Posts Tagged ‘umw’

Beginning Semester (1/2)

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

At first beginning as a stream of conscious writing for tonight, I scrapped what little I rambled and considered, in a list, what I really wanted to say. I happened to steal that method from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in order to break whatever I want to say down to a simple level, a welcome to a new semester and a series of questions about projects and moving forward. Today at the University of Mary Washington we had our first day of classes, a rather stressful and hectic time for both students and professors. Unfortunately, this has been the worse (or at least roughest) start I have yet to encounter since starting here in Fall of 2007. As a history major, it has been next to impossible to find classes that will move me closer to completing my degree in a timely fashion. I did at least sit in on many other classes that I might not otherwise have seen had I settled all of my classes. I cannot blame anyone for the frustrations I am experiencing, we have an increasingly large number of history majors as compared to our current staff of history professors, who are already overworked as it is. Despite a number of setbacks, I am following a recommendation from one professor to keep trying for what I want, which will of course be worth all of the trouble and headaches.

I’ve already hit the main issues with this semester, overfilled classes and no wiggle room for students. There is no need to rehash any other issues, because matters such as being overworked or overwhelmed really don’t start on day 1, much more of a day 2 problem. It’s safe to say that this semester, from an administrative standpoint has already been painful.

But rather than dwell on an issue that I have no control over, I would rather like to focus on more interesting questions, namely how to schedule my side work and projects, absorb materials and gain understanding of foundational skills. I list side work, because I have opted to take less than a full load of credits to pursue my own interests that the school is not able to accommodate at this time.

My workload this semester falls into the category of coursework, stand-alone language training and club work. The main focus of course should be the actual coursework for the semester, yet it is hard for me to set aside my language training for normal classes. As I have been reading through other language blogs, I am no longer convinced of language being akin to riding a bike. Especially in the case of Chinese, use it or lose it. Yet I have noticed, as it is already nearing quarter past eleven, the day only has so many hours. Unlike last year, I am no longer actively leading clubs, and instead use that time to make clubs a relating hobby or find a way, like with the radio station, to link it to my language studies.

Thinking Goals

Over the summer, I read Adler Mortimer’s How to Read a Book. I am still in the process of self-training but feel I have come a long way in understanding how to further develop reading skills. The author makes an interesting observation in the differences between reading to absorb information and reading for the explicit purpose of enhancing knowledge. Now according to him, and I find his list quite narrow, very few books honestly qualify for the reading to enrich understanding. Yet the distinctions set forth in the book caused me to realize I have set the bar far too low for my classes. It seems as if the class is a place to finish the work and call it a day without the material really grasping your mind or your heart.

With that in mind, I want to truly engage material in a way that I just haven’t done prior to this semester. Honestly, dig into the materials and follow what I am reading closely. This of course is a well-recommended goal but would be easily dropped at the first sign of overloaded work in the semester. You have to back it up with something a little more solid. So why not say keep an active reading journal and throw your thoughts online. If I have to write a paper on the material I am reading anyway, why not just start writing now on every bit I read. Perhaps take a bit of time and set up a nice form for articles, who is the person, what are the themes of his/her argument, how is the argument crafted? and also write out a thumbnail sketch of the article with some reflections. It sounds like an overall good, although time consuming plan. Yet it doesn’t have to be, a few paragraphs would suffice. Goal number 1 start writing out reading journal more thoroughly.

Goal 2: Dealing with side projects

I tend to be a lover of all the things that you want to do but is not quite related to your main line of work. I think that working on the projects you really love is far more beneficial and perhaps even a great break from the mundane work of a class that you are unfortunately stuck taking. For me my main side work involves continuing Chinese language studies. This unfortunately is a rather big and not so easy to pin down. Good language study takes up more time than most people would expect, but in terms of a big picture I need excellent Chinese for potential grad school, and with competition supposedly being more fierce due to bad economy, I need to be at the top of my game which means great language skills and a solid handle on proper academic writing. In my mind the coursework itself will take care of the latter. It is up to me, however, to formulate a plan to handle my Chinese. Of course that needs to be further broken down to define what sort of training is appropriate and how to approach it. Where do I find time and people to work with on my material? Frankly, I need to man up and accept that as a sideproject my training will be considered “treading water” unless I find some other method to make the training more intensive. I just won’t see the level of progress that I managed in Harbin.

The side project gets more complicated if there is more than one, yet I am trying to make projects either similar in theme or somehow weave together so I am working on two things at once. Case in point, I am putting together a radio show for the campus that is focus on Chinese music, podcasts, language and culture. It fits with everything else I am doing so why not? How can you draw your experiences together and not kill yourself with lack of sleep? This is always the big question, how do I get sleep?

A Break

This subject can be continued on for quite a while, but for now it is good to leave it here and practice the art of patience. I can always write more tomorrow.