I am more than halfway through with my time here in Botswana. I figured you might be curious about what classes are like here.
Although I am on a study abroad trip, I have to admit there hasn’t been a whole lot of studying going on. My UB classes are not at all rigorous. We don’t have readings or assignments every week like we do in the U.S. It is a completely different teaching style. The amount of material we have covered in most of my courses so far would’ve been covered in half the time at home. Professors not only talk ridiculously slowly, as do most Batswana, but they are redundant.
Class participation is dismal. There are probably a lot of factors feeding into lack of class participation and discussion, but I believe one of the big reasons is because when students in public primary (elementary) schools get answers wrong or act up at all, teachers beat them. They often whip them with whips meant for horses. Also, the whole government paying students to attend school thing creates some apathy in many students.
The Media in Botswana
Hours a week: 2
Class size: 60 - 70
Professor: She asks me at least twice every class period how something that she’s lecturing about works in the U.S. I am the only American, let alone international student in the class, so I preface my answers to her questions with something to the effect of, “Well, I’m only one person from the U.S., so my view of this is different from others, but…”
Why I’m taking it: I wanted to be able to make my own inferences about the differences between media in the U.S. and media in Botswana and how the media and culture and society interact here. Access to a TV and radio would’ve helped with that.
Class organization: The professor lectures for the 1st hour of class. Her lectures lead me to believe that she does not come to class prepared because she talks about whatever she wants in a very unorganized way. Then assigned groups present on various topics, such as if Btv (Botswana’s only [government-owned] news station) accurately represents Botswana and serve Batswana well. Group presentations are supposed to take the entire 2nd hour. Groups usually last about a ½ hour, probably because they did the research the night before. And by ‘research,’ I mean print something off of Wikipedia only to read straight from it in class. The professor then criticizes them and takes over and lectures on what the group’s topic.
Social Structures of Southern African Societies
Hours a week: originally, 3, but the professor decided to take it down a notch and make it 2. The class was MWF 3 – 4. It is always pretty hot here since it's Africa and all, but it is exceptionally hot in the afternoon. So halfway through the semester the professor took it upon himself to change the class time and location. Because all 70 of us did not have the same schedule (go figure), he had to split us up into two groups. Now he teaches two 2-hour sections of the same course.
Class size: When we were one class, there were 70ish. I still can’t tell how many are in my new section. Only 12 showed up the 1st time we had class at the new time this Monday.
So far: I can’t say I’ve learned much. One week, we watched a National Geographic documentary all three days of class.
What keeps me going: I am the only international student in this class, too. So from day one, I talked to the other students. Now I am good friends with six other students in this class, especially one student, Tendani. She is the outgoing president of a club that she encouraged me to join (more about that later).
What’s weird: The professor writes the same things on the board and says the same things every class. I could probably give The Lecture at this point. We have done two group projects so far. For both group projects I worked with the same group of students, but we did not work as a group at all. Tendani did the entirety of both projects and presented the work to the class both times. She says she does it because she worries. I assume she means worries about her grades and doesn’t want anyone to have any influence on her grades except herself. But I did make it clear that I am willing to help her with these group projects.
Ee, ke itse Setswana.
(Yes, I know Setswana.)
CIEE Setswana / Language & Culture Practicum
What we do: Scavenger hunt, 4 5-page papers, semester-long 2-person project, cultural excursions, homestay* …and learn Setswana
Gender Issues in African Literature
Books: The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta, Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, Nehanda by Yvonne Vera, and Song of Lawino-Song of Ocol by Okot B'Bitek
The class is centered on the theme of motherhood and fatherhood within the context of gender roles in African societies. The books are from all different African countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and Namibia
Favorite class because: I am the only international student in this class but it's a completely different dynamic than the rest of the classes. It is a small, intimate class where discussion flows freely. I have learned the most from this class.
African Oral Narratives
What’s weird: The students do not speak up when called upon to answer a question. I am the only international student in this class. I have spoken up and always get the same reaction: stares, mumbles, laughter. I’ll keep talking in class though. Sometimes it prompts other people to talk. I just can’t stand the silence anymore. It’s a 3rd year level class. Discussions shouldn’t be like pulling teeth.
Why I'm taking it: Oral narratives are an integral part of African culture and reading and learning about these narratives can help me better understand how the themes portrayed in these narratives are still played out today in culture and society.
Just because the courses aren’t all that challenging compared to what I am used to back home does not mean that I am not learning and growing as an individual. Simply living here for as long as I am and being immersed in a completely different culture than my own has taught me so much.