Tag Archives: classes

The Retired Colonel In My Head

It is presentation day, I wake up and think. And presentation day means business clothing. 

For me, anyway. I know my classmates will probably show up in jeans–or shorts, depending on their fancy. But in college, I had a Politics and Government professor who drilled it in our heads: always dress nicely for presentations.

And so I do.

Yesterday in class one of my students referred to the president as “Trump.” 

“Ah,” I said. “What is one of the rules of our discussion group?”

Of course, no one remembered but it is this: always give elected officials their title. Even (especially) if you disagree with them. I learned that from my Poli Gov professor too.

The professor was a retired Army Colonel and many viewed his classes as an easy A. And I won’t lie, they were. Ask any of his students from my sophomore year and they will tell you in hushed, awed whispers about ‘that one guy who got a B.’ I suspect I will still remember his name when I turn 95. You had to really work for a B.

The Colonel did not like textbooks or finals. He emphasized group presentations and exhaustive note taking. (The note taking he called journaling and to be honest, you could probably fill it with “Col doesn’t read this Col doesn’t read this Col doesn’t read this” and still get that A.) 

Academically, then, he was not the most challenging teacher. But the older I get, the more I find myself relying on the things I learned in his class. What I thought were his personality quirks have become my mantra. Or at least the way I try and model my discussion groups. (Including encouraging students to bring food because what genius schedules class at noon?! I have yet to ban knitting, though.) I might not have learned about federalism in his class–but he did teach life skills. And how to dress sharp.

(Actually, he would frequently say that girls always dress sharp. It was the boys he needed to keep an eye on. He took this so seriously that whenever we had group projects and there one was girl and several boys–which happened frequently in our male dominated major–he would compliment the girl on ‘getting the guys to dress up.’ Regardless of how much she actually did!)

I realize this post and my use of past tense makes it sound like the professor died or something. To my knowledge he hasn’t. (Though he did finally take retirement.) But as I rummaged around for a business skirt to wear today, I was reminded once again of a professor I probably took too much for granted in my undergrad and yet who left a big impact on my life. 


The Little Things

My first two months living abroad were an exercise in powerlessness. By powerlessness, I mean the feeling of “I don’t know what to do.” Everything around me came with a learning curve. Transportation, food, working the air conditioning…literally all of it took effort. But over time, I mastered them. And then I moved on to the next set of challenges: developing a social life. It took a while. Again, though, I eventually made friends and found a church and braved the masses playing tourist. The last two months I feel like I really hit my swing.

But there are days like today when the last four months rewind and I feel powerless again.  When that happens, I’m generally not in a situation where you would expect powerlessness. I did not lose my debit card or miss my bus stop and end up on the outskirts of Bangkok again. I am not battling with hundreds of people to get my visa renewed. No, I feel powerless because all the little things keep adding up and I finally crack. 

Little things like:

  • My bus to school costs 14 baht instead of 13 baht. And I do not know why. Did it change permanently? Is it because I’m riding on a Thursday? Or because I’m riding ten minutes later than I normally do? Was I just taken advantage of? It is the same distance. The same bus. The same commuters. But some days I’m charged 13 baht and some days 14 and sometimes even 15. And I cannot find the pattern, the rhyme or reason. A tiny thing in the big picture, but then…
  • My professor absent-mindedly starts speaking Thai, or shows a slide in Thai, or tells us “since you all took Thai Civil Procedure, I will not spend any time on this part.” But of course I have not taken Thai Civil Procedure. I do not know Thai. I feel like I am missing something critical. Maybe a classmate sees my confused face and leans over to translate. Maybe the professor apologizes and explains to me. Or maybe I am just left in the dark. A little thing, but for a few moments I feel helpless and like I am missing something critical. I feel like a failure for not grasping the subject. 
  • My school cancels class. Again. Or schedules a make-up class with less than 24 hours notice. Suddenly, I’m scrambling to remember what is going on and where I am supposed to be. Chances are I have a class conflict. Then I’m wondering which course I should attend and if someone will grab notes for me in the other one. I feel like a terrible student but I do not know what to do. I cannot be in two places at once. I haven’t been to Fundamental Rights in 5 weeks. I’m a failure. 
  • The convenience store lacks whatever I am looking for. I cannot find the pattern for when they carry certain things and when they don’t. Some days the store overflows with food. Some days the shelves look bare. Some days I can find cake; some days they carry Oreos. But then the next month they do not carry either. Such a weird thing to leave me feeling unstable, but I do feel unstable. I am used to stores running out, but I am not used to stores not quickly replenishing their stock when they do. Or, you know, not ever carrying that thing again. Imagine a Wal Greens where the snack options randomly disappear and reappear every few months and only endless rows of dried seaweed and ramen stayed the same. But you have no explanation for why. It just is.

In the big scheme of things, none of these things matter much. An additional class, an extra baht, one less day with chips. But added together, these little moments of powerlessness add up. I cannot find the pattern. I cannot accomplish the thing. Panic sets in. And even though it is just momentary panic, add enough of them together and I feel a bit like a pin ball machine. 

Then add extreme heat, humidity, millions of other humans, and taxi drivers with a perchance for charging you triple the actual price and I start thinking nostalgically of the misery that was my schedule last semester. 

My friend, Ginnie, sent me a quote from a book she is reading and I love the way it sums up the emotion (albeit of Vietnam, not Thailand specifically): 

“Because life in Vietnam is one body-crushing, must-do, crowd-throbbing, mind-heavy, event after another. It takes all my energy just to react.” Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai

All my energy just to react. Welcome to life abroad in Asia. 


Class Time

I previously blogged about Thai Time and some of my difficulties adapting to a difference culture’s approach to school. As time has passed, I find this comes out more and more  in the guideline-like way the school treats class periods. 

Back in Wisconsin: You sign up for classes for a specific time. Barring anything seriously unforeseen, you know you will always have class on that day and at that time. (I once had a professor teach class while suffering from laryngitis!) If your professor needs to miss a class period, he or she alerts the class (almost always with over 24 hours notice) and reschedules, usually for a Friday or noon period when no one has class. Barring something truly, truly unforeseen, no one has make up classes on the weekend. 

Here in Thailand: You sign up for classes for a specific time. You then check a schedule posted every week to find out when those classes will actually be held. Sometimes they are held for the hours you signed up for. Sometimes they get rescheduled for earlier in the day, or the next day, or even on the weekend. Sometimes the professor tells you ahead of time about the change; most times no one tells you anything and you better hope you paid close attention to the schedule and didn’t miss anything important. Professors might cancel class 10 hours before class begins or even later. Hopefully the school or another student notifies you of the change, but no guarantees. 

On top of this unstable scheduling, I deal with a unique problem since I am enrolled in freshman, junior, and senior level courses. Thus, while the office seems to do a decent job preventing class conflicts for courses generally within the same levels, I often find my classes end up overlapping. I then get the joy of trying to decide if I should skip Law of Information Technology (new professor so probably should make a good first impression?) or Fundamental Rights (our attendance actually matters and she gives quizzes which count towards the grade.)

Tomorrow I have 4 classes scheduled within 2 class periods and I am still not entirely sure which to attend. 

Added to the changing timelines, most courses involve multiple professors. One professor will teach the first two weeks and be in charge of 10% of your grade, another will teach the next two months and give a midterm worth 40%, and a third will teach the final classes with a paper, perhaps, worth 50%. Keeping track of who is teaching when becomes extra confusing when you layer in make up classes and weekend classes and morning classes and guest speakers…

Honestly, law school back home will seem so boring and predictable in comparison. 


Canceled Classes

While back home my formally homeschooled sister celebrates her first snow day, I am celebrating my first…pollution day! The air quality here is so bad they’ve canceled two days of school. 

Besides the fact that I do not need to trek to school tomorrow, this also means that out of my 5 classes, I will have only had 1 this past week. 

I have never attended a school where professors canceled classes so frequently. I do not know if this is a common thing for Thailand or just coincidental. But every one of my classes has been canceled at one point or another. For at least two of them, they’ve been canceled twice! 

I think it feels worse because we only meet once a week. If we met two or three times a week, canceling once or twice wouldn’t make much of a difference. But when everything revolves around one three hour session…

I am sure once the makeup dates start coming I will feel less bewildered and more annoyed to have my schedule thrown off. For now, though, I’m going to enjoy yet another 5 day weekend. (Where I will probably do very little since I’m waiting for my student loans to kick in…an action continent on Wisconsin surviving the Ice Age.) 

 


Thai Time

Especially for the first week after I arrived, Thais and non-Thais alike frequently warned me about “Thai time.” Thais have a much more relaxed understanding of time. If you schedule a meeting at 9, it might start at 9, or it might start at 9:20. It isn’t considered rude to start at 9:20. I also learned that students frequently come and go from class as they please and it also isn’t considered rude. 

I have witnessed this somewhat over the last two weeks, particularly with students walking into class halfway through the lecture, or never bothering to return after a ten minute break. 

Yesterday I was running a bit behind. The clock showed two minutes after 9 and I all but ran into my classroom. I felt very apologetic and embarrassed about arriving late. Up until then, I’d shown up to every event at least 30 minutes early! 

Much to my shock, I discovered only one other student in the classroom! No professor in sight. I double checked that I was in the right room and sat down in some confusion. Ten minutes passed. A few students trickled in. Fifteen minutes. No professor, a few more students. Twenty minutes…twenty-five…by this point, I felt my incredulity growing. No one seemed in the least bit phased by the wait! If this was the United States, we’d all have bailed after 10 minutes…And while I expected students to come whenever, I could not believe the professor would come just whenever! 

Finally, at 9:30, the professor strolled in without an apology and got things started by 9:35. I turned to my companion in amazement. “Doesn’t this class start at 9?”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “All morning classes start at 9:30!”


Classes!

I wrote yesterday’s post while half asleep. You can tell because I forgot to tag it with anything. Today, I am much more alert! But instead of continuing my ramble about the trip over (I promise I will get back to it!), I will tell you about today!

Because after being in Thailand for almost two weeks and attending classes for one of those weeks…I officially registered for classes today

Yes, it took this long. For comparison, I would have registered for classes if I stayed in Wisconsin back in…November? 

I feel a bit more official now that professors know to look for my face. Unfortunately, the class I was really looking forward to (Law of the Sea) got canceled because of lack of interest. I know, right? Who would not want to take Law of the Sea?! We were told that if we got 4 students, then maybe the school would let us continue. Alas, only 3 showed up. So close, so far. 

I am almost afraid to officially list the classes I am enrolled in because I feel like I am missing something. But, barring anything unexpected, I am taking: 

  • Fundamental Rights
  • Natural Resource and Environmental Law for Business 
  • Law on Information Technology 
  • Law on International Business Transactions 
  • International Investment Law

(For those who have been privy to my back and forth debate about taking Constitutional Law, I decided that even the comparative opportunity of learning about the Thai Constitution could not make up for the fact that the sophomore level class fairly bored me to tears. After studying Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes at Oxford, it is hard to take an entry level class about their works.)  

I’m looking forward to exploring these classes!


Why I Make Time For An Internship

“Nerd,” chortles my boss, as I gush about my classes this coming semester. “Who is excited about administrative law?”

He is, for one. His words hold no sting. Administrative law is his passion. Any enthusiasm I show pales in comparison to the years he has poured into crafting laws and writing briefs.

Unlike last January, when I started working for him enthusiastically but wholly ignorant, I now know our cases and the arguments used to support them. Or at least, I think I do. My boss loads me down with easily a thousand pages of new cases and law review articles to read to catch me up to speed. Even with my speed-reading ability, this is going to take a while. But I don’t mind.

I love it. I love the mountain of paperwork and the uncharted arguments. I love overcoming my ignorance. I love the dense sentences that take three or four reads to understand. I love it because when I do understand, a whole new world opens before me. I learn why this topic matters. I learn to care.

I love it because I truly learn, a feeling I do not get from my classes at law school. Perhaps it is the institutional nature of school. Perhaps it is the textbooks with their carefully edited cases. Perhaps it is simply the difference between studying a topic in breadth versus in depth. I do not know.

What I do know is that if a professor tried to give me this much reading, I would howl in despair. My boss does it, and I’m delighted.

That’s why I find the time for an internship, for a chance to get out of the law school. If my world only revolved around school and extra-curricular activities, I think I would go insane. Law school may educate me, but it does not get my blood boiling. Working in the real world does. Knowing what I am doing matters does. Working with people who love their work does. It is a reminder of why I am in law school; a shove to get through the next day, the next week, the next year.

It is a reminder that this is what I get to do when I graduate. This is what makes it all worth it.