Yesterday was the first day I taught. The room that I was assigned was being used, and a lovely student offered to ask the professor if he would be done soon. He was going to keep teaching, we learned, and so, we all went to a room that appeared empty.
What a comedy of errors.
I overprepared. I faced a sea of 30 some faces, very attentive, and all very politely took a seat and looked at me with great attention. what a difference from my US students, all buried in their own worlds of cellphones and facebook. Not sure how much sunk in because everything I prepared was thrown out the window. As usual, you have the one student who wants to contribute, and I think many unsure of their English. Or unsure of me. It was general talk about the stereotypes of Americans, and the truth of the complex culture and the antecedents of our culture. Too many only know America from Hollywood narratives and television.
I did some math and realized that I am short many hours of teaching contact time that I have in the states. At home, each class would meet for roughly 48 hours, plus an exam. Here, the class will meet for roughly 18 hours. So, I am short the 30 hours I assumed I had. I tell myself it is okay. They will get some introduction to American culture, both in facts and inference, and that is all that matters.
It does make me realize that American higher education is still a good experience. We really do, even at the lowest levels, spend a lot of time with our students, and we expect a lot from them. The emphasis on thinking for oneself, for having an informed opinion is ingrained in us. No matter how little some of us know about geography or history or the like, we do have the self-confidence and independence that is unique. Of course, there are downsides to this independence and individualism. I tried to explain that to an American, individual rights trump community. One student was bothered that we in the states don’t push our government to be better caretakers, to avoid war. It is hard to explain that we, in America, don’t view our role in governance in the same way. The movements such as civil rights, or women’s movement, are rare displays of a community, but then again, this is display of the assertion of individual rights.
I am curious if any will see the parallels and connections between issues here in BiH and at home, in terms of race, identity, nationalism, and such. A few could, and a few refused.
America is an experiment, after all, I will tell them. A work in endless progress. How will the experiment end?