me in the ME

the semester of fun, sun, and Arabic

Let’s Talk About School

Finals are looming around the corner. Or at least, they should be. I should be concerned about them, I should be studying and processing all that I’ve learned in class for the past few months. But as I see friends’ posts on Facebook about cramming for finals, turning in papers with minutes to spare, the horrid people who make noise in the library HOW DARE THEY OMG!-That all seems like a different world. It doesn’t just have to do with the fact that my program started nearly a month after spring semester in the US. The entire culture and atmosphere of coursework is different here than in America.

I am of course, studying abroad. However, I was blissfully unaware that study abroad is generally considered as a time to have fun, learn some culture while partying a lot, travel, and generally not take studies very seriously. Ok, this isn’t true for everywhere, but now you’re at least more informed than I was. Seriously.

This wouldn’t be quite like a bucket of cold water had been thrown over me if I hadn’t chosen to go abroad with Middlebury purely for academic reasons. CIEE had a better, more complete website, has been around longer, talked about all kinds of clubs and activities, offers more class options and had really nice staff. But I chose Middlebury to learn. So I did have some, in my mind not too high, expectations. Based on Middlebury’s reputation as being the very best at teaching languages, I didn’t think it would be a problem.

My classes here though have been… overwhelmingly disappointing. In two of my classes, the professor was changed half way through the semester because as a group we came to the administration and said “We aren’t learning ANYTHING and it’s not acceptable.” Our new teachers are loads better- but we only had a month with them. Supposedly, it’s extraordinarily difficult to find a new professor. But then again, I’ve heard of a CIEE professor here that got changed within 2 weeks because students gave the program an ultimatum- her or us. Whereas, most of us kept going to class and hoping. One of the only times where being a good student has come back to get me.

Alas, it’s impossible to change teachers for content classes. My gender class gets worse by the day. Last class, she said Buddhists “worship cows and snakes, or something like that.” We are expected to take a final exam when we’ve had the equivalent of three, maybe four lectures since the midterm because of field trips (unproductive and at times harmful), holidays, meetings with her, and presentations, which were supposed to be spread throughout the semester but just weren’t. Last week, we got back a 300 word assignment that we submitted in early March. She is a wonderful person and extraordinarily nice! As a professor…

Repeatedly, we’ve been told that the culture of teaching is different here. Classes are more like lectures, the student-teacher relationship is different, etc… I may be alone, but I don’t mind having lecture courses. I have seminars at Tufts, I have lectures, I have everything in between. That’s not my problem. My problem is not being taught. As another student put it succinctly a few days ago- We’re in an American program for a reason. We did not direct-enroll into the University of Jordan because we wanted classes that were more of an American style. We all go to excellent colleges and universities and they don’t, nor should they, accept credit from just any program.

Education is different here, though not in the ways the administration likes to focus on. I still can’t get a grasp on how I consider education here. There’s an incredible number of private schools, seemingly far more than from my experiences at home. English is commonly taught in these and there are AP and IB programs. At my roommate’s university, all classes are taught in English. On the other hand, what is commonly expected is memorization. A friend’s host sister got a full mark on a computer programming exam but she can’t sit down and actually program in front of a computer. She doesn’t know how to apply the concept because memorization doesn’t equal learning. These aren’t the problems that are in our classes though.

It’s hard to teach completely in Arabic to people at my level. I completely understand that. In fact, I don’t know if there’s anyone else I know that started a language fresh in college and is now in a program where their classes are taught in that language. We’re clearly limited in our language abilities and don’t have the needed vocab. Language learning doesn’t happen overnight. And it requires some freaking awesome teachers if we’re going to learn from content courses.

It makes me miss Tufts a lot. Being here, I fully realized for the first time I think that I go to a top-notch institution. We attract big name speakers, prominent scholars and students that are passionate about what they study. Learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom but also in a plethora of extracurricular activities, clubs, volunteering, things happening in Boston and the surrounding communities, etc. I took it all for granted, the juggling of weekly interfaith dialogues, Hillel events, equestrian team and Quidditch practices, visiting speakers, going to plays, concerts, and other events on campus.  Oh, and last semester I took 5 classes (4 of which had less than 15 students) and audited another. I no longer understand not being constantly intellectually stimulated and busier than I think is possible.

I did care about classes at the beginning of the semester. I cared a lot. We all made suggestions on how to make our classes better, so that we could learn and understand more. But time just went by, and nothing changed. Some things got worse. My will to struggle against these classes in order to actually learn has faded and I’m not alone. We enable each other really and it’s no longer an academic environment.

So I should care about my finals. I should probably start studying. I think I’ll just watch some more Alias instead.

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