Sunday, April 17, 2011

A million tulips in Brussels, Belgium...

If you like flowers, or at least your partner does, you can charm her/him with a visit here, at the chateau of Groot Bijgaarden, west of Brussels, just off the highway E40 to Oostende. I passed hundreds of times outside the venue in the past but never imagined the size of it, as I never visited it before in my life. This time though, the spouse was well informed (as always) and I was left in my ignorance thinking that my trip to Brussels would last as long as the planned visit to Sani for our Easter groceries: tsoureki, feta cheese, olive oil, tyropitas from the north-west of Greece, wine, lamb, and even melomakarona, and more goodies like that. Sani Imports is our Greek groceries supplier not far from the Brussels Center, at what they call the port of Brussels (yep, Brussels has got a (pathetic) port too, no comparison with Zeebrugge or Antwerp, folks).

On our way back, the spouse started her usual charming offensive, like, 'do you know how to get to Groot Bijgaarden', and 'you know there is a chateau with an open expo of thousands of tulips, they even showed on TV', etc... etc...etc... Long story short, instead of heading homewards, we ended up at the chateau ticket box to pay for our entrance fee, when deary spouse almost gave me a stroke by pretending to the cashier that we were seniors! I looked at her, ready to faint, and chuckled 'no f*cking way I am a freakin' senior'. The ticket lady, obviously a senior herself, said 'Seniors are above 60, I'm afraid... you don't look to me to be seniors, I'm afraid'. Didn't know whether to laugh or cry, and there we paid our regular adult tickets (nice try, my dear...), and entered the garden with a million tulips exposed along hundreds of thousands of more blossoming flowers. Obviously, I was visibly p*ssed as I was totally unprepared for that beauty and had left my serious photographic gear back home, with no other than the iPhone 4. What the heck. I'd shoot no matter what with.

It's difficult to describe the beauty, especially me who'll be the last person on earth being able to do this and keep you unbored and awake at the same time. Instead, see my shots at Flicker. Well, yes, I took these pictures with a bleedin' iPhone, believe it or not. I took about three hundred of them, of which I had to drop a few dull and unsharp shots, and quite a few with red tinted tulips, as the dynamic range of reds is pathetic on a cheap camera. Yellow and whites were descent though, with some red and orange here and there. Of course, Lightroom did the rest. There was no visit at the chateau, only the garden.

The whole thing was created by a certain Dutchman, Bakker is the name, famous for his tulip catalogs and business. He was there in person too, and the spouse enjoyed talking to him for a few minutes, while I was shooting the entrance to the chateau. Weather was great, not too sunny to force me shoot HDR, and the colors were stunning. Entrance was 10 euro for adults, 9 for seniors and maybe less for students and children. There were more foreigners than Belgians as I had heard all sorts of gibberish (Eastern Europe mainly) being spoken around me, other than our regular French and Dutch. Brussels, capital of Europe, you see...
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Friday, April 8, 2011

College students

I'm blogging this out of sheer frustration. Lemme explain. I'm teaching this class you see that spans an entire semester two hours a week. It's called Innovation and Marketing, but that's just a title. I structured it to be all about the salesman's profession. That is, all you got to know to become a rather successful sales person, working for medium and large size companies including multinational corporations. It's an optional course that 1st and 2nd Master's year students are supposed to attend. We are referring to the University of Antwerp, this is.

I've been already teaching this course for the last three years, and I always had around 20 - 25 students each term. However, this year I been shocked to find 45 in the registered list. In my first session there were about 30 that showed up. Ever since less than half of them attend the course sessions; a group of about 15 guys and gals showing up no matter what. 'No matter what' includes splendid spring weather and unusually high temps for this time of the year.

Although the subject is all about sales, the class is structured around a number of sessions that are self contained... you don't have to follow session 3 to attend session 5 for instance. Maybe some subjects span over two linked sessions. That's OK. We have sessions about the sales profession (how they get paid and commissioned, how they work, plan, forecast, etc...), about Business Modeling, Target Account and Solution Selling (two known methods), Transactional Analysis (Eric Berne's human profiling theory), Selling to Government, Negotiating Skills and more like that. Pretty useful stuff, right?

Dutch is not my native language and I guess in subjects like that, having lots of English terminology, makes it pretty hard to teach these sessions non-stop for two hours... so maybe my teaching skills might be average or below, at times. Ok, fine. But if you never attended any session you won't be able to pull that as the reason for not attending, will you? This ain't an excuse for skipping sessions, kids.

In various occasions I asked those attending whether they had seen any of the subjects I teach in other classes. Each and every time they told me they hadn't. So, to most of them attending, this must be all new stuff. Why not come to class then? My students study 'commercial engineering'. In other words, pretty neat degree and quite suitable for junior management positions in any industry your heart desires. Most will end up in such jobs in say a few months after graduation. Don't they just want to learn about a few things they'll run against when they do show up at 8:30 each morning at the office? I just don't get it. Do their parents know this? Does anybody care?

I did a huge mistake. I told them that for exams I'll ask them to write a business modeling paper. So they'd never have to learn and memorize any 'theory'. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't come to class, does it? It's even a better motivator to come to class, so you'd never have to read the Powerpoints I'm posting as the session materials.

I'm about to decide how to do the final exams test and how to score them. I'm looking for advice. I don't have a names list with their portrait pictures, and I won't shoot any pictures in class of those regularly attending to know who does the right thing and who doesn't.  But then, am I right to assume that those who don't attend are no good? For instance, last year during exams, I saw a dude showing up that I saw attending sessions only once in 13 weeks. He told me he was working to earn the money necessary for his studies. I couldn't check the truth of that argument but I respect those who have to fund their studies on their own. He did a great test and I gave him an above average score, but I still thought, is he really any good, or how can he get a descent degree if he never attended class? This year, at the new Academic Year  reception, I saw him among my other colleagues. I'm like "WTF is this guy doin' here?!?!". A friend and colleague sighs: "He's probably on a post graduate program... I think I picked-up something like that about him". I'm like OMFG, but then, who ever said he had to attend my sessions to qualify for a PhD? So, my ego wants one thing, reality settles for another.

Between you and me, I don't like large classes, and this year's current attendance suits me fine. Students talk too much during sessions nowadays. It's very annoying. With more students in the classroom more are tempted to start surfing the net and chat with each other. So the less in a room the better for all. Problem is, I'll have to go thru all of their 45 papers and I feel shitty knowing that there have been at least 25 to 30 percent who never showed up. Or 'sent their pussycat', instead... like the Dutch saying goes...

Like I said, all advice is welcome. Especially from any of you being students, yourselves.