Tuesday officially ended my copious amounts of free time as I attended my first class of the semester. I’m taking the standard for full time this term, 9 credit hours, which translates into 3 classes that meet once a week each for 3 hours. Now, if you haven’t gone to grad school that sounds like nothing, and I should have all the free time in the world. However, the amount of reading that has to be done for one of these classes is EXTRAORDINARY. Even for somebody like me who literally has nothing else to do except go to school. My first semester at GW I was taking 10 credit hours as well as interning 3 days a week. I thought I was going to die. This is much preferable.
Anyways. Tuesday was my first class entitled The Political Economy of African Development. It is taught by a Dr. Lord Mawuko, originally from Ghana, but has spent the last 8 years in Alberta, Canada. He just moved to South Africa a month ago. He is young, entertaining and very smart. The class is exactly what I was looking for in coming here. It gives a broad overview of development issues in Africa, why this issues exist, and eventually what may be done to solve them. YES. There is no class available like this at GW, so I exulted in the validation that I felt for being here.
A note on classes here. First of all, they are quite small. The smallest class I had in the states consisted of maybe 15 students. More often it’s 20-30. My class on Tuesday had 6 students, and 2 are likely not to actually be taking the class. My other classes have 5 students and 9 students. So, the classes are definitely set up more as seminars for discussion, rather than lectures, which allows for heavy student participation, which is good and bad, depending on how committed you are to doing the reading. The amount of reading required is pretty similar to the classes at GW, somewhere around 4 required journal articles a week, 4 recommended, and a book here or there throughout the semester.
The actual handed in work is a bit different. First of all, I have to do presentations in class, which I rarely have been asked to do thus far in my postgrad career. I HATE them. It’s not getting up in front of people, I have no problem with that. It’s putting my own work and ideas in front of them and fearing to death that I’m going to look like an idiot, compounded by the fact that I am on a new continent with new people and I really don’t want to look like a stupid American. So there’s that. Also, I’m used to doing 2 or 3 smaller papers throughout the semester. Here it’s more like one big paper, as well as an exam at the end of term. It doesn’t seem so bad, except when you think that 35% of your grade rides on one assignment. Blech.
My Wednesday class was originally going to be the Economics of Africa’s Natural Resources. Lovely, I can handle that. However, two professors decided to combine this class and another, The Political Economy of International Trade. Pardon? I don’t know a thing about trade. Not one thing, and it’s the whole first half of that class. Not to mention I have to come up with a topic for a 20 page paper on it. Any ideas anyone???? I will happily accept help on this one. The first class was postponed to next week, so I haven’t met the professors or the students yet, but hopefully once class starts my mind will ease a little.
My last class is Friday mornings, so I’ll get to experience that tomorrow. It’s Conflict Prevention and Resolution in Africa. This is a popular class and I’m very excited to take it. I haven’t gotten a syllabus yet, so I don’t know much about what is going to go on, but it should prove pretty interesting. Another great thing about classes here is that you don’t have to buy textbooks. Course packets are prepared with the majority of the readings and handed out at the beginning of the semester, so you don’t have to buy books or spend hours trying to find the articles online. That’s the case for my Tuesday and Friday classes. With my Wednesday class, I did, of course, manage to find the one class where the lecturers want us to find the articles ourselves, which means fun times searching online databases for articles, and then printing up hundreds of pages on the library printer (which other people waiting to print really like) because I hate reading on the computer. I may just have to deal with it though, as I printed up the articles for the first week and it was 168 pages, which cost 7 dollars. Sick. I know that doesn’t seem a lot, but that crap will pile up by the end of term.
So there it is, classes have begun and I’m already trying to figure out how to procrastinate all the reading I have to do. Keri will help me out with that this weekend again, as she’s taking me for drinks tomorrow night and Saturday to my first braai (South African bbq) on Saturday. I promise to get more pictures up soon, but I look kind of like a crazy person taking pictures of nothing all over campus. Stay tuned!