Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First two days of school (part uno)

So I have yet to write about my orientation which took place last Wednesday. It’s a good distance from our house, so Ivan drove us there. The route there passes through lots of townships, with shacks pieced together with scraps of wood, metal, etc. It’s crazy to see the difference between a few blocks, which I’m used to because it’s the same around Belmont. But here its more extreme.

The campus is much bigger than Belmont’s, but I instantly feel in love. It’s beautiful. We got a campus tour which helped but I still feel like I’ll probably get lost. One thing I noticed was that all the people here are gorgeous. I don’t even understand, and there’s a lot of diversity, lots of colours and Africans. I should mention that the university was founded during the 1960’s for coloured only. Looking around campus, there are a few whites, so its kinda hard to believe apartheid is over in the first place. And I just noticed something else which is completely unrelated. I saw women greeting each other with hugs and kisses on the lips. I haven’t noticed that before so I wonder if that’s the norm. Another thing I’ve observed is that some guys wear pink. Now I’m not sure if that’s a signal that they’re gay, but I’ve noticed it more than once so I wonder if it is or its just accepted that guys were pink without being presumed gay. Another thing on clothing, most of it is American. Besides the maids who wear dresses, which I find interesting, most of the students wear jeans, Nikes, etc.

Let’s move on to register which we did on Thursday. That was an adventure. We first had to fill out an application in order to get a student id number. That took almost no time and the actual registration took no time. However the woman who was supposed to help us was no where to be found, so we waited walking back and front between the admin and international student office. The entire process took from 10am to 3pm. Apparently that was a new record. Usually it takes three days so I guess, we should count ourselves lucky.

In terms of my own registration, I was very thankful because Belmont definitely help prepare for what courses I wanted to take. I had my list; it worked with my schedule perfectly and as I was handing it in to the woman, she told me that one of my classes was not offered this semester (of course), which sucked because I had been counting on taking exactly those courses in order to fill my requirements back home. Although it was only one class looking for a new class was difficult since most of my schedule was set. It worked out though and I was able to find a course that worked and even convinced Adam to take it with me. The course is a soc class entitled social change and we had our first class this morning.

Classes here are a lot bigger than back home. If I had to guess, I’d say that there were about 30-40 students in the lecture hall. There were also a bunch of Marquette kids there too, so Adam and I sat behind them.

Class was interesting. First off the professor started off by saying that she knew most of us were third year students (there are only three years of undergrad here) and that we should be able to use the library before we graduate because if not our employers would think we were stupid. Now as an avid library lover, I couldn’t imagine going through high school let alone undergraduate school without using the library. She also said that we also all be able to read and write. I couldn’t believe my ears. How on earth could you go to school without those basic skills? I guess, that’s just another one of those things I take for granted.

The actual course content has to do with how different things affect change. She started off by saying that the modern world (I thought we were post modern but whatever) has more risks than in the past. But then later in her lecture she contradicted herself by saying that there aren’t more risks but different kinds of risks. Today most risks are manufactured by human (an example being pollution) whereas back in the day most of the risks were out of our control (i.e. natural disaster). Then she talked about how race and gender affect risk. For example, men in their early twenties pay more for car insurance than those in their thirties. All common sense stuff.

But one interesting thing that she mentioned was how all wars are over resources. She cited the war in Iraq as an example of people fighting over oil. I’m not sure how many Americans would feel about that. I think lots would still want to believe that we want over there in the name of freedom. I’m honestly not sure what I believe, but it wouldn’t surprise one bit if oil was the underlying reason.

Another interesting point that I’m not sure if I agree with is her ideas about difference. What I mean is her claim that people only become aware of difference when there’s conflict. Just being here in South Africa in a different university, I notice difference but I see no conflict. Maybe it has to do with perception. Because she cited xenophobia as an example and in that case I would agree. But in thinking about working at Chipotle last summer, I definitely noticed how some employees were Mexicanoes and spoke Spanish vs. English-speaking Americans.

So basically, it’s going to be an interesting class. The size scares me so I definitely have to get over my fear of speaking to large groups of people because so far it seems like it’ll always be that way no matter what the class.

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