Admittedly, this week is a bit more stressful than the last couple of weeks have been, what with lab report due dates stacking up and a professor who has four days of four hour-long lectures and plans to teach four chapters. But based on the last 18 hours, I thought it might be fun to throw together a daily “schedule” so there isn’t any confusion – this isn’t actually a nuclear summer camp.
6:30am: Wake up. Shower. Eat Breakfast. Pack bag.
7:45am: Leave the dorm. Bike to the classroom (about a 7 min bike ride, so just over a mile, probably). Try to finish reading the chapter you’re about to be taught. (Fail)
8:30am: Lecture starts. (Chapter 11)
12:15pm: Lecture ends. Lunch starts. Homework is assigned. (Due tomorrow, of course.)
12:45pm: Return from eating lunch to work on the homework. (Complete 5 of 7 problems)
2:00pm: Seminar begins.
5:00pm: Seminar ends. Return to dorm.
*Note that approximately 2 days each week, we have a seminar in the afternoon. The remaining 3 afternoons are spent either in lab or touring various facilities on BNL’s campus.
5:30pm: Continue working on lab report. (Started over the weekend, due tomorrow)
6:30pm: Make dinner. Discuss report and associated discussion questions with classmates over dinner.
7:30pm: Return to room. Continue working on lab report.
8:30pm: Finish lab report. Continue research for paper/presentation (due next week).
9:30pm: Stop researching. Return to homework set.
9:55pm: Complete homework. Begin lab prep for tomorrow.
11:00pm: Finish lab prep for tomorrow. Begin reading Chapter 12 (32 pages).
11:45pm: Give up on reading. Brush teeth. Go to bed. Set alarm for 7:00am so chapter 12 can be completed in the morning. (Write blog post…)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be here and I’m ecstatic that I’m learning so much and making connections between previous chemistry classes and my physics classes. I really enjoy the labs because apparently chem lab is just like riding a bike – the techniques might be a bit rusty, but I do in fact remember the basics of pipetting and running a column and even proper acid disposal. But hoooooo boy! is it exhausting. I’ve got two more weeks of using every brain cell in my big head, and then I am taking a well-deserved week off before I go right back to using my brain again. Is this what the real world is like? ‘Cuz if it is, I love it and I hate it at the same time.
I think it is safe to say that a lot of people in college enjoy competing about this or that. We like to argue about which classes are the hardest, or who has the most reading, or which professor is the best. But it seems that people go abroad, and all of a sudden the competition is who had the easiest time academically while they were out of the country. Our new competition isn’t who has the hardest professor, it is who can get away with paying the least attention. We have new challenges: who can get to the most international destinations, the most museums/restaurants/pubs/clubs in our respective cities, who has the best pictures, who has the most outrageous cultural story, etc. etc.
I’ve just submitted my last assignment for the semester. I’ve just submitted my last assignment for the year. It isn’t the last assignment I’ll ever complete, but I’ve just submitted the last assignment I need to submit in Prague. Probably forever.
I didn’t play the “my-class-is-easier-than-yours” game. Because I did a lot of the work we were supposed to do over the course of the semester (year), in spite of the fact that you can pretty easily get away with not doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I probably did as much work over the course of the year that I would do before Fall midterms back at Tufts. I’m not pretending this year was particularly academically difficult. But while academic difficulty is proportional to how much you study, it isn’t representative of how much you learn.
I learned a lot this year.
I learned about myself, I learned about my friends even though they were thousands of miles away.
I learned what I value in new friends, and (perhaps more importantly) I learned about what I can’t stand in people.
I learned a lot about traveling smart. I learned that I thought I knew how to travel before I came to Europe and, though that may be true, I learned more in the last nine months and I learned that I will always be getting better at traveling.
I learned that I can study in a different environment, and that I can adapt to a different system where nothing happens all year and then all the tests and papers are compressed into one week. I learned that I can both plan for and deal with that stress. I learned that a lot of people can’t.
All that learning aside, there was only one class for which I studied. That was my Czech class. And I don’t know if I even call what I did for that class studying. It was more like practicing. I very rarely crammed vocabulary or grammar for a test, I never felt like I was forced to memorize something. I learned Czech not by studying it so much as I learned it by practicing with it and using it.
Seven years ago this month, I was in Japan. It was my first international trip without my parents. It was an opportunity full of learning, and exactly no studying. It was full of learning Japanese by using it. It changed my life, and I didn’t realize that until months, heck, maybe even years, after I got back. I still realize to this day skills that I have are skills I learned or honed on that trip oh so long ago.
I’m not going to pretend that I understand the impact that this year has had on me. I know I learned a lot, emotionally and intellectually. I absorbed waaay more about Czech history, politics, and history than I ever could have if I had taken an entire year of courses about it at Tufts. And I didn’t study it. I lived it.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Maybe, as I look back on this year, I just think its funny that this experience is called “Study Abroad“. “Learn Abroad” I could understand. “Be Abroad” I get. But Study? Hmmm…
Study Abroad. What an interesting phrase. It means no worries, for the rest of your days…. It’s a problem free philosophy. Hakuna Matata. Oh wait, what?
In reality, study abroad is a confusing phrase for me. Because I’m not sure what it means to me, and I don’t know what it is supposed to mean. For a lot of people, it clearly means take a semester off from really studying, travel abroad, and use being abroad as an excuse to travel more. There’s definitely something to that philosophy, and if I was only abroad for a semester, I’d probably be like that too. Because if I was only abroad for a semester, I wouldn’t be in Prague.
See, I came to Prague for a few very specific reasons, having to do primarily with my family history. I decided I was going to study abroad in Prague when I was still in high school – being able to study abroad in Prague was literally on my list of requirements for a college. But I’m not just here because Prague is conveniently located for traveling around Europe. I’m not even here merely to experience living in a gorgeous and super old city. I’m here to experience the Czech culture, to learn the Czech language, to meet Czech people.
I’m living with a Czech family so that every moment of every day I’m learning about the normal life of a Czech; unsurprisingly, their lives aren’t much different from Americans’. I am forced to practice my Czech with my host family, both actively if I want to say anything at all to the kids, and passively if I want to have any idea of the conversation going on around me. I’m learning by listening, learning by doing, learning by living.
But I also have to take classes.
I’m taking classes in Czech language and Czech politics, and next semester perhaps in Czech culture. But I also have to take classes that will transfer back to Tufts for major credit – hence the math class and two political science classes I’m taking this semester. (Which, by the way, pretty much rounds out my class schedule. The last one, Jewish history, is primarily to help me learn about the history that shaped so much of my grandfather’s life before, during, and after the war.)
At Tufts, I’m really studious. I do all my readings (mostly on time), I do all my work, and I put school first almost all the time. When I’m in class, I’m in class – focusing and taking notes with minor distractions. Here, though, it’s a bit different. I’ve done most of my readings (mostly after I was supposed to), and most of my work. When I’m in class, I take some notes, but am often distracted by reading articles online about Czech and European news stories, or by thinking about whatever fun stuff I’m doing that evening or the next weekend. I almost always elect to do something with my host family or go out with friends (either American or Czech, or often a combination thereof) instead of my homework.
This upcoming week is midterms week, and I’m currently chilling in Moravia, where I doubt I’ll do much studying. Perhaps more than if I had stayed in Prague, although I did have loose plans to study for two of my classes with two different people before I knew I was leaving town. I’m worried that I’ll be unprepared, but I’m hoping that everyone is similarly unprepared, and that the professors grade on curves. Big ones. Except for freshman year in organic chemistry, where I expected to do poorly because the material was overwhelming, not because I didn’t do enough work, I’ve never felt so unprepared for midterms in my college career.
But at the same time, I can’t help but feel that the choices I’ve been making are the right ones. I came to Prague to experience the city. To learn the language, to meet the people, to experience the culture. And I can’t do that if I go home every day, sit in my room with the door closed, and read English language commentary of what is going on outside my window. I can read all the election commentary I want, but it won’t replace hearing the election results for this little village over loudspeaker at 5 in the afternoon on a Saturday, or listening to the locals debating if 48 or 45 people voted for the communists. I can’t befriend Czechs unless I spend time with them outside of the school building, doing things they like to do. And I can’t experience the culture unless I actually experience it. Hearing about it from other Americans doesn’t count.
I don’t know if this new perspective on being in school will come home with me. I think maybe this new perspective hit a lot of people freshman year of college, or even earlier. But at least while I’m here, my priorities are different. I want to live my life like a Czech, or as close as I can get. And whatever happens, I don’t want any wish-I-would’ves.
Classes started on Monday, and I’m feeling (along with most people, I think) a little bit torn. For starters, I am ecstatic. I managed to create a schedule that I thoroughly love, and I’m really excited about all of my classes. But I’m also like “Wait, what?”, because I got used to having Czech classes all day every day, and they didn’t have 40-60 page reading assignments. So, classes. The reality of being a student, even if you’re a student on the other side of the world. Here we go!
I’m taking five classes: Czech Language Fast Track, Czech and Central European History, History of the Jews in Bohemia, Economics and Politics of the EU, and Czech Politics. Unsurprisingly, I’m taking a lot of politics-based courses, but I surprised myself by enrolling in two history courses as well. I’m not a huge history buff, but I really want to understand the history of the region I’m living in, as well as my own family history, so there you go. I’ll talk about each class in turn, but I’m excited for all of them. (more…)