK Newsletter Forum In this issue, three new teachers from different faculties talk about their experiences in the first few months of teaching and working in the University. My First Semester at CUHK by Mahesh Gupte Prof. Mahesh Gupte teaches operations management and quantitative methods at the College of Business of the University of Louisville, USA. He is spending his sabbatical year at The Chinese University as visiting associate professor in the Department of Systems Engineering and Engineering Management. Prof. Gupte comes from Jammu, a small city in the Jammu and Kashmir State of India. This piece was written in late 1997. So far the first semester has been a very exciting, challenging, andmemorable experience in many ways. Finding a conveniently located apartment, learning how the University administration works, preparing lecture notes for classes, and trying to understand the expectations of the students as well as colleagues are probably the most vivid aspects of my stay in Hong Kong. These aspects have occupied most of my time and consumed the bulk of my energy over the past few months. It is very refreshing to take a seven- to-eight-minute walk from my apartment to the KCRC Fo Tan Station and then merge into a crowd heading for the University Station. The busy lifestyle of Hong Kong people with their beepers and cellular phones still remains a mystery to me. My teaching assignment in the first semester at CU was three lecture classes with about 50 to 60 students each. They are foundation courses for first-year students. These courses have really challenged my ability to keep the students engaged and interested in the subject-matter. I find CU students very hard-working, energetic, and motivated to learn and do well in their course work. The most difficult and challenging task has been to communicate effectively with them. Through the mid-term course evaluations, I found out that they were having some difficulty understanding my accent and would like me to speak slowly. I am still trying to speak English with a 'Chinese' accent and it seems that we are beginning to understand each other. I was very satisfied with their performance in the mid-term tests. It remains a challenge, however, to engage them in a discussion, but I guess the lecture format is not conducive to such engagements. It also took me a while to realize the importance of graduate assistants. They have helped me tremendously in grading the papers and offering tutorials so that the students can discuss important aspects of the lectures. Many times I feel I am missing something by not being able to speak Cantonese. Although the students are very respectful, it has been difficult to establish an effective student-teacher relationship because of the language barrier. A major reason I decided to spendmy sabbatical year in CUHK was its prevailing academic culture and research achievements in the areas of engineering management, information systems, and operations research. It is very exciting to be surrounded by faculty members and graduate students who are actively involved in research. The environment has stimulated my thought processes. Even though my teaching duties have kept me extremely busy and prevented me from attending weekly research seminars, a number of opportunities do exist for me to share my research interests with colleagues and graduate students. I have been able to initiate at least two research projects with my colleagues and I hope to work on them more aggressively in the coming months. The computing and library facilities are excellent and comparable to many top US universities. When compared with CUHK, the College of Business in the University of Louisville is primarily a teaching school even though research is encouraged and rewarded. The college does not have a streamof students working on their master's and Ph.D. theses which generally provide a fertile ground for research ideas. Although my research efforts have been appreciated within the school as well as at the university level through many research awards, it was becoming extremely difficult to sustain such efforts. Last year when the University of Louisville awarded me the tenure and granted me a sabbatical year, I decided to take the time to reflect on and inventory my skills and research work. It seems that my appointment as a visiting associate professor here has provided me an excellent opportunity to accomplish my objectives. I am already looking forward to the next semester as I am scheduled to teach two sections of the same course. Since I now have a good understanding of student expectations and the prevailing culture, there will be enough time this semester to interact actively with other faculty members and concentrate on the research projects I have initiated. Impressions of the University and the Students by Kimberly McGrath, instructor at the English Language Teaching Unit (ELTU) It was almost six months ago that I began life at The Chinese University. I arrived directly from four years at the Harvard Institute for English Language Programs into the typhoons of Hong Kong. During those first weeks I found myself sloshing around in rain that usually swallowedmy feet, and people who kept talking about the 'storm numbers' and potential mudslides. My only concern was how to make it from home to the University without getting lost or drenched! Having said all that, my first day on campus was an unforgettable one. Although muggy and hot (the humidity level felt about 200 per cent), the sun in all its brightness revealed the unique beauty of the campus with its lush foliage and dazzling flowers. I walked around campus that day having high hopes for the students that I would soon teach. I teach two courses for the ELTU — Communications for Business and Technical Communications — and my students are mostly first year undergraduates. The aim of such courses is to help students become more effective communicators in written and spoken English. My experience in language teaching has prepared me for the reserve of the first day of class as both teacher and students try to get a feel for the group and communication styles. My first day of class at the University was no different. I had also been forewarned that the students may seem quiet and unwilling to speak out. This is often true, especially if a teacher is always the focus of attention. However, I quickly noticed a key characteristic of my students. They are apprehensive about speaking out in a large group setting, but if given a pair or small group task, they can be so enthusiastic that it is sometimes difficult to get them to wrap up the task. Their motivation and communicative nature during these activities show that students here are willing to take an active role in their learning when given the opportunity. I am now beginning my second semester at CUHK. When I first arrived my thoughts focused on who my students would be. I asked my colleagues questions and looked at the past work of students in order to gain a clearer perspective of my would-be audience. But this time around I feel I have a clear idea of who my audience will be, and I welcome the opportunity to work with and encounter more bright young CU minds. Chatting about Himself and His Impressions of CUHK Prof. Moneta of the Department of Psychology prefers chatting with the CUHK Newsletter reporter about his impressions rather than writing about them. Here is an excerpt of the chat that took place last November. (M: Moneta, I: Interviewer) I :I know you're from Italy. Have you taught or studied elsewhere? Could you talk a little about your background? M: I was bom in Italy and lived there, in Genoa, up till age 25. I completed my undergraduate studies in psychology in Padua. When I was 25, I received a scholarship to go to Finland and at the same time got accepted for a doctoral programme in the University of Chicago. For a while I was both in Chicago, defending my thesis, and in Finland, first studying and then working for the Finnish National Institute of Occupational Health. From Finland, I moved to Paris where, for over three years, I worked first at an institute of health and then at a grande é cole. After that I was given the opportunity to teach in Italy on a one-semester contract. I: What are your first impressions of the University ? M: I've only been here for three months, so my observations may be superficial. My first impression of The Chinese University, even before I got here, was that it is extremely well-organized. I'm used to moving and I know one normally encounters many problems in moving, e.g., visa application. But everything was arranged neatly and clearly for me here. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, it was very hot. The heat sapped my energy but I could start work right away because I didn't have to run to different offices to fill out forms, like I did in all the other institutions. Another impression is that the University is very well equipped technically. The computer system is excellent. Of course I could propose new things — one could always ask for more. But the system as it is works very well. I: What about your colleagues and students ? M: Almost all my colleagues have got degrees from the US or England. We can relate to each other very easily. Even when I have problems understanding things, they know exactly what could be my difficulty. As for the students, I was warned that they are 'very passive' at the orientation for new teachers. That scared me. But what I saw afterwards is that that is not true. Actually they do talk to me. But in my personality class which consists of psychology majors, I had to tell them very clearly that class participation doesn't count in the final grade. I had the feeling there was some kind of reciprocal control, which meant the students felt if they talked to the professor, they'd be seen as a, pardon my expression, brown nose. I'm also aware of the difference in ways of reasoning in science and also linguistically between myself and my students. Let me give you an example — the word 'latent'. I asked the students of my personality class what it means and they said 'hidden inside', which in a way is correct. But in Italian and Latin the word has amuch more powerful meaning. For example, cancer can be latent, i.e., it can explode. So if I say 'latent' and allow my students to think of something that's 'hidden', the word doesn't convey the power that I want it to. My point is that theories cannot always be observable; they have something to do with empirical phenomena and a lot to do with how we think. I: On a different note, where do you live? M. Ma On Shan. I: Have you been around town ? M: I've seen Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. I just went to a very nice dolphin watch trip organized by Shaw College. I don't have much free time but in general I don't like to have free time. I work all the time. What I do in my free time depends a lot on my wife and she works all the time too. We're an academic couple of the most horrible type. O