Is Teaching At An Asian College A Good Idea For You?
By Bangkok Addict
A number of Southeast Asian countries have become increasingly popular destinations for Westerners. And a teaching position at a local university or college is considered by many to be the best possible job that a Westerner can get in these countries. The income per hour is usually higher than at lower levels of education, and it’s possible to get three to four months of what is in effect a paid vacation each year. I teach business-related subjects at a private college in the region, and I have worked for longer or shorter periods in four Asian countries over the past 12 years. So I would like to offer some suggestions on how to handle a job in higher education, and how to avoid the kind of mistakes that Westerners are prone to make.
For almost all teaching positions, the minimum requirement is a Master’s degree, and the preferred degree is a Ph.D. If you have a Ph.D. from a well-known Western university, it is very easy to get a full-time position, but it is still possible with a Master’s degree from an obscure North American, European or Australian university. Your chances are improved if you know someone who is a personal friend of the (college) President’s cousin.
You have been invited to a job interview with the President and the Head of your prospective department. It’s a hot day, and you think it’s your abilities that matters, so you show up for the interview dressed in a t-shirt and shorts.
MISTAKE 1: Never dress in a t shirt and shorts at a job interview
LESSON 1: Asians care a lot about your personal appearance. Wearing a suit will be appreciated and worth the sacrifice even if it’s 37°C outside.
After shaking hands with the President, you want to show him the width and scope of your brilliant ideas about how to transform education and research in your adopted country. So you give a 20-minute speech where you point out your own qualifications and the problems with the present educational system as compared with a Western system. You finish your speech by declaring that you demand a salary that equals what you used to earn in your home country.
MISTAKE 2: Bragging about yourself and your home country is never appreciated, nor is it appreciated when you criticize the Asian country or the school to which you have applied. Being talkative is not necessarily appreciated either. Ideas of change sound more dangerous than inspiring to most Presidents.
LESSON 2: If you really want the job, the important thing is to be polite, smile, give compliments to the President, tell them how fantastic their country is, how you will try to adopt the values of the school, and give short factual but accommodating answers to their questions. And you should not mention what salary you want. If they offer you a job, someone will inform you about your salary, and it’s not negotiable, and it will be less – sometimes much less – than you earned in the West.
Let’s say that you are offered the job. You have a meeting with the faculty at your department in order to decide which courses to teach, when to teach them etc. They show you a schedule and ask for your comments. You say that your specialty is, say, economic geography and you can’t teach the suggested accounting or creative writing classes because you have never studied the subjects, and that you don’t want to teach part-time students on Saturday nights.
MISTAKE 3: Don’t argue about your course assignment. Prior knowledge is not required. The important thing is that you have an advanced degree in…anything. And one reason for hiring you is that you will be expected to teach the courses the others don’t want to teach at times when they want to be with their families.
LESSON 3: The title of each course is only relevant to the extent that it makes the school seem professional. What you teach doesn’t really matter. So you accept whatever subjects you get to teach and then transform them into, for example, accounting with a focus on economic geography and creative writing with an emphasis on writing economic geography essays.
You have your first class in one hour. Because you want a make a good first impression you get to the lecture hall 15 minutes before your class is scheduled to begin. When you get there, you discover that you are the first one to arrive and that the door is locked. So you wait. And wait. After 15 minutes you’re still the only one outside the lecture hall. Ten minutes later the first student shows up. By now you’re seriously upset and ask the student why she is late and who has the key etc. The student politely tells you that another student is responsible for the key and that he will show up later. Five minutes later most of the students have arrived, including the student with the key. When you finally start teaching you’re 20 minutes later than scheduled.
MISTAKE 4: You expect the students to be on time and the lecture hall to be open 15 minutes before the lecture.
LESSON 4: Never expect the students to be on time. Ever. Be 20 minutes late yourself instead. That way you get paid for surfing the net, which is a much more enjoyable activity than teaching anyway.
Now you have started lecturing in your usual self-absorbed way. You suddenly remember that maybe the students have some questions. You tell them to ask you questions. None of the students has any questions. You then survey the classroom only to discover that most of the male students are literally sleeping on their desks while the more polite (mostly female) students look extremely bored and inattentive.
MISTAKE 5: You expect the students to be interested in their coursework.
LESSON 5: There are two reasons why the students go to college:
1. Their parents want them to get a degree because it gives the parents face.
2. The students want to get a degree because it gives the students face and possibly a higher-paying job.
A thirst for knowledge has absolutely nothing to do with it. The students want to do as little as possible for their degree. So never expect them to be genuinely interested in anything you say. Ever. And reading anything else than newspapers or magazines is never done voluntarily.
Four months later: You are now getting used to the idea of being late and lecturing to students who have no interest in any of your topics. But you still need to grade them. So you write a number of exam questions based on the literature that you have told the students to read.
MISTAKE 6: The students will not have read the textbook or the book chapters that you have assigned. They don’t like to read. So everyone except maybe one or two will flunk the course if you apply Western standards. This is not a good idea!
LESSON 6: Remember that the students' parents pay tuition because they want their offspring to get a degree. Also remember that your school exists because the owners want to earn a profit. Of course it’s a “non-profit” institution, but they still want to earn profits so they can invest in necessary capital expenditures such as transportation assets for board members (a.k.a. BMWs). The best way to ensure satisfied owners and satisfied customers is to make sure that everyone passes your course. And the best way to make sure that they pass is to use multiple-choice exams with easy questions and few choices (two alternative answers mean that they have an expected 50% score even if they know exactly nothing). Of course this is a trial-and-error process. If some students fail, make them take exactly the same exam the following week, until everyone passes your course.
On the final day of the semester, you are called to a department meeting. They inform you about planned changes to the curriculum, new academic requirements etc. They ask for suggestions. You think that it’s good idea to tell them how worthless the students are and what changes could improve matters. You keep talking (and complaining) about this for one hour or more. Finally, someone interrupts you and tells you to sign your name so that everyone can go home. You don’t understand a thing.
MISTAKE 7: Don’t ever think that they actually want any suggestions from you about anything.
LESSON 7: The only reason to have a meeting is for you to sign your name in agreement with what has already been decided. That way everyone is responsible for everything, which means that no one in particular is responsible for anything. Unanimous decisions mean that each and every faculty member can refer to someone else if a student or parent complains about…anything.
To sum up, you need to remember the following:
1. Dress properly (no shorts or flip flops).
2. Smile and be polite.
3. Teach anything you want, regardless of what you’re officially supposed to be teaching.
4. Always be 20 minutes late.
5. Don’t expect the students to be interested or to read anything.
6. Give all students good grades.
7. Agree with whatever is proposed.
What should then be your goal? Your goal should be to contact the course administrators as early as possible to make sure you get an attractive schedule the following semester. Usually you only need to teach 10 hours or so per week, which means that it is entirely possible to start working on Mondays at 10 am (make that 10:20) and then finish your workweek by Tuesday afternoon. If you’re an “educated bum,” you can then spend the rest of the week searching for the next beer or the next one night stand. If you’re a “creative loner”, you can spend the rest of the week reading and working on your next book. If you’re an ambitious academic who relishes interesting and challenging discussions with colleagues and students, you can spend the rest of the week sending letters and CVs to real universities in the West.
Hilarious – but those of us in the know, know that this is really how it is!