January 9, 2009

1/9/09 Registration

I guess the new year was started off right with tons of pyrotechnics throughout the Ulaanbaatar skies. I didn't mind except for the small group that set off another barrage of fireworks behind our building at 6am the next day. I can just imagine what they were saying "Look, we forgot to shoot off all the fireworks, here's more! Before we stagger home, we should light them up!"

I would have thought that there would be a nice break between semesters, which there is, but I forgot to factor in 'registration'. On January 2nd, we opened up the center for people to apply for the English department program. Because speaking English is seen as such a priceless skill, we only announced the registration period two days before just to limit anyone camping outside overnight (like in years past) just to get a spot. We had about 100 openings but accepted about 180 test applicants. Even with those numbers and the fact that we didn't announce it, we filled the Beginners class in less than six hours and all the other classes were full in less than two days.

Then we had three days of testing. Beginners took an IQ test. All Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate students also had to take an oral exam to test for their English fluency. So that meant that I did 65 interviews in four straight hours. And on the third day, did another 30 interviews. Normally we select only based on the average of their written and oral test scores, but because we run the department as a social program, I tried to factor in other aspects, such as employment, need, and motivation. I will probably recommend that next time, there is a translator who can ask other questions just in case I (or the next teacher) can't be understood.

But for my classes, I have about 70 returning students and will be accepting another 50 new students. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to pick only half of the names out of 100 to get into class. But it was an extremely tough job to cut the other fifty, especially when you know how valuable knowing English can be and how expensive it can be to study elsewhere.

And because I really thought our book wasn't right for our students, (it's a 20 year old British text) especially for my intermediate students, I've decided to try a different book. That means I'll be starting from scratch again. How do I get myself into these things. [laugh] But at least I got a reprieve as Tsetsgee told me classes will not start for another week.

The other bright news is that we have a new teacher, who will be teaching Buddhism classes but also mediation and yoga. Glenda is from Bumbary in Australia and has been with the FPMT for a long time. It's always nice to get a fresh set of eyes to help you look at life a little differently. Seems like only yesterday I was arriving. Welcome Glenda.

Even the cold can't stop these kids from playing soccer

PS. Trimmed up the beard so I don't look so much like Santa Claus. Maybe it will fool the paparazi. [smile]