Another Semester of English

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Five years ago, I wrote on this blog about how teaching students at HAU was one of the greatest privileges and joys of my living in Burundi. As I’ve just finished teaching two courses—one an English writing course with the new medical students and the other a graduate course, “Advanced English”—I can easily continue to echo that same sentiment.

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Although my expertise and experience has been with young children, teaching adults has been an unexpected pleasure.  I’m also very thankful that I was again assigned the new medical students, as it was a small class, only about 30 students and all very eager to improve their English and work hard.  For them taking the course was not just checking the box of completing the required general courses.  They understand the importance of English competency to enter into the larger global world in which English is the common language and in which most medical research is done.  So, they are ready to participate in any activity that will facilitate their learning and proficiency.

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Perhaps it’s my early childhood education background, I try hard to engage them in the learning process thru interactive learning, such as, small group tasks, activities that get them up out of their seats and journal writing, rather than allowing them to be passive learners by just lecturing and writing on the board.  The first few classes they don’t know what to make of me or what I’m asking them to do but they quickly warm up to it and take the invitation to engage.  Another added bonus this time was we were able to schedule their class twice per week which not only kept the momentum going but also allowed us to finish the course within two months rather than stretching on for four months, which is generally more beneficial in a language course.  I also really enjoy the fact that I got to teach the same students Randy interacts with as Dean of the Medical School, making our worlds overlap all the more.

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As the resident “native English speaker”, I have become the de facto Advanced English teacher for this graduate course.  This was my fourth time teaching this course and as the three times before I learn as much or more than the “students”.  The only drawback of this course is it’s an evening class since most of the students are working during the day.  That means I have to drive home in the dark (there are not street lights on the streets here) which is always a harrowing experience (dark people in dark clothes on dark streets).  Though I drive slow I’m always so afraid I might run into someone or something that I can’t see.  I’m truly thankful for God’s protection of me and others as I make the treacherous ride home over the three weeks of evening classes.

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Aside from that one drawback, I really enjoy the opportunity to teach this course.  There are always such interesting people in it and I get to hear about development in many areas of Burundi.  Usually there’s three or four different departments represented (community development/social work, law, nursing, business, theology, educational leadership) with a wide range of ages, jobs and experiences.  Most of the graduates know English but don’t have much opportunity to use their skills day to day, since everyone defaults to French and Kirundi, so I structure the course to get them to talk and listen using English as much as possible.  To this end I use a variety of topics to facilitate lots of small group discussions, role plays, debates and each student must give a five-minute presentation in English, in their domain, to the whole class.  Everyone brings something to the table and they are very willing to share and listen.  In their presentations I learn so much about what is happening around the country and the many obstacles they are facing as they live and work in Burundi and how these are being overcome.  I leave class each night energized by their enthusiasm, engagement and commitment to make life better.

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As these courses finish, once again I find I’ve received more than I gave.  I feel affirmed in what I had to offer and my life has been enriched by the sharing of hearts and minds.

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