I’m watching the red tilted plastic clock that’s been haphazardly placed on the whiteboard tray, the minutes tick by at an excruciatingly slow pace. This feels, strangely familiar. At the end of our orientation week, an event that involved the highs of meeting new friends and the lows of what I consider academic bullying, we were given a writing test. Three questions, worded in such a way that you spent most of the time decoding the grammar, two hours, and a 600 word essay to read. All to determine what sort of “academic support” we would need throughout the year. I wonder if they’ll give us color coded stickers that indicate our academic ability like in grade school. I was done thirty minutes into it. This is probably not a good thing. But it was convient, as that’s when my hand began cramping up from having not handwritten anything substantial in the past few years. It felt like a dirty trick. I felt defeated. I didn’t trust our course director after having us schlep around Dublin for nearly ten miles the previous day on a evil scavenger hunt that would not end. And then having the audacity to quiz us on trivial things the next day. It’s been an interesting first week.Despite the fact that I’m pretty sure our course director gets a bit of pleasure from watching us squirm uncomfortably, and on the first day we were made to announce in front of the class how we were to personally going to benefit everyone else with our academic, professional, and personal awesomeness (without sounding like a egotistical ass at the same time, of course), the week has been good. Mostly, I love my classmates. They are awesome people, and I look forward to spending the year with them.
Last year in Ghana I noted how much I was missing academia. And I would generally say I would be happy being a professional student. And then, I remembered the reality of higher education. Namely, the often egotistical and competitive nature of it. Granted at this point in my life it’s mostly amusing, but it never ceases to amaze me. And evidently, this sort of behavior is cross cultural. It seems from the get go we are at the same time supported as constantly reminded how difficult this all will be (lest we forget!). Such psychologically manipulative phrases include “don’t worry, you’ll be fine! I mean, there are weeks you’ll want to give up and think there’s no way anything will ever get done. But you’ll be fine.” Why, thank you! That was an entirely unhelpful thing to say. Or, “now everyone go around the room and say what countries you’ve worked in. ” Aka, lets all see who’s coolest. What’s with this anyway? Why did you just ask me to rate my fellow team members on a stupid scavenger hunt? I don’t know about you, but that sounds like hazing to me. Hoops, they tell me, I must jump. As so I do. At least this round I have the power to observe with amusement and wonder instead of get caught up in it all. Or worse, take it as an actual indication of my own self worth. That’s just silly.
I’m hoping academics is like riding a bike, because right now I feel like I’m swerving a lot trying to keep myself from falling over. This is certainly a new sort of adventure! One that is far outside my comfort zone. A fifteen hour chicken bus isn’t looking so bad right about now! I’m just thankful my class is full of interesting, intelligent, and kind people. After all, as travel teaches us, it’s the really the people who make (or break) pretty much every situation in life. Which means, as a measure of potential future happiness in this course, I stand a darn good chance of having a great year.