Imagine studying a foreign language diligently for a year and realizing that you can finance the remainder of your graduate education if you continue to do so by receiving an honor called the Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship, popularly referred to as the “FLAS.” The FLAS asks that students take one not so commonly studied language course and one area studies course (history, religion, culture, etc.) to satisfy its requirements and in turn the U.S. Department of Education awards students the cost of tuition, the price of all course fees and a stipend. Imagine trusting for about 5 months that this is the primary way you will pay for your studies. And then imagine that not happening… yet… when you expected it to. If you’ve successfully imagined this scenario, then you will know the situation that I’m in. It’s not just me and Brazilian Portuguese. It’s every student—across the nation—who took the same or similar steps that I did. Bureaucratic delays have cast uncertainty upon the proverbial waters and students and administration alike across campus scramble to not remedy, to not rectify, but to react. Despite said delays, the rent is still due (smiley face), students gotta eat and bills gotta be paid. By the end of September, we will definitively know what will become of the FLAS but at this point, students of Portuguese and other foreign languages must determine whether to walk away from the award entirely, from whom to request loans and how to manage their course schedules in enrolling for studies that may ultimately count a electives and detract from degree progress. Am I complaining? I’m not. I’m explicating. Were it not for my faith, my supportive department and the maturity my ears, evinced by the ever-increasing number of white hairs on my head, I might be a bit more uncomfortable. But one learns with age that stress isn’t really so productive. And I don’t need an ulcer. Wanna know what else I tackled this week? Well, I will tell you.
My department has two modes of completing degree requirements: one is with traditional on-campus courses that meet face-to-face; the second is an online program called LEEP. More and more courses, however, are being offered through LEEP and fewer and fewer in-person. I won’t debate the pros and cons here. I’ll simply report my experience. Monday evening I had my first LEEP meeting. A friend, Kate R., worked hard to help me to download the right software a week in advance. Berenice V. and Franklin K. worked at least half an hour to help me to establish a reliable internet connection before the course began. Then “class” began. I entered a virtual room where I heard the professor’s voice and none of my peers’ voices. I saw no faces and no avatars. And chat was relegated to a box in the lower left-hand side of the screen in a window perhaps not more than two inches in height or in width. To put it honestly, not only did I feel constrained, I immediately recognized how the collegial, warm and human aspects of the “interaction” were lost. The professor didn’t ask us to speak to each other or about ourselves. And I couldn’t tell ‘who’ my classmates were. Then a storm started outside. In this part of Illinois, when it decides to rain, it pours. The intervals and frequently short, but the sheer amount of water is impressive. The rain seemed to impact internet connectivity because I was kicked out of the virtual room at least twice. It was unfortunate and uncomfortable and in that moment I knew that if these were the problems I would encounter for the next 14 weeks with all of my three LEEP courses, things weren’t looking so good. I made the necessary changes. Don’t ask what they were.
This week I also started my new job as a graduate assistant in the Main Library. The librarians and my co-workers have been extremely supportive in directing, instructing, narrating steps and supervising. A whole new series of discussions has been raised in my life: If a patron needs 40 minutes of help and not 5, do I leave the Main Desk to help him? If a patron invites you out to lunch to thank you for your diligent work, do you go? If you start to respond to a virtual reference question at the Main Desk, but you need to move to the Virtual Reference desk, according to your schedule, what do you do with the conversation you’ve initiated? While training was intensive and especially demanding, I have to say also that the team has demonstrated a camaraderie and sisterhood that is remarkable and appreciated.
I could tell you about…
...the conversation(s) I’ve been having in which people who believe in my intellect insist that I try pursuing a Ph.D. anew.
...singing with the Black Chorus.
...designing an independent study around the works of Luís Fernando Veríssimo.
...the success of Kate McD’s hybrid course.
...being turned down for an attractive job because I have 10 hours to give and not 20.
...how my hair is growing.
...the Korean food I tried last evening in Champaign.
But sometimes I just don’t have the energy.
It’s good to have support/so many supportive people in my life. If I’m vague when you ask me “How are you? How’s it going? What’s up?,” it has nothing to do with you. I have… a lot going on.
Here I need to give shout-outs to Caitlin C., Caitlin A.H., Wendy G., Beth W., Cindy I., always Alonso A., Amani A, Kate McD and Linda S. And Ruby Bridges who helps me to contextualize everything. (smile) Thank you for being my rocks this week. A last addendum… in form of a confession: I drank three beverages high in sugar this week and I will now repent.