Blog Goes Abroad: First day of school


February 4th, 2013: First day of school on another continent.

Yes, I know it’s ridiculous that I’m starting school so late. I’ve been in Europe for almost a month, and this is the first time I have to set an alarm. I snooze it three times before I manage to get up from my bed. That’s when it hits me: so many things can go wrong today.

To calm my nerves, I made a list:

  1. I have no idea what the professor is saying to the class/me.
  2. I have no idea what the other students are saying to the professor/each other.
  3. I understand enough to know that I have a 15-page paper, oral presentation, midterm, and exam, on top of being in class with people I don’t understand.
  4. I took the train in the wrong direction, and I am now alone on the metro car with an old man yelling things at me that I don’t understand.

I put on my big girl pants, down an espresso, and text the only other Brown student that’s supposed to go to this class. I passive-aggressively tell her, “Leaving my apartment! Don’t be late.” But passive-aggressive texting is a dying art, and I’m left loitering in front of a building for 20 minutes. Thanks, friend.

We arrive an hour early to the class, so we continue to loiter together. We find the building our class is in, and it then takes us ten more minutes to figure out how to get inside it. Apparently, some things aren’t that straightforward anymore. After knocking on some windows and being let into the building by a hesitant classmate, we make it to our classroom–with half an hour to spare! Instead of talking to the two real students sitting across from us, we sit quietly scribbling nothing into our notebooks, trying to mask our fear.

Things that actually happened in the class:

  1. I got 50% of what the professor said in class.
  2. I got 20% of what other students were saying in class.
  3. I understood enough to know that I have a 15-page paper, oral presentation, midterm, and exam, on top of being in class with people I don’t understand.
  4. Halfway through I realized I couldn’t give less of a crap about the topic.

At Brown, I wouldn’t consider any of these things a particularly big issue. I’d just go home, drop it like it’s hot on Banner, and get a Spicy With. Except things aren’t that straightforward here. There’s bureaucracy to deal with. I need to register for each class separately, at each department, at both universities I’m taking classes at. And there’s no central online system–please, that’s so bourgeois! Everything’s done in paper and in person, and within a 35-hour workweek. C’est la vie.

After the class ends, my companion and I get back on the metro. During the 30-minute ride back to the Brown office, where spend the next hour stressing about finding a class to replace the one we just dropped and fulfilled our self-imposed study abroad requirements (certain number of credits, vaguely related to our concentration, not on Fridays), I long for Banner and 7 a.m. registration. I would curse Brown Secure and second semester seniors, but at least Banner gave my life some semblance of order.

On the way home, I stress eat a pain au chocolat, which has now become a daily ritual, and set my alarm for the next morning. If things don’t work out tomorrow, at least I have 2 € wine.

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