Saturday, February 22, 2014

The College Nightmare Of Taking My First Mid-Term Exam Abroad

The past two and a half weeks have been a tough adjustment for me as I acclimate to college life abroad, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

I was really worried about having to absorb so much complex information about the history of the National University of Cordoba and the history of psychology in general. We also had the first major exam of the term this past Wednesday and it was a rather crazy experience.

We were all supposed to take the test in a computer lab at different (scheduled) times throughout the day. Unfortunately, the students didn’t really stick to their assigned time and decided to take the test in the evening. This created a massive backup of students who needed to take the exam. The problem was that the computer lab would only remain open until 9 p.m.
I was suppose to go at 7 p.m. to take the test, and like an idiot, I thought I’d go 40 minutes early in case there was a line AND THERE WAS!
There must have been a thousand students waiting to take the exam. Keep in mind that there were approximately 3,000 first-year students registered for the psychology career program in 2014.
It was almost 9 p.m. and I was getting frustrated. Fortunately, Zach (my ex, but forever my best friend) stood in line with me for emotional support.

Then a professor came out and told everyone in line that the computer lab was closed and that we’d be taking a written (not computerized) form of the test in a classroom.
Before the written exam started, the professor explained that the delay was the result of a number of students who had taken photos of their computer screens during the exam and then posted it online on one of the Facebook group sites for the career program. 

Apparently, the professors got word of this around 2 p.m. in the afternoon and shut down the computer lab for about an hour and a half in order to alter the questions so the students that hadn’t taken the test couldn’t cheat.

Anyway, with that situation explained, we started taking the test in a non-climate controlled classroom with hundreds upon hundreds of noisy students. It was chaos, but despite the stress, I think I retained a reasonable amount of information from my study sessions as I understood most of the test questions. I was done within twenty minutes.

Then just as I was about to leave, the lights started flickering, which left several of my classmates who were taking the test in two separate classrooms, without power.

Obviously, the students were pissed and I hope that this forces the university to rethink its strategy when conducting these exams next time.

Okay, so now it was time for the results. Well… not quite. You see, those who took the computerized test received their grade immediately. Those who did the written version of the test had to wait a few days.

The grading system is different in Argentina than in the U.S.

In the U.S. you are generally graded with an:

·         A – Excellent
·         B – Good
·         C – Satisfactory
·         D – Unsatisfactory
·         F – Failed

In Argentina however, the grading scale uses numbers from 1 through 10. In order to remain in the career program, you must get a minimum of a 4. In order to get promoted to the next term, you have to get at least a 7.

When I got home after the test, Zach and I bought ourselves a pizza, some ice cream, some cider (it’s like champagne, but cheaper), and some Coke (the soft drink, not the drug), and we celebrated the fact that I got through the stress of the exam. It turns out that celebration was justified.

I was expecting to get my results on Monday, but when I went to class on Friday I was given the surprise of my life and told that the results were available then and there.

It turns out that I got a 4, which I admit is not bad considering all the years I’ve been out of college and that this is really my first time applying myself in a school that uses a language that I’m not accustomed to using in an academic setting.
So I passed the first test with a 4 but I didn’t get a 7. So what happens next? Well, in order to pass the term, I need to take a make-up exam for the first test, and also get a 7 on the second exam, which is coming up in about 2 and a half weeks. It’s important that I get the score of 7 on each test in order to begin the next semester. Otherwise I’ll have to continue taking an exam that encompasses the material covered in the first and second exams throughout the year until I get the desired test score. This could potentially set me back a year, so I know I’ll have to study harder in order to pass.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

College Life - Week One: Culture Shock We Meet Again

On Friday, January 31st, the Psychology Department at the National University of Cordoba (UNC) had a get-together for all the new students for 2014. 

By now, most of you know that I suffer from social anxiety, which makes me behave awkward during social gatherings. In the past, it has crippled me to the point where I didn’t even want to leave the house. Fortunately, I've been able to manage this condition with the medication and free therapy I've received at the public hospital.
I knew I would feel some anxiety on my first day of college, even with the medication. So I decided to go to this get-together to meet my fellow peers. I was hoping I’d make a friend or two, but it didn’t work out quite as I expected.

For starters, everyone was between the ages of 16 and 23. This made it difficult to relate since I’m 36 and an old soul. Teenagers and young adults are usually pretty innocent in Argentina. By innocent, I don’t mean that they’re not prone to excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, or in some cases, crime. I just mean that they’re at that stage in life where they’re na├»ve and think that the world is like "Neverland," with little or no-worries. Oh, how I envy the blindness of youth.

The other factor which made it difficult for me to relate to my peers was the fact that they were all Argentinian and they had experiences growing up here that I simply don’t understand because I wasn’t raised here. It was impossible to share what I went through without getting stares, or in one instance, a smart aleck remark.

The third issue I encountered was the slang that's commonly used by young adults here. I had a hard time understanding and following the conversations. Like in every other culture, Argentinians have their own jokes, stories, and funny curse words that I’m not aware of or accustomed to.

The final obstacle I encountered was the mentality of the students, and later the professors. I’ll give you an example. We’re all members of a Facebook group for 2014 psychology students. Apparently, one student had posted a photo of himself relaxing in front of the pool in his bare feet. At the get-together, another student brought this post to everyone’s attention and proceeded to call this other student a son-of-a-b*tch who likes to show off that he has a pool while the rest of them melt in this infernal heat. It’s my observation that a lot of people here seem to be quite envious of others who have more than they do. I guess as human beings, we’re all a prone to being a bit envious of our neighbors to some degree, but some Argentinians seem to take it to the extreme.

By the time that the get-together was done, some went their separate ways. Others went to a bar together. I didn’t feel I could relate to these particular peers, so I went home.

Monday, February 3rd was the first day of class and it was complete chaos! There were so many students waiting to get into class that they had to relocate everyone to a larger classroom.
Once we were all settled, a professor walked on stage and discussed what we could expect from the psychology career program. Then a group of students from the CEP, which is like a student activities/advisory department ran by students only, came by to talk to us about their personal experiences at the university, and some pushed their political agendas (which I’ll go into more detail in a moment).
Classes at the university are divided into two categories, Practico and Teorico.
Practico classes are held on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and consist of a classroom-type setting where you have a group of 30 to 35 students. The professor will go over the textbook material and hand out assignments and homework. In here, we are placed in groups of 4 or 5 in order to interact better. Attendance for the Practico classes is mandatory. Unfortunately, my Practico class didn’t start until Wednesday February 5th.
On Tuesday, February 4th, we went to an auditorium known as “El Rectorado”. This is essentially where we attend classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  These classes are known as “Teorico”, which basically means it’s a lecture. In here, you just listen to the professor discuss the subject at hand for about two hours and then you go home. Attendance is not mandatory for the “Teorico” classes, but it’s strongly encouraged since we only get two and a half weeks before the first mid-term exam, called “Parcial”. The Teoricos get packed with students, but space is limited, so they encourage us to be at the auditorium about an hour before the doors open.
The textbook itself is over 400 pages long and encompasses the politics that lead to the history of the free, public, higher education system in Argentina, and the history of psychology. I have to admit that even with the study groups I'm finding it really difficult to understand the content.
The fact is I’ve never read books in Spanish. I never had to. If you come to my house, every single book and magazine I have is in English. Though I can speak it well enough, I have some basic reading and writing knowledge of Spanish, but that's it. Reading and understanding the textbook, which is in Castilian Spanish is a major brain teaser. As I read through the chapters, word for word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, I felt like my mind was sinking in quicksand.
By Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I pretty much had an idea of what I could expect for the next five years. During the “Teorico” classes, both the professor and the guest lecturers talked about the history and political struggles that formed the National University of Cordoba. However, they also repeatedly criticized how the current economic and political crisis in Argentina are the result of the president’s regime.

Personally, I hate politics! However, a lot of the points they make go against everything I believe in. For example, they seem quite determined to limit government regulations and sanctions from affecting the university. They encourage the student body to create these university-type governments in which students can vote. We’ve had representatives come and talk to us at the beginning of classes to sway us to their cause.

This isn’t like the student council in middle school, high school, or college back in the States, where it was all about organizing a pep rally in support of human rights or a bake sale for a good cause. One student government representative attacked the Argentinian president’s methods of handling the economy, claiming that she cares more about the success of large corporations than small businesses and the Argentinian people.  She also attacked the international companies that have come to Argentina like Chevron and Monsanto (although Monsanto is allegedly responsible for environmental contamination that has left many sick in the region where their factories operate from, and that I DO understand).

Some of these views are undoubtedly the result of the xenophobia that plagues Argentina and the “unfounded” fear of colonization by the U.K. or the U.S. 

I fully support a government that ensures that success of large corporations because their success creates more jobs and it helps to industrialize this nation further. I’m also a strong proponent of international companies doing business in Argentina because they bring jobs, money, and more exposure to the nation, but people here don't seem to have the same perspective. 

Well, guess what? The entire world is suffering from an economic crisis, including the U.S. I think it’s selfish that these lecturers assume that this is happening exclusively in Argentina because of the current government regime. For a country that is in a supposed economic crisis, people do an awful lot of shopping in Cordoba and Buenos Aires (I’ve spent time in both of these provinces so I know).  

Again, this is where I become an oddball because I don’t see things the way my peers do. There’s free health care, free higher education, plenty of food, peace and quiet (most of the time), no mandatory national taxes (they do have provincial and municipal, but they’re easy to handle with a job). There aren’t too many nations in the world that can claim to offer these things.

Insurgency just causes headaches, but the university seems bent on encouraging anger and insurgency when they should be focusing solely on teaching.

I’ve been in Argentina for almost two years now and I thought I’d gotten over the culture shock, but now in my first week as a psych student, I feel like I’m reliving it all over again.

I realize that my point of view may offend some Argentinians, and I'd like to say that this wasn't my intention when I wrote this article. I am simply expressing my personal experience as an expat which is what this blog is about.