My First Class

Today was my first class at Sun Yat-sen University, teaching the undergraduate course “Introduction to the United States Legal System.” I took a bus at 9am from the old south campus for 45 minutes to the sprawling and new east campus, home to tens of thousands of undergraduates. I arrived at my classroom 40 minutes early to check out the technology, and with ease got up my PPT. My class starts at 10:45, and at 10:25 there were 22 students—all women. At 10:35am, there were 26 students, 24 women and 2 men. I think I’ve taught classes with only Americans (i.e., no international students), but never a class with such a strong gender imbalance. In the end, I have 43 students with just 5 men.

Today’s class went very well. I received thunderous applause when I opened class with “Nimen hao!” We all introduced ourselves. Many students are from Guangdong Province, but also from Fujian and northern China. As you might expect, all the students felt that their hometowns were beautiful and that their home provinces had the best and “most famous” cuisine. I’ve also asked Andrea to guest lecture in my course since many students said they were taking my course because they wanted to know how American law and society deals with multiculturalism and minority rights.

I was somewhat surprised to learn from my students that I’m the first American to teach at the Sun Yat-sen University Law School, and the first westerner in many years. My students had never taken courses from a westerner before. Thus, I am somewhat of a curiosity, but some students changed their info on my signup sheet from ‘Not Registered’ to ‘Will Register Later’ so I’m optimistic that they’ll enjoy the class. That said, it’s clear my exam structure (2 in-class essay exams) and assigned reading (25 pages per this week) will cause many to drop the class. But the students are very bright and their English is terrific, so I actually think I could be more demanding.

After introductions, I gave a brief overview of the economic, geography and demographics of the U.S. I then broke them up into groups of five to discuss three questions: (1) What is Law?; (2) What Law should be accepted as legitimate?; and (3) Is Law important and why? We’ll continue with this discussion next week as we move into a discussion of the development of American Law.

Overall, I was very pleased with the class, and exceptionally pleased with my students. One of them told me that the ability to have discussion was a “special treat.”

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