3.09.2008

The diary of a lost international student.

I should warn you, gentle readers: this will be a rather long post.

When I first arrived in Slovenia, I felt like a tourist. Each building needed to be photographed and poured over as though I was the first person to discover them. I watched people exchange pleasantries like a dispassionate anthropologist. I counted cobblestones. I savoured each bite of food and every sip of wine, trying to identify a particular nuance in flavour that differed from my indigenous staples.

I've been living and studying here for about a year and with some difficulty, like wedging a square peg into a slightly smaller square hole, I managed to ease myself into the rhythms of Slovenian life. What does that entail exactly?

Going to school, shopping at the outdoor market, wandering the city and meeting with friends. I have settled into a quiet life and I'm fond of being a little reclusive.

I've been writing essays for school. In fact, that eats up most of my time. I have few lectures, so I invest my energies into reading, research and writing. At the moment I have to four essays for FDV and two essays for UBC. At the end of the semester, around the end of April, I have to write six exams. Luckily, three of them are oral exams. Lately I've taken to working at the FDV library, a small sleek space with an arboretum attached to its exterior. The library is held aloft, above the faculty. The symbolism is not entirely succinct, but welcome nonetheless.

"Wait, only a few lectures?" you ask.

In Slovenia, post-secondary students have the constitutional right to be taught in their native language. Naturally, this is understandable. When I take classes in Canada, I expect the lectures to be in English. However, professors in my host faculty don't receive any compensation for holding extra lectures in English. This means Slovenian and international students are lumped together, which is wonderful. Unfortunately, some Slovenian students have trouble understanding lectures in English and request (some would say demand) to be taught in Slovene. The professor must abide. I have no problem with this, really.

Consequently, I was asked, along with the other international students, to leave the classroom on two occasions this semester. Not because we were unwelcome but because the lecture would be in Slovene and hence, useless to non-native speakers. Despite the professor's stalwart reassurances that all is well, I quickly vacated the classroom to conceal my embarrassment.

I have heard another anecdote to illustrate the tension between local and international students; however, since it's unsubstantiated I'll refrain from mentioning the incident. I assure you the atmosphere is laden with misgivings, as though a fog had seeped into the faculty and clung to the walls and desks.

The students are not to blame, nor the professors. The university's administration, which advertises classes in English without including a clause, needs to be held accountable for causing such a bureaucratic debacle.

The professor for those two classes I mentioned, including a third that is two semesters long, agreed to hold personal consultations and lectures for international students at his own expense. A respected poet and theorist (not to mention any names), I'm fortunate enough to have him as a mentor of sorts for one semester. I owe him thirty-five pages before I return to Canada.

Lisa and I want to ride bikes through the city. Although we never got around to seeing more of Slovenia in February, due to illness and school, we will be taking advantage of the upcoming warm weather to explore this lovely alpine nation.

More to come, I'm sure.

3 comments:

dr. filomena said...

Thanks for sharing, Jay. A very interesting insight into our alma mater, brother.

Random Earthling said...

It's pretty unbelievable that in a country where you can't even graduate from HIGH SCHOOL without having a decent grasp of English, there are POST-graduate students who can't take a 45 min lesson in the world's #1 language. Kinda sad that people like that would even get to the post-grad level. But hey, as they say, "Na FDV lahko padeŇ° samo po stopnicah."

Jay said...

Dr. Filomena: Thanks! Needless to say, I'm still fond of my adopted faculty, despite its flaws.

Random Earthling: The classes I mentioned are at the undergraduate level but the problem does extend to graduate classes as well.

My prof mentioned, perhaps with a hint of apprehension, that English is the lingua franca for academics. However, being from a country whose settlers attempted to wipe out the indigenous culture and language, I'm hesitant to force someone to speak my language.

White guilt? Perhaps. Seeing the history of imperialism repeat itself? Maybe. Just want folks to enjoy speaking their own language? Yup.

You do make a good point, RE. If schools expect students to confidently speak a second language, then what's the harm? Then again, I'm expected to speak French and I can barely string a sentence together!