In theory, shopping week is a brilliant idea: try out as many courses as you like before committing to them. In practise, the process is somewhat more stressful. The start of September involved non-stop running around between buildings, departments and campuses in hope of finding the golden course. The unintended consequences of infinite choice are often constant feelings of doubt. Am I making the right choice? Is there a course out there that I’ve missed? Should I keep shopping forever? (As I’ve learnt, the answer is no! Just choose something and get on with it.)
Yet the commercial extravaganza went on; testing out courses by day and searching through the course catalogue to plan the next day by night. It is also quite a strange week for the professors. They have to ‘sell’ their courses to students who waltz in and out of lectures as they please, prepared to judge the professor’s every move.
To complicate matters further, each school followed its own schedule. Monday 4th September was Labor Day, a bank holiday. To avoid missing Monday lectures, the Kennedy School of Public Policy swapped Monday and Friday. Meanwhile, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences held all Monday classes on Wednesday. Some schools chose not to swap any days. In other words, I was following several schedules simultaneously, in which multiple days of the week had been swapped.
When we were happy with our course selections, as I now am, we had to add them to our ‘Crimson Cart’. It was exactly like an online check out, complete with a shopping trolley logo and the congratulatory message, ‘you have successfully added these courses to your cart’. Welcome to America!
My courses are as follows: The Energy-Climate Challenge, which is taught by Professor John Holdren, the scientist who was the Chief Scientific Advisor to Obama for eight years; Philosophy of Inequality, which has been interesting, thought provoking and challenging so far; Behavioural Economics and Public Policy, which reveals fascinating aspects of human decision-making; Political Economics, in which I am still figuring out what we are doing…
Inevitably, they are working us hard. There are readings for every class and some professors like to test our understanding of the readings, either through a quiz or direct questions to anyone in the room, which is even more frightening. Falling asleep in lectures is not an option, as ‘class participation’ makes up a significant portion of the overall grade in each course. This means that every class features a sea of raised hands and people constantly ready to vocalise every thought that comes to mind, even at 8:45am. Coming from an environment in which raising your hand in lectures was absolutely out of the question, I have not yet adjusted to this chatty and interactive lecture vibe. However, on the whole things are engaging, stimulating and extremely fast-paced.
‘Do people ever have fun?’, I hear you ask. The answer is: sometimes. I have been to several funky house parties, which closely resembled those that feature in American films. The latest was hosted by ‘the Physicists’ and the rule seemed to be plus eight, rather than plus one. The majority of people at the party, me included, had no idea who the hosts were. There were approximately 150 people in this house, spread out through every room, the kitchen and an extensive basement, in which music blasted and fairy lights lit the dance floor. Just before 2am, five giant police cars showed up at the house, blocked the roads and waited until we all left. Some students hung around to film this rather entertaining situation, happy to be living the American dream.
Spot the Difference
- University = school (skoo-el). Lectures = classes (claaasses). ‘Guess I’ll catch you in claaass.’ I was under the impression that we left school a while ago but here we are again, forever learning.
- The post boxes are not royal red but dark blue and quite unremarkable. In fact, my greatest guilt is that early on, I threw an apple core into a post box, totally convinced that it was a bin (i.e. trash can). I will continue to search for redemption.
- They have an incredibly complicated tax system. The price tag that you see in shops and cafés is generally not what you will pay at the till, but sometimes it is. Prepare to be surprised at every purchase!