Step out of our comfort zone


On the first day of the Rhetoric course, like the other classmates, I went to class with the expectation to be taught about writing and speaking.

However, our professors – Kinho and Pam, woke the whole class up and reminded us that we were chosen to be Co-Designers. As Co-Designers, we were expected to contribute in designing the courses, and not just simply going to class and doing homework.

Given the options to either choose to co-design the course or to test the available prototypes, we made the boldest move and chose the first option.

In order to finish this task, we basically stepped away from our safety net and started the mission from scratch with no profound academic knowledge about Rhetoric, no pedagogic skills, no lesson plan and even no sense about what we were going to do in the next 3 weeks.

I think Pam articulated this journey in the best way; “one mission of the Co-Design Year is to visualize the emptiness,” she told us as she pointed at the empty schedule on the board.

Within the first week, we spent most of our energy reading introductory academic articles about Rhetoric. Besides the reading, one of the most exciting aspects of this course was the intensive class debates and discussions.

We rarely went through a single day without this activity. The results of the discussions varied. Some derived in a decision being made; some yielded a better understanding about a certain topic. The day-by-day heated debates not only helped me articulate my ideas better, but also taught me how to critically listen to others’ ideas without feeling offended.

Before this course, I tended to avoid debates or went into a withdrawn mode. This Rhetoric course and the in-class debate helped me become more confident in rigorous discussions while still be able to express my point of view in a clearer manner.

The second week, however, was hard for all of us. Just imagine that you are stuck in a middle of a mess without knowing how to get out, or even where to begin, that was how we felt that Monday. We kept debating back and forth on the course objectives and how to formulate the class schedule.

After what felt like a never-ending chain of debates and presentations, I felt completely exhausted and lost.

I could not help but question whether or not I made the right decision to join the Rhetoric course, especially when my other friends were having so much fun with the Vietnam Studies course. That day, I lost all motivation. I even thought: “I have had enough with Fulbright.”

Fortunately, things started getting clearer. The next day, Dr. Kinho began the class by admitting that he might ask for too much from us. For students who just recently graduated from high school, this task was beyond our capability, especially without any forms of guidance.

He then summarized the mess of the previous day and conducted a vote for the course’s new direction. Pam also listed out a series of course’s objectives with a sample of how our schedule should look like.

Their support lifted us up from the mess and led us towards the light. With the framework in place, we could work both individually and collaborate in teams more efficiently. No words could express the feeling of accomplishment that I felt that day. Together, we successfully navigated through and out of the mess.

However, the most unforgettable moment of the Rhetoric course, for me, was the day we had the three-corner debate to decide on the final product for this module. Never in my life had I ever witnessed such division in class.

Two professors took over two corners with two very distinctive ideas. The last corner was of a group of Co-Designers with the third idea. After an hour and a half of non-stop debate, the result took everyone by surprise: the Co-Designers managed to convince and convert the professors to support their idea. That moment was incredible.

The Rhetoric course ended and left me with many invaluable lessons. I learned how to prepare the course syllabus and acquired more insights on different teaching approaches.

By designing class activities and putting ourselves in the professors’ shoes, I understood that each activity and lesson carried a specific objective and from that, I learned how to optimize my learning experience. But most of all, I learned that I could not acquire such useful knowledge without this unique opportunity.

Besides academic skills such as writing reports, citing sources, and designing curriculum, I also learned to balance work and life. I learned the hard way that by not having a work-life balance, I would feel depleted; and I did, at least for the first week.

To adapt to such intensive schedule, I had to start eating breakfast, going to bed early and stop procrastinating. Once I embarked on a healthier lifestyle, I could function better and more productive. Believe it or not, the course changed my daily life routine for the better.

It is true, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. The Rhetoric course and the co-design method overwhelmed me at first, but it did not knock me down.

I appreciate the process of going through the mess because it taught me so much. I appreciate the support, guidance, and patience that Kinho and Pam showed us; without them, it would be a long and hard journey.

But most of all, I appreciate my classmates and myself for choosing to step out of our comfort zone and not give in to challenges.

Le Thi Nga My Student of Co-Design Year

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