Monday, February 6, 2012

Cultural differences

At UF most of my friends seemed to have wanted to get through our classes unnoticed. Never bringing attention to themselves, sitting in the back row as if they could only be remembered for something bad. Our exams were always coded and graded anonymously and in a curve as we were told- for our protection and fairness as if the teacher had nothing better to do than reminisce all the negatives, seek out the slackers and mark the papers down. Every exam was written of course and subject to a lot of safety procedures. It seemed to me that people here found comfort in anonymity. My experiences in Poland were exactly opposite. We wanted to stick out, we wanted to be noticed. Most exams were oral anyway, but even for those that were planned as written, people did whatever they could to change that. Health notes, permits from the Dean, participation in the student Senate that required a more flexible schedule or approaching a lecturer directly. As soon as he made an entry in your grade book you were set! Oral exam were your chance to shine, your one shot to impress and to explain yourself or correct something if you see from the examiner's face that you made a mistake. And the often unfounded belief that they will not flunk you if they see your droopy eyes and how you shake before them. Nothing stains more than ink, once you write it, it's done. What is fairness anyway? Is it fairer to take a test out of context, grade it, artificially setting a common denominator from here to here, without understanding their perspective, what made them give that answer, without picking their brain to see how they think? Is it fairer to not consider your work and involvement, your passion for the topic? It's a different mentality. And a different approach to professor- student relations and the curriculum.

At UF the teacher always calls the student by his first name, even if he happens to be 30 years younger. At Warsaw University we were always addressed Mr/Ms, or by any title we happened to have, and we offered the same. We are after all, all adults. I was shocked when I saw people wearing flip flops, sunglasses, gym shirts and hats to class. I've even seen people kicking their flip flops off in the middle of a lecture and stretching their legs from under the desk. Not that we would always wear suits in Warsaw but we dressed respectably if not conservatively. And we would always check our coats at the door. Out of respect for the institution that has been here for hundreds of years and the lecturer. When you want to go to a theatre or  an opera or church, you want to look nice, right? I guess for me dressing appropriately dates back to high school in Poland, when I wasn't even aware of any particular dress code but you knew certain colors, hair ideas, items of clothing or types of make up  for girls just felt wrong. Here I've seen people drink, have a snack, open a can while lecturer was talking. That's what breaks are for. It always felt to me that it's more, "I'm paying and I expect service" rather than having an educational experience that is designed to broaden your horizons.

  Back home curriculum was geared towards individual study. There was no time to cover most material anyway, but you needed to know everything from that area come exam time, even if the law changed the night before. As a trade off, for most classes we were not required to be present (they were mostly there to help us) and the main lectures were entirely optional. In America we were given daily assignments, read from here to here and if we didn't get there it wouldn't be on the exam. In Poland people got jobs at law firms as soon as they could find one, while in Florida we were prohibited from working that first year. I always found it strange how you can be admitted to law practice in Florida without taking a single practical course [except for one semester of Appellate Advocacy your first year] . How can they evaluate your abilities, your fitness for being an attorney if they never see you, they never see you speak, present, think on your feet, argue. Yes, there is some practical element in the essay form, but you  never really get to show how your individual traits and predispositions tie into the process. In Poland law school is just a first step to years of practical training. Yes, ths part could be more open to applicants, but I think the idea is valid. Americans love their tests. You take a two day test and boom, you're an attorney. I just find it odd, how you can take the person out of a very person driven profession. All our skills, all our experiences, how we think and what we do influence how fit we are for this. Does it matter how you're trained for the profession? I do believe that in Warsaw we were made to be resourceful and independent. And by virtue of being accepted to the program we knew quite a bit about history, politics and culture. I think it makes you a well round person and teaches humility, something many American lawyers could use.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks you for this.

    Given your experiences, what are your impressions of how cultural differences have a bearing within Conductive Education? What,for example are the relevant cultural differences between Poland and Hungary?

    And how have you seen such differences affecting everybody involved, parents,children, conductors and administrators, in the United States?

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