Ian McNamara

Ajarns of high couture

Introducing this week's guest columnist

Until now the LIBeL columns have been written solely by myself. However, recently Aj. Wochit Morchit an aspiring collaborator contacted me seeking my assistance in helping to promote the University of Upminster ( Eccles campus ) Overseas Student's Handbook. A weighty tome for future Thai ajarns wishing to study abroad that he has selflessly dedicated the last 12 years of his life to perfecting.

Here are some extracts from the Handbook with special tips for our ladies of distinction ( a.k.a. ajarns of ‘haute couture' ) on cultural nuances firstly whilst studying in the UK and then upon your reluctant return to Thailand.

Your participation on the course

i) Ajarns of ‘haute-couture' are reminded that it is the argument (not the person) that carries weight in a UK university discussion and that your previous rank will have little bearing on the assessment for participation. (Losing face in a debate may actually prepare you for some critical learning.)

ii) Overseas students are advised that not only are they expected to have read the articles on the course reading list but also that they should have formed some sort of opinion on the contents prior to attending seminars. Memorising stretches of text and toneless recitations are to be no substitute for dialectical reasoning. (Try exposing yourself to risk by honestly comparing ideas with your peers at coffee-time.)

iii) Against all sense of protocol, essay grades will not be improved by flouting jewellery or clickety shoes. Neither the number of syllables in your surname nor your kinship to a general will influence grading policy. (Try hard work as a substitute.)

iv) Sitting bolt upright and flashing vitriolic glances at challenging interlocutors will not generally induce submission at Upminster. If you practice this frequently, participants might think you hypertense-perhaps even paranoid. (Try formulating convincing counter-arguments instead.)

v) On no account should you ask a junior tutor to write your dissertation for you. In the UK this thought of as bad manners and may incite others to talk about you behind your back. (Try writing it yourself.)

vi) Although western culture has a long tradition of debating, try as you might, you will never find any such thing as a ‘speaking contest'. Preferring articulation of ideas to decorative public appearances, the institute will expect to hear some sound reasoning. (If you want to win prestige try mustering convincing arguments.)

vii) Moreover, it should be remembered ‘critical thinking' is more than a trendy catchword overheard amongst the well-dressed at Bangkok TESOL conferences. It refers to the social skill of overtly defending an intellectual position where consensus is reached through the force of argument alone. Collusion, backstabbing, and the martialing of unseen supporters will not deter your tutor from expecting open interpretations. (Neither will Tipp-Ex deletions of controversial items from the handouts be accepted as a lasting conquest-try forthrightness and erudition instead.)

viii) Acceptance for a place for a higher degree does not, in itself, constitute an offer of the final certificate. Failure to fulfill university expectations about independent interpretative skills may result in eventual expulsion-as one Ajarn from Chulalongkorn University realised when she came back from the University of London without her PhD. (Try uncovering meaning and carefully planned essays as a substitute for posturing and hyperbole.)

Returning to Thailand

i) Successful graduates are asked to note that attaining a higher degree is not an accomplishment that absolves one from future interaction with others. Though you may have reached the sumptuous heights of erudition, your recently increased status is still something that awaits confirmation in practical affairs. Colleagues back home would still like to see you talk to other people (after all, a teaching/language qualification is something to do with communicating with others) and would encourage some terrestrial application of your knowledge rather than a haughty inaccessibility. (Try sharing what you learned on your course in an egalitarian spirit.)

ii) Your next rung on the promotional ladder may one day be apportioned according to item i). N. B. Promotion to Associate Professor requires that you both associate and profess-and it is not simply a matter of waiting for a director to retire before you can disappear into that coveted position of authority-these things require a personable nature and the ability to accommodate with others. (Try equanimity-a sprinkle of humility would not go amiss.)

iii) During your stay you will note that, generally speaking, British academics are friendly, informal and helpful, encouraging power-sharing, eschewing trickery and snobbishness in their relations with foreigners. Some reciprocal display of these qualities might be gratefully appreciated by their counterparts-your contractually ‘inferior' colleagues-on your eventual return to Thailand.

iv) Finally, older Ajarns of haute-couture are asked to observe that UK organisations have a tricky habit of retiring those they consider ‘over the hill' when it comes to adaptation. It might be worth remembering this when your home institute gets pernickety about ISO standards or comes up for privatisation.

Wochit Morchit is lecturer in Applied Jacket at a well known north Bangkok knowledge emporium. Any similarity between his views and reality is purely hypothetical and the result of extensive overseas freebies at the taxpayers expense. Unsolicited emails pertaining to rejoinders and addenda may be sent to < gahnsuksa@hotmail.com >. The Overseas Students' Handbook is published in Thailand in conjunction with Grabbit & Runne Educational Services Ltd.


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