Mundane matters like working (teaching and writing) have been keeping me busy lately. The weather turned cold for several days. Maybe if you’ve been watching the French Open (tennis tournament) you’ve seen people shivering and bundled up there. It’s not quite as cold here, but it is uncharacteristically cold for this time of year. Today it’s very clear, early this morning at least. So from my apartment I have a clear view of the sea and land across it, including Krk Island. The sky is colorful as well, with a kind of glow of light and a bit of color from a sunrise over the land across the water. The sun glows through between the bluish looking land and clouds.
Although I still have almost 6 weeks left here, it feels like things are winding down and I’m turning my thoughts toward leaving in little ways (like getting rid of books). I’m having a party today for everyone in my department (and the neighbors and others I know here). I’m making a big pot of chili, cornbread, rice and desserts. So I’m thinking of giving people party favors of some of the gifts and books I brought along from the States. I’ve spent much of the week cleaning.
Recently I seem to have lost most of my television channels. I think they were supposed to be blocked (on satellite) all along, but for some reason I was getting them. But now they are truly blocked as they were supposed to be. Most of the French channels are gone, and some of the very few English channels that I ever got. So the only channel I really get now (that’s useful and understandable) is BBC World, a fine channel, but not really enough. Luckily Croatian TV, which I also get (6 channels)—not on Satellite—often plays shows in English. But I miss all my French channels and BBC Prime. I was getting pretty good at French. In Zadar I went and saw The Da Vinci Code (movie). One frustrating thing about watching that here was that they have characters speaking in other languages throughout the film, which are translated in subtitles. But of course here the subtitles are in Croatian, so that did me no good. But one of most spoken foreign languages in the film was French. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was taking in the French almost as easily as the English in the film. Sometimes I even had moments where I was kind of startled to realize that they weren’t speaking English.
Classes are winding down and then “exams,” which are a huge deal here, take place. Recently my students told me that they have as many as 17 or 20 classes a semester. And then at the end of the year (now) they are supposed to take exams for all of them. These are comprehensive written AND oral exams that can be quite difficult to pass. They said that most people only take a few exams during the year when they took the class. Then they have all the following year to take the previous years exams. And they get to take each exam three times (it’s a right). So sometimes they are so backed up with exams from the previous year that they can hardly get through their classes for the current year. It seems like a crazy system. How can anyone do well at 17 classes at once at this level? Partly they have so many classes because they have two majors. English is only one major, then they all have a second major, either education or psychology or philosophy or Croatian, or whatever. Anyway, it was clear as I spoke to one group of students the other night how frustrated they all are by the system. They were asking me how it works in the States. I think the “Bologna Process,” which all of Europe is switching too, is partly an attempt to alleviate these kinds of overloads and over-emphases on exams. In the new system (just in its first year here), students have fewer classes and are supposed to have continual assessment. But of course switching to a new system after so long takes a while. And many professors who have only known the old system may not really change much in their classes or teaching styles. So whether the new system will really be implemented and how successfully remains to be seen.