Sunday, October 1, 2006

A less-than-stellar beginning

  • Well, I've managed through my first week of university. I'm not sure that's saying a whole hell of a lot, since I didn't have any lectures. All I did was sign up for lectures, which felt like enough. By Friday night I had only the mental energy to sit on the couch, drink beer and watch rugby.
    I think people here would suggest it's more accurate to say that I watched the rugby.
    Before I explain how my week went, I need to explain the terms I'll be using. The word "class" seems to have a different definition here than in the United States, but in typical British English fashion, I can't really cotton what the other definition is. When I use the word "class" in academic terms, I am referring either to the exact period of time that I am in an academic building and not, say, at the pub. For example, from 11:00 to 12:00 Monday, I am expected to be in an academic building focusing on Spanish conversation. I would refer to this as "being in class." I would also refer to all the collective Mondays when I am expected to be focusing on Spanish conversation from 11:00 to 12:00 as "a class." It is my Spanish Conversation class.
    Whatever the fuck words the British use for this, I do not know. After a week of trying to communicate and understand these intangible concepts, I am inclined to just give up.*
    Anyway, in Yanqui terms, I have eight classes a week, which split into 13 hours of class time, since some of the classes are held more than once a week. It's been so long since I've taken a full course load at a U.S. university that I can't really remember if eight classes is a lot, but it sure as hell feels like it.
    For my Welsh classes, scheduling was relatively simple. There was a timetable posted on the wall that, when deciphered, told me when and where the classes would be held. I had no choice of times and did not have to build my schedule, as is the case in U.S. universities.
    The Spanish classes offered a little more fun, reminding me a bit of my first year in Moorhead, before anyone had thought to use computers, so registering for a class involved a lot of calculating of schedules in my head, standing around for an hour in order to be the first to put my name on a piece of paper, and arm twisting of administrative types to get them to let me do what I wanted to do. But there was the added fun of having it all take place immediately before the classes actually start. In a U.S. university, I would have done all that fretting several months before things got under way. Here, I didn't know until 4:30 p.m. Friday what I would be doing at 11 a.m. Monday.
    I hated this week.
    When I was younger, my parents wasted a lot of perfectly good money trying to figure out why I was so shit at school and they sent me to one of those learning centre places where I had to perform myriad IQ, psychological and aptitude tests. Generally, the tests concluded that I was a pretty smart little fella, except when it came to organisational skills. I believe I was officially classified as "fucking idiot" when it came to being able to create and understand patterns. I'm a little better now, but not by much.
    So, if you were to, say, hand me my Welsh class schedule and then tell me to squeeze in four more classes, ensuring that they do not conflict, I would wish death upon your whole family.
    Being made to do things I don't like to do, especially things that I feel make me look stupid, causes a sort of processing error in my brain. Eager to find something that I can do well, my head will fill up with profanity. I struggle to read a train schedule, but, oodalalee, I can unleash a torrent of naughty words. And it's in moods like these that the tiniest little challenges can become the most traumatic events in a person's life.
    On Friday afternoon, I had one of those goofy introduction-to-the-library things, which I normally would have skipped had it not been for the fact that the last time I properly used a library, I was still learning the ropes of the Dewey Decimal System (P.S., librarians who read this blog, do they still use the Dewey Decimal System?).
    Perhaps in an effort to ensure that the library won't be picketed by language activists, us Welshy kids were given the introduction in yr Iaith o Nefoedd. Realising that introductions to libraries are inherently dull, the bloke manning the PowerPoint tried to force us to interact by giving us little cards with questions for us to ask. For example, the card might say (in Welsh), "Where can I photocopy stuff from journals?" and then PowerPoint bloke would spend far too long giving the location of every photocopier in South Glamorgan.
    With my head all full of profanities, I had no desire to sit there and expose my lack of formal Welsh education in front of my fellow classmates by having to read something aloud. It was just reading a sentence, but I was spinning myself in fear of screwing it up -- so much that I did screw it up. I mumbled through it and the bloke -- who presumably had written the questions but at the very least was prepared to hear the question -- had to have me repeat it.
    So, of course, I don't remember the rest of the thing. All I could think about was how much I wanted to get out of there and how I was old and busted and making a fool of myself and I probably smelled and all my clothes were out of date and my hair was stupid and and and and... When it finally did end, I shot out of the room. I found a corner of the library and sat there for 15 minutes, thinking: "...and classes haven't even started yet. I am fucked."

  • I got to watch a fair amount of rugby this weekend and it was good to see three of the four Welsh teams winning their matches. Perhaps I am a bit biased because I live in Cardiff, but I think the Blues-Wasps match was the best.
    One thing that really amuses me about rugby is the way commentators respond to fighting. In the U.S., television networks make every effort to avoid showing fights, and if one is accidentally aired it seems obligatory for the commentators to denounce it: "Oh, that's just totally uncalled for... absolutely unnecessary... and insult to the game... Fighting makes the baby Jesus cry."
    Here, you will see two massive blokes throw full punches at one another and it is described as "spirited," or the commentators will criticise the fighting style: "Not much of a punch there from Huge Angry Prop. Hopefully he can run the ball better than he fights."

  • At the bank the other day, there was a woman who I'm pretty sure has been around since the Vikings used Cardiff as a trading post and she let out one of the longest sustained moments of flatulence I have ever witnessed. It went on for at least 45 seconds. Fair enough that she was 8 million years old and has therefore earned a certain right to go around letting loose anywhere she damn pleases; I was more amazed that that much gas had been allowed to build up.

    *This speaks to a common experience here in that people's vocabularies vary much more broadly than in the United States. I will find that I will use a word some places -- e.g. "check," as in, "May I have the check, please?" -- and it will be perfectly understood. But other times it will completely derail the person; no less than if I had thrown a jar of urine on them.

    Anonymous said...

    Instead of class try 'lecture' or 'tutorial' as appropriate. Or just leave it out completely: "I have Spanish". I think it's part of the British student paranoia about seeming adult. Ay self respecting 19 year old considers themself to be at university, not school, and therefore attends lectures instead of classes. Academic snobbery is what it is.

    As for worrying about doing things right - the great thing about having mature students in my classes when I was younger was that they were always the ones happy to ask the questions that we all wanted to know the anser to but we too worried about looking stupid to ask. Plus you're a BBC celebrity. They'll love you. Or call you a swot.

    Good luck on Monday.

    Anonymous said...

    Clearly I need to work on my typing. The second parahraph should read: "...know the answer to but were too worried..."

    Jenny said...

    As I went to art school we were considered too 'out there maaaan' to follow a timetable and just told to turn up every day from 9am-5pm.

    Not that anyone actually did that, of course.

    Remember it is your duty as a mature student to make everyone else feel stupid and immature. I used to envy the mature students. They seemed so together!

    Huw said...

    The British attend lectures, and are obsessed with class.

    Sarah Stevenson said...

    HA!! Good one, Huw.

    I personally think eight different classes sounds like an absolute shitload, since I can't remember taking more than four or five at a time when I was in college. (I think the five classes was when I thought music theory would be a "fun elective.")

    heatherfeather said...

    well, if you're a tennessee titan and you're mad that the cowboys scored a touchdown, if you were to hypothetically stomp on the unhelmeted face of a cowboy on the ground in frustration, the media will play, play, and re-play the footage and discuss the merits of a 5-game suspension, league fines, organization fines versus criminal charges and league ejection until you're ready to stomp on the head of the american media.

    Gareth said...

    As a librarian I can confirm that Dewey is still used, but I prefer the Library of Congress Classification as its much more fun.

    Rob said...

    Really enjoyed your description of your feelings of insecurity after the library lecture. Very well put.

    David T. Macknet said...

    8 classes would be a double-load of classes in the U.S. quarter system, at least. That said, there's no direct correllation, I don't think, as those classes you're taking "only" amount to 12 hours of class time, whereas in the U.S. most classes would meet for 3 hours per week, so you could theoretically have 12 hours of class time with only 4 classes.

    It's UNITS that would be the direct tie-in, and I'm guessing that units probably equates to hours or some strange thing.

    Most importantly: how many papers will you have to prepare / present? And of what length? If it's just showing up and listening, you may not be so bad off ... but if you've got to write a 40 page paper for each of those 8 classes, then I wish you luck!