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#56 Freedom In The Classroom: Learning To Speak Your Mind

February 20, 2009

56

Anyone who has studied abroad can tell you that there are countless perks of studying abroad, like not having to bust your ass to score because grades are non-transferable, easier courses (depending on whether you traded up/down in your choice of host university), freedom to date exotic, foreign students, being able to explore other sides of your persona on campus and not having to worry about consequences (i.e what people think about you since most of them don’t know you anyway)… Indeed, studying abroad is a fun and rewarding experience, be it physically, spiritually or intellectually.

I know many people don’t really see studying abroad as an opportunity to explore academic pursuits and stretch their intellectual potential. I also know not all students enjoy the benefits of just having to pass the courses taken overseas to earn the credits that count towards graduation. But I know for sure that the desire to travel around a foreign place and party with new-found friends is irresistible, and even the most inspired and diligent student lets loose and goes a little wilder than usual.

Despite so, I try to keep myself grounded and remind myself constantly of my purpose, and vow not to end up like many a drunken exchange student whose unbecoming photos end up on Facebook. (Remember, even though people overseas may not know you or remember what you did, the photos may circulate and end up on FB where people who actually know you WILL see them!) Exploring the host university’s campus and what it has to offer for its own students and visiting ones alike, is one thing that’s very much neglected, especially in the face of all the great fun and adventures that await you.

Many exchange students take advantage of the fact that since they are overseas, nobody knows them, and they can do anything they want…in the negative sense of course, like skipping out on one too many classes, propping legs up over chairs in lectures, pigging out and talking on the cellphone in class…things they usually wouldn’t do back home because they wouldn’t want to piss a professor they are going to face for the next couple of semesters off. But since they are only going to be overseas for one semester, it doesn’t matter if the prof is mad…as long as they pass the course.

Why not exercise your privilege of being the ‘foreign student’, but reverse your mindset? Take advantage of your anonymity and say what you want! I am beginning to relish the fact that most people in class don’t know me and I probably won’t see my fellow lecture mates ever again, to do something that I would cringe to do back home — Ask questions and contribute in lecture.

It is definitely daunting and takes a lot of guts for one to shoot your hand up when the professor asks “Are there any questions?” because everyone is listening (or so you’d like to think) and you’d need to speak up and be succinct and articulate. You’re afraid that they would think that your question is silly, and that the professor would furrow his brow at you with the whole how-dare-you-ask-me-that expression. And as much as many websites and books giving advice to college kids encourage us to “ask questions! contribute in class! gain your participation points!”, you find yourself clamming up, your heart beating fast as you try to string the sentence up in your head…but you chicken out and before you know it, the moment has passed.

Since no-one knows me here, I’ve been using that to my advantage, and tried contributing in class. At first, it feels really odd to be yelling out answers to the professor — you can tell they love it, if not the class is just dead — but after a while, I realise it’s not as odd as I thought. In fact, once you start, other students began picking up the pace and started to contribute too, creating a lively discussion in the midst of a lecture that would otherwise be just a monologue. It is a refreshing experience, and yes it may be kind of annoying — thus the existence of the whole “Keep Your Fucking Hand Down in Lecture and Shut Up. No One Cares” Facebook group.

Why must we be afraid of contributing in class? We are all in college to learn, and there is no better way than making your voice heard and clarifying your doubts on the spot. Sure, I’m being a hypocrite by being a member of that Facebook group (which seemed pretty offensive to me now as I look at it), but I know better now. It is okay to raise your hand, to raise your point. You should care (what do you mean ‘no one cares’), and your professor definitely appreciates the fact that you are thinking about what he/she is saying and that you are critically analysing the issues at hand. Besides, you have some participation points to earn anyway. And it’s not high school anymore, you don’t have to worry about what others think, or the labels they tag on you, as long as you’re confident of what you say in class (and not make snide, sarcastic remarks, of course). At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own education. Be brave and speak your mind.

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