Bologna, Italy – first classes!

So I am now into week two of my formal, for-real classes at the beautiful University of Bologna. I still arrive on time for them, even though now I’ve come to realise that nobody else will ever, ever show up until at least twenty minutes after the class is scheduled to start. I’ve just learned now to bring a book to read while I wait for the others.

The first class was really quite horrible. I barely understood a word. My kind professor kept asking me whether I had any questions. I did, but I was so sure I wouldn’t understand his answers that I said I was fine. I think I’m going to take advantage of his office hours on Thursday and ask him exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I know that I have to give a presentation in two weeks, and I know that I have to take an exam. But apparently our exam material is self-selected… I’m not really sure about all this. I’m just praying that he takes pity on the only non-graduate student in his class who just happens not to know Italian really well and grades my exam easily. Oh, note to future students of the University of Bologna: one advantage, I believe, in the exam system here is that it is not anonymous. There’s room for the professors to give grace to you for linguistic barriers. Unless you have a professor who doesn’t believe in grace… I hope mine do!

However, having just attended my FIFTH lecture, I can safely say that I followed almost all of it. Near the end of the two hours, I started getting a little bit mentally weary and decided not to pay as much attention. But I think it helped that I’ve been trying to read the reading list for the course, so I’m more familiar with the technical vocabulary used in the classes. It’s a really small class – about seven students. My other course this semester starts tomorrow – that should be larger and hopefully less difficult since it’s not a postgraduate level course!

In lecture today, though, I was a little bit embarrassed. I think my professor was trying to make me feel like I was able to contribute, so he was discussing the use of the ‘schwa’ in assimilatory processes in the historical development and change of the ancient Greek language (do you see why I can’t understand these lectures??), and he asked me to say the article in English. I assumed my inquisitive look that I’ve perfected since coming to Italy and being too lazy to ask constantly “What? I don’t understand?”, and I said in my American accent, “Article”. He tried again. ‘No, dicci in Inglese che cosé l’articolo.’ And I… “um, we pronounce that IPA symbol you’ve written on the board as ‘schwa’?” And then he looked at me and said in a very good English accent, ‘THE’. It dawned on me, then, that I, a linguistics students, ought to know that the English article is ‘the’. But it is a very flustering experience to be asked a question unexpectedly in front of a group of people in a language you don’t know. So, thank you, professor, for asking me a very simple question to make me feel less incompetent. I think you overestimated my ability to do well in your course. Also, this same professor asked me yesterday whether I could see what he had written on the board. For some reason I was convinced that he meant ‘see’ in some English sense, like ‘You see? You understand?’, so I said ‘no’. I am sitting in the seat closest to the board. He asks whether I have glasses. I say no, thinking this is a very strange question. Then he asks whether I have contacts, and again, I don’t. Then he asks again, ‘So you can see the board?’ And it dawns on me that, yes, I can, in fact, see the board. It was like a moment of enlightenment – I can see. Maybe he’ll decide that I’m really, really unintelligent but still think highly of me for attending every lecture and so he won’t fail me when it comes time to do the examination. I hope so.

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