I know, I know: I seem to have fallen off the map lately; my star has plunged from whatever very modest heights of the blogosphere it had previously achieved. For a week now, visitors to this space have been greeted with only a photo of a winking, leering Bible-thumping, bile-spewing, oil-drunk right-wing demagogue (for which I deeply apologize). But it’s been an especially busy week.
As some of you may know, I’ve recently returned to the ranks of the full-time gainfully employed. As of October 6, I am a Professor of Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Vietnam. Better known here and in Australia as RMIT (not to be confused with plain old MIT), it’s sort of a training ground for the new breed of Vietnamese: an English-only campus of a Melbourne-based university offering degrees in business and accounting, multimedia and graphic design, IT, commerce, and – with the new term beginning Monday – in Professional Communication.
Enter yours truly, who has been tasked with teaching a course called “Visual Language” to fresh-faced hopeful future communicators. It’s a basic course in visual literacy, offering an overview of the way people use images and non-verbal visual narrative to convey meaning in art, film, graphic design, consumer messages, and marketing. Basically, it’s an entire class dedicated to the premise that a picture is worth a thousand words.
How the very smart head of the department got the idea I was qualified to teach this class is somewhat mystifying. Desperation comes to mind. I may also have had some part in it during our interviews. But teaching it I am, and I’ve been submerged up to my eyebrows for the past two weeks in terribly academic-sounding subjects like sight and visual processing, symbolism and semiotics, narrative and expression, spacial organization, aesthetics, propaganda theory, and phenomenology.
It’s also been a crash course in learning how to read and write in British English, in which organisation and utilise are spelled with an S, not a Z (that’s a “zed,” by the way), and colour, flavour, and centre are all words whose relation to modern life appears tenuous, as they all seem to have been lifted directly from The Canterbury Tales or Love’s Labors Lost.
Until last week, my days in Saigon were mainly occupied with drooling onto my new laptop (which has now been stolen, but more on that miserable tragedy later), drinking coffee, and tutoring English three hours each evening at a small private school.
A week and a half ago, however, I was chucked headfirst into the boot-camp-style orientation for new instructors here known as “induction,” a word that can only derive from the way it “induces” ulcers and paroxisms of anxiety about being unprepared to teach your course because of all the time you spend in it. From 9am until 4pm each day, I’m subjected to a barrage of workshops and seminars on HR policy and procedures, IT training, library database searching, work permits, health insurance (Oh, Joy), counseling services, lesson planning, building Powerpoint presentations, measuring student learning, and time management.
It’s a long way from journalism. Though I have found one common area of overlap: the preoccupation with plagiarism in the academic world is at least as obsessive as it is in the world of publishing. (Did you know they have software that can spot plagiarized material? I’m assuming for the moment that those students whose beer money comes from a busy schedule of report writing on commission, as mine did in college, remain safe.)
It’s also a different life from the one I’ve been leading for the past 15 months. I’m now working roughly 12 hours a day. I have an office, a salary, a boss, a passel of health benefits, a legion of wildly international colleagues, and a purpose.
Colour me satisfied.