Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fun with undergrads

It is a sad fact that my head of group has a penchant for torturing students. It truth, I wouldn't really mind all that much, except that he has picked me as his tool for unimaginable mental pain. Newton's third law[*] tells us that this doesn't do anything for my own well being.

Friday night was the department party to welcome new physics undergraduates to Hokkaido University. The first set of students I would actually teach would be next year's intake, but I went along so that my face was known, senior undergraduates would recognise me as a possible project supervisor and --ultimately-- because I was told to...

... by my head of group

... who is secretly evil.

The form of torture was simple; creep up behind an unsuspecting undergraduate about to tuck into a piece of sushi. Then insist they come over and talk to me in English.

None of them wanted to. Many tried to literally hide behind their friends. Neither of us knew how to end the conversation. It was awkwardness supremo. Yes, I did make that word up. Such vocabulary acts probably didn't helping the situation.

Fortunately, once we got over the initial "Hello, my name is ..." part, things relaxed a little. For a start, I could also manage a basic self-introduction in Japanese which put us on a more even footing. They gave their rehearsed spiel in English, I gave mine in Japanese and neither of us knew what to do next. This sometimes gave them the confidence to ask a question. Eventually, they found a reason to escape (work / friends / dead grandmother / ooh look squirrel!) and we moved onto the next victim.

After an hour and a half things eased up. This wasn't due to a pause in our relentless pursuing of innocent young language sacrifices but due to the fact that said sacrifices were getting hammered. The legal drinking age in Japan is 20, so students in their second year and above were indulging in the large bottles of Sapporo beer scattered liberally around the tables. Since they would inevitably be the ones unable to run, we ended up in enthusiastic --if unintelligible-- conversation with two or three until my head of group decided the lack of terror was not nearly so fun and suggested we left.

Next time we do this, I'm sneaking in early and drinking one of those large beer bottles prior to the party starting.

[*] You push me, you feel the same amount of force back.

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