January 17, 2006

The Retreat

Just got back from a weekend retreat for all of the staff at my department at the university. We discussed education, study reform, recruitment. I gave no fewer than three talks, one on our international program, one on my new course on the physics of molecules, and one on the master's degree program in atmospheric chemistry.

There are few things more taxing, mentally, than listening to a foreign language nonstop for an extended period. I can understand Danish fine, and vocabulary is not the problem. The problem is their wacked pronounciation, necessitating constant razor-sharp attention. How to describe it? Danish sounds like an extreme form of dutch, full of glottal stops, pauses, elisions and aspirations. The Swedes say that Danish is not a language, but a condition of the throat. After two days of Danish my mental processes resemble those of a flatworm.

Here's from a letter I wrote to a colleague but didn't send, concerning the talk I gave as 'international coordinator':

A few stray thoughts after the meeting. Nice meeting by the way!!
I was teaching this week and as you know Anders was sick and it was my wife's first week of work at a new job. So there was not much time to prepare. And as far as I can remember this was actually the first time I have ever been asked to stand up and say something in front of my colleagues. So what I think is that my talk was competent but that's all that can be said. What I did do was play to the audience and I know they are a bunch of conservative critics. Time was limited so I took the safe route. What I didn't do, and should have done, was to sell the program. Instead of saying we've got a building full of people at the central administration coming up with bright ideas and we get stuck with the work and the consequences (which is true, but even so), what I should have said was here is an opportunity for our students to experience the world's best educational institutions and it is an opportunity for us to have real contact and collaboration, which will help our research and our reputation. In addition it will help our economy. I implied these things, but they should have been the center of my talk.


At January 17, 2006 9:14 PM , Blogger Kate said...

You did your best, and I hope you are able to put these concerns on Ms. Dane's shoulders. You don't need to carry them around! You learned something and you will do differently next time, when you don't have a sick little child to attend to.

At January 18, 2006 9:51 AM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Thanks Kate. I have learned that a lot of times all you need to do and all that is expected is that you just show up and do your job. No, I will only put my troubles on my student's shoulders in jest.

At January 18, 2006 6:39 PM , Blogger Kate said...

I like the idea of an imaginary Ms. Dane who is younger and stronger than I am, and who offers to carry my burdens. thanks to your student for giving me that image.

At January 19, 2006 12:40 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

I'll ask Nini if she'd like to carry your burdens too. I'm sure she'll agree, that's how she is.


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