Yesterday I gave the first of the weekly lectures they've asked me to deliver on various aspects of American culture, which are open to the entire campus community. This one was on American education, with an emphasis on the university level.
Even with the online research I conducted, I couldn't come up with enough to fill the hour they'd scheduled for the talk (90 minutes, actually, but I counted on the audience being engaged enough to offer a half-hour of questions), so I took the opportunity to put in an extensive plug for the library system and expound upon the phenomenon of the Internet (ironic, considering the concurrent disruption in my life caused by the lack thereof) and distance learning.
I was glad to see that I'd drawn a standing-room-only crowd, but as I was delivering the speech, I worried I was bombing: The mild joke I started off with drew no reaction at all, and when I stopped at appropriate points to ask for questions, all I got were impassive looks. I didn't know if they weren't understanding me or if the material was as dull as I feared, and I was burning through my text alarmingly quickly.
But once I got to the end and opened the floor, the floodgates opened, with a steady stream of questions raging from the pragmatic (How many books can you check out from a library, and how long can you keep them?) to the touching (My parents want me to work hard and get a good job in business, but I want to follow my heart and pursue something else; I wasn't even sure what his question was—I think he just wanted to know if his peers in America faced such pressures—but I assured him that his quandary was universal and probably eternal). So I'm feeling pleased about how things went today, but the real test will come when I see how many of the students return for my second lecture next week.
After dinner at the dining hall, Delia mentioned that she was off to help judge an English-speaking competition that night: Three-dozen students from various departments were each giving a three-minute speech on the theme "My Olympic Dream"; the best dozen would compete in the final next week, with the winner representing the college at a nationwide competition. I earned Brownie points by asking if I could come and observe the contest, and while I have to admit that my attention was flagging towards the end of the event—it stretched for about three hours in an overheated lecture hall, and the presentations ranged from proficient and heartfelt to basically inept—it was a testament to just how highly English-speaking skills are valued here. (And I was drafted to help judge the finals.)