Friday, June 13, 2014

Texts and contexts

This is our classroom, at least most of the time; it came with enough furniture to seat eight, which was exactly the number we needed. Sometimes we go outdoors, or into the games room at the student apartment complex if we need to use the TV, and my colleague will be holding her class in the pub on Monday. (I plan to do the same for our very last session, once we are back in the capital. I figure the writer we'll be reading that day would have approved.) But most of the time, here we are hanging out in the living room / kitchenette.

And students talk. My God, do they talk. They argue about whether the Revolutionary Poet was a hero or an idiot, and whether the Playwright-and-Memoirist views the rural villagers he writes about as a separate, lesser order of people or whether he really gets them and their culture. They say smart and insightful things about the gender politics of personifying the nation as a woman. They make awesome connections to things they're learning in my colleague's class, despite the fact that her material ends about 700 years before mine begins. Some of this, no doubt, is due to the fact that they are an exceptionally self-disciplined and committed group, as evinced by the fact that they managed to scrape together $5,000 for this trip in the first place. But I also think that we have, quite accidentally, stumbled upon the ideal setting and context for a college class, and achieved something that is supposed to happen but very rarely does: students are talking to each other as much as to me, and they feel comfortable enough around each other to take up opposing positions. And there are too few of them to hide behind each other and let a tiny minority do most of the talking. It probably also helps that we have drunk beer, scrambled over rocks, and wandered through cow pastures together, all of which tend to dispel any notions that professors are a separate species.

I wish there were some way to bottle this atmosphere and bring it back with us. Maybe if we capped all of the courses at ten and installed comfy couches in every classroom, that would be a start; but I think you also need the sort of group bonding that comes through shared experience, and I don't think there is any way to make that happen artificially. (I realize that the "learning communities" trend is supposed to achieve this, but I'm skeptical about whether it actually works.)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Across the pond...

We are in Green Country, which is green as advertised. Thus far, things have gone reasonably well; at least, we made it from the US to Green Country, spent three busy and hectic days in the capital, and took the bus across the country without losing anybody or having any massive failures of planning. We may have thrown a few too many activities and tours at the students at once -- I'm not sure they took in as much as they should -- and I think we will almost certainly be looking for a different hostel in the capital if we do this again, or even apartments if we ever do this without being on a shoestring budget. (Yeah, right.) At any rate, we are now settled into our spacious, blessedly quiet new digs -- apartments in a massive student housing complex -- in a much smaller and less frenetic city, and are ready to start classes tomorrow. (It gladdened my heart to see four of our students seated around the common-room table at about eleven o'clock last night, earnestly reading modern Greenish drama. I think that we will have an enjoyably nerdy time.)

Also, it is cool seeing their horizons expand. They made friends with a German girl on the walking tour we took on the first day, and also an American who was on his way to study in Germany, and almost immediately started talking about how they wanted to go to Germany. This, in a group where two of our six traditionally-aged students had never been on a plane before we left. So yay, this is how it is supposed to go.