First Day of School, Kind Of
Q: What did you learn in school today, Anna?
A: I learned that J.N.U. was not designed for casual student of the liberal arts persuasion who wish to take multiple courses from different departments.
I was spoiled in many ways at College of Saint Benedict especially when it came time to register for classes. Each semester I received a sticker from my academic advisor. On this sticker was listed a PIN number and my personal registration slot, a set time during which I could log onto our institutional database and reserve my classes. I had to do the prep work of preparing a list of possible courses for the semester (found in the comprehensive course schedule published promptly half way through each semester), including a few alternatives in order to prevent panic if one or more of my courses were full once it was my turn to register. I have always been a bit obsessive about my courses, so the first week of each semester was always spent sitting in on five to seven courses in order to select four. Pre-registration time included multiple visits to the very patient and caring sages who were my academic advisors. The fact that I can’t walk into Claire, Louis, Joe, or Matt’s office right now, plop down on a chair and say “tell me what to do with my life” makes me want to cry.
The casual student registration process at J.N.U. is quite different. Nothing is online, timetables (course schedules) are published the day classes start in most cases, and are subject to change at the whim of the professor and students in the course. Degree seeking students enroll and take classes in one particular department. As I mentioned before, each department has a different way of doing things, and timetables for each department are posted at different times. Casual students are able to take courses from any department. This freedom is fabulous, but also creates problems when trying to orchestrate a schedule for the semester.
This morning I learned that three of the courses I’m interested in are overlapping. So I decided to attend one today and see how I like it but the professor never showed up. I will go to Environmental Economics tomorrow at 11am, but the other 2-3 courses I’ll take this semester are yet to be decided. I spent the afternoon after my attempted course walking the halls of three floors in four different buildings (School of Intl Studies, School of Environmental Studies, and School of Social Sciences I & II), noting the course offerings of each deparment. There are some promising options in the School of Environmental Sciences and the Center for Regional Development. The process of actually getting enrolled in 3-4 classes for the semester has been the most challenging and frustrating part of my time in India. This is the experience that has made me most miss the comfort and logic of American higher education and the security of the small liberal arts cocoon that I flew out of in May 2010.
My opportunity in this challenge, or perhaps my challenge in this opportunity, is to maintain focus. Many people gave me this advice: focus yourself during your time in India, it is such a crazy place that if you don’t focus yourself you will get swept away. I trust that in the next two weeks I’ll be able to put together a schedule that makes sense and does not put me off course of my intended direction of study. My advisors also know that for me the term “direction of study” looks more like a fisherman casting a large net toward promising waters than an archer shooting an arrow at a target. Wish me luck!