After nearly fourteen years, students again. Lots of students – somewhere around a hundred, although all the dust is yet to settle. So far, so good. Last Monday, after the end of the day of my last post, I thought my legs would fall off. When you’re not used to standing in front of a classroom hour after hour, about five in this case, and no longer a spring chicken, or a very long ago spring, in my case, it shows. I had to take a couple of pain pills to sleep that night. However, Wednesday and Friday went much better physically, so I’m quickly back up to speed.
I had heard a number of differing reactions to the students here, and was a touch apprehensive about what I’d be facing. However, based on one whole week, the students seem just fine. As warned, it is often very difficult to get them to respond. Culturally, Central Europeans avoid familiarity. On the street, an approaching pedestrian will take such pains not to make eye contact with me that they run the risk of walking into a pole their eyes are so averted. My classes got a kick out of that observation, which I illustrated in class with the appropriate exxageration. Lots of laughs, so things in the participation department are getting better quickly.
One of my four classes is called (International) Political Economy. Friday, right off the bat, a student asked about 911. Wasn’t this really a government conspiracy? That got the ball rolling! No trouble with participation then. An hour flew by in what seemed like five minutes. It was a fascinating tour de force on what my students think of America and its role in the world. Mostly, they think we meddle much too much in other peoples’ affairs. This is going to be a fun class! (Ron Paul, call your office.)
Conspiracy theories come naturally to these students, every one of whom comes from the former Soviet Union, or its satellites. Governments lie, conceal, steal, harass and generally make life miserable. Several students indicated that they had a grandparent who just disappeared into the camps, never to be seen again.That’s their heritage, and why should they think any government anywhere would be any different? After all, such democracy as has emerged in the twenty years since the Soviet collapse involves, as they see it, merely electing a different set of crooks.
I’ve met several more faculty members this week, and they are an interesting and diverse lot. The big problem here is that very few are long termers, and one, two or three semesters, and they’re gone. You cannot build much of a program on that basis, or have meaningful relations with your students over the four years of their attendance. It’s wonderful to have people willing to give up chunks of their lives for no pay (and work very hard in the bargain), but ultimately, in my humble opinion, it’s no way to run a railroad.
Next Monday, in my spare time during lunch between class two and three, I have a departmental meeting. Oh rapturous joy! Of those things which I do NOT miss, departmental meetings are right up there. (Grading is the other one.)
For those of you keeping score on such matters, I have classes MWF, starting at 9:45, 11:00, 13:30 (they run on military time) and 14:45. One hour long, with fifteen minute breaks. Breaks aren’t breaks for me, since there is always a host of student needs requiring attention. We’re seven hours ahead of SC, so while you all are snuggled comfy in your beds, I’m imparting wisdom.
In non-academic matters, Bonnie and I woke up to our first real snow since we’ve been here. It’s now a little after nine, and at ten our Culture Coach will be here, and we’re headed downtown Klaipeda to learn some of the subtleties of shopping and dining We’ve included pictures.
Bonnie mentioned our day at the beach a few days ago, and our failure to find amber. It seems there is more to finding amber than literally meets the eye. I intend to go out with an experienced amber hunter before long, although snow on the beach won’t help.
It’s been nearly a month since we’ve been here, and we feel blessed. We miss you back home, and again point out that coming here would make a wonderful trip, with local experts to guide you into the finer points of coastal Lithuania. (Also, the beer is good and cheap, as is the food when dining out.)