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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Setbacks, love, and the dangers of Valentine's Day Flowers

Macbooks are nice things. So are Valentine's Day flowers in water-filled vases. Tip one over onto the other, however, and all of a sudden you're sitting hunched over at a library computer doing your homework instead of sitting in comfort on your couch doing homework.

So, while we figure out how to go about replacing/not replacing my once-opulent computing machine (alas, how even the greatest fall and are laid in the dust!), I have the opportunity to re-assess my life and how I deal with what comes into it.

At the moment, I am frustrated with parts of it (life), so I am going to complain. I don't do this very often. It's going to feel good.

I'm not really that into the two classes that are taking the majority of my time - organic chemistry and this field studies class. I love the subjects - organic chemistry really is interesting, and I am psyched out of my mind (see the quote at the top of the page for more info)  for the field study and living in Bylakuppe - but the classes themselves are borderline horrendous. The difficulty of organic chemistry is really my fault; I think if I invested more time in it everything would straighten out. I just got the first test back, and I didn't fail (B-,C+ depending on the curve) but anything less than a B might as well be failing for all the good it will do me getting into medical school.

The field studies class seems like so much busy-work mixed with a few wonderful and eye-opening assignments. Really, three annotated sources a week? How about reducing it to two and letting the students find things that are actually useful and have time to process them, instead of the standard method of scrambling-last-minute-for-something-at-least-tangentially-related used by most of the students (I've asked others in the class, and the response has been fairly universal). I dig the whole ambiguous grading scale, and I believe wholeheartedly that grades aren't the most important (or even the fifth most important) part of a class, but kids whose college is paid for by their GPAs and whose med/dental/law/other grad school careers depend in a large way on knowing at every step of the way what their grade is would benefit from at least a little more indication of what numbers they can expect. In other words, it's not that the grade matters as far as the class is concerned, and, for me, learning the material is truly my core concern, but the grade matters deeply as far as the rest of life is concerned. Blame the system - c'est la vie, non?  For me, as well as for many other students I know whose grades are the only things allowing them to pay for school, knowing where I stand is comforting, and therefore enabling. For example, I just got a less than stellar grade on an important test, but I'm not stressed out about it - I know how much work I put in to get that grade, and now I have an idea of how much work I need to put in to get the grade I want next time. Even if the task is daunting, at least I understand it and can face it.

Sometimes I consider dropping the field studies class and just going it on my own - I have the plane tickets and the visa, and nobody is stopping me from using them. I want the experience in Bylakuppe, and the credits really don't matter that much to me (remember how I told you the material is more important than the grade?). I have wonderful mentors that would work with me whether or not I'm part of the program, and I can do the reading and research on my own. I'm good at that kind of thing, and motivated to do it. The only real thing that is holding me back from going that route is that I would drop below the number of credits I need to keep tuition free (I'm at 15 right now,  dropping IAS 360R would bring it down to 12, and the full-tuition academic merit scholarship requires 14) and I would be in $2200 of debt. Speaking of money worries, the costs listed on the Kennedy Center website have serious problems - $100-300 for vaccinations? Try $100-300 per shot, times 5+ (unless you served a mission in Cambodia or the like and already got your fair share of stabbings).

For the folks in the program who read this, please know this: the field studies program is wonderful overall, and enables kids to go crazy places and do crazy things that will hopefully have crazy good effects on the rest of their crazy lives. It is very ambitious, well researched and has some great theoretical underpinnings, and for certain students may well be perfectly designed. But for a course that is supposed to be catered to the needs of a wide variety of students with an even wider variety of disciplines, it is lacking, or is perhaps rather too ambitious in certain directions. I commiserate with how difficult it must be to design a course when such incredible variegation is the norm, and trying to prepare a classroom of these students to take part in legitimate ethnographic research in four months with the necessary assumption that none of the students know anything about it beforehand must be hard, to say the least. I can also understand the problems of fitting a class with 5 credits worth of information into 3 credit hours - anatomy has the same problem (the teachers and TAs I talked to recommended that the department make it into a 5 credit lab class, for all the work and time it takes). Departments are under pressures and requirements that prevent the splitting of classes or increasing credit hours to reflect the true difficulty and time requirements, and again it is a result of a good but flawed system.

Another area of difficulty is the plight of spouses. It is understandable that the Kennedy Center require some kind of coursework from the spouses of full participants, but it is regrettable and frustrating that there isn't more upfront information as to what that entails. When Lori had meetings, she was asked if she might have room in her schedule to take the field study class, implying that it was not a requirement or that the course load might at least be severely attenuated. This is not the case. It was also implied that the in-field work would or could be slight, just enough to stay engaged, depending on preference. This is also not the case. It seems that there is very little flexibility in what is presented as a flexible program. For example, Lori was planning from the beginning to use the trip as an opportunity to serve full time - 9 to 5, ideally -  in order to meet the requirements for service hours set forth by medical and physician's assistant schools. This would have kept her busy and happy without the addition of continually writing and blogging about it - I know people who have done this kind of thing (full-time service abroad), and know of many more; it's a time-honored method of preparing for medical service - and would be a valuable addition to her overall college experience and directly contribute to graduate education, whereas the field studies credits apply toward nothing at all and cannot even be tweaked to apply because of the point Lori is at in her education. Why assume laziness or incapability of spouses and force an only marginally useful remedy? I really want to know the stories of the people that the Kennedy Center made its rules in response to (when I was on my mission, I often joked with my companions that the General Authorities have a special edition of the Missionary Handbook ["White Handbook"] with names inserted after the rules, detailing who in the heck it was that did something stupid enough to force the inclusion of some of the more inane or obvious rules. Sometimes the rules were like putting "Warning: Do Not Swallow" on the bottom of a sledgehammer.). Were any of the field study spouses pre-med students who just needed to do service and figured that the field studies of their spouses would be a great time to accomplish it? The last thing, and this is what I really don't understand, is the method the Kennedy Center would use for prohibiting a spouse from just going on the trip if they so chose. As I said before, if you have a plane ticket and a visa, then who can stop you? The only solution I can think of is then dropping support for the spouse who is doing the field study, not allowing them to take the credits they have contracted, withdrawing insurance, etc. If that is the case, it just seems mean, and/or restricting in a way not in line with the decision made at that big council we all took part in a few thousand/million/billion years ago. I'm all for letting people make their own bad decisions, especially if the worst outcome is, "Well, that was a depressing and frustrating four months in [insert country here]. I'm not doing that again." In the case of my wife, she is still a BYU student and required to abide by the Honor Code, whether or not she is taking credits at the time, so getting into trouble and ruining relations with the host country wouldn't be the case either. What terrible things happened in the yesteryear that forced the hand of the Kennedy Center in this regard? I would love to know.

That's enough complaining for now, and it did feel good to get that all off my chest. My apologies to any whose feelbads were hurt (I love that phrase, Dr. G.), if any, but I think that transparency is best and that those in charge of any organization should know the feelings of the people they serve. I know, for a fact, that I am not the only person in the program who has these feelings, though I will not include the names of the others out of respect for privacy.

And now, on to something happier: Love.

EDIT: I realized how long this post was getting, and I split it into two posts. If you're reading from the top down, I apologize for the reverse ordering.

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