Monday, August 23, 2010

My First Day of College

Seeing my overwhelmed and terrified first-year students made me recollect very vividly my first day as a college student in North America. I had attended a university for 5 years before that back in Ukraine, but the college experience in Canada (which is where I got my BA and eventually my first MA) was not only diferent but often the exact opposite of what I was used to.

I brought with me a lot of myths about the system of education in North America, and it took me a while to figure out how everything worked. Here are some of the things I discovered on my first day (or in my first couple of months) as an undergrad in Canada:
  • To begin with, I was absolutely convinced that the admission to North American universities was not competitive. I believed that anybody would be admitted to any university, as long as they could pay tuition.
  • I believed that writing an essay consisted of copying every single word from books and articles. Only my complete ignorance of where the library was located and how one could gain access to it prevented me from proudly submitting a plagiarized essay. Which, of course, would mean the end of my academic career.
  • I had no idea that expressing my opinions (which even then were very strong and worded in a very forceful way) was actually a good thing that would turn me into a stellar student.
  • I was strongly convinced that all North American students were stupid and I would shine brightly among them. The very first day of classes disabused me of this silly notion. I came out feeling vastly inferior in knowledge to my classmates, most of whom were several years younger than me. This feeling of intellectual inferiority was very productive for me because it made me want to work hard to catch up with everybody.
  • I expected everybody to be a feminist (another myth that traveled with me across the ocean) and was shocked to discover that people were terrified that anybody would suspect them of being feminist.
I'm sure there is more but I have to run to my last class of the day.


Anita said...

Experience is the best teacher.

Is that a cliche? :)

V said...

Concerning plagiarism - you are overdramatizing the issue. You must know by now that universities are in reality (not on paper) very reluctant to persecute plagiarizers officially - it gives university bad reputation (at least short-term), potentially removes a paying student (ha, why singular, dealing with plagiarism "by the book" would mean expelling about 1/3 of student population) and creates more work for certain officials. And they just want to drink coffee. In reality these are the professors who have to explain/convince/threaten students into academically honest behavior. A first year student would just have a talk with her professor rather than any sanctions (beyond F for the piece of work in question) in 99/100 cases...

But speaking of feminism and related issues - that was a misconception I had too. Was very surprised to find majority of (American) parents of kids in my daughter's school to be housewives.

sonali said...

I don't think most people would be terrified that others would think of them as feminsists. I'm American, and I'm a feminist. I'm going to a women's college, actually.

Clarissa said...

Being a feminist and going to a women's college sounds very contradictory.