Daigaku Z: Challenge Mode

Daigaku Z is a weekly column about what it’s really like to study the Japanese language and culture at a major university. Z is enrolled as a student at the University of Pittsburgh after an over ten-year career in the information technology industry, and is pursuing a second degree with the aims of being a translator. This is the story of that degree.

For the record, we holed up in a different part of the building that didn’t have any offices or classrooms nearby in order to continue our loud and sometimes wildly off-topic practice of the language. You know, in case you were wondering. But that was last week, and this coming week are our midterm exams. And I think we’re all either very confident, or extremely scared. I happen to be both.

One of the wonders of the modern age of education is the existence of almost real-time feedback on how the students are doing in their classes. This was previously handled by getting grades back, and the tell-tale mark of the dreaded red pen was always akin to a scarlet letter if it read anything less than “90”. For recitation classes, where there is no paper to grade, this was always tricky because you’d be relatively in the dark until after a milestone examination– such as the midterms.

Now, however, if we want to see how we’re doing in our recitation classes, all we need to do is log on to the Blackboard site and look at the numbers. It’s somewhat surreal to see that fluctuating line of success and failure– more often success on my part, if I may be permitted to brag just a little– but it’s no less valuable, as I can realize exactly what parts of the language I had trouble with and what parts I get without too much need to review.

So when the format of the midterms was released this past week, I started to panic. There was very little guidance as to what we’d be dealing with, just a general description of how the “interviews” were to be conducted. There were also two specific remarks that had me worried: first, the interview would be covering “everything we’d learned” up to that point, and secondly, it carried an admonishment to “not use terms you haven’t yet learned”. This seeming contradiction was very worrying to me.

Obviously, the intent was to say that the midterms would be restricted solely to the content of the first four chapters of the book. If it had been phrased that way, I probably would have felt a lot more confident upon first reading it. But the way that it was set up, combined with the knowledge of the ups-and-downs of my progress so far, shook me sufficiently that I kinda shut down my brain until Saturday. Which, again, would have been great if not for the fact that we got the specifications on Thursday and I still needed to get through Friday’s recitation.

Do I have real doubts about the ability to get through the midterms with the same amount of success that I’ve shown in the class so far? Not anymore; a careful look at my grades has shown that I’m doing far better than I had during the initial few weeks. I’m still a very worrisome individual– wait, that’s probably not the adjective I want to use to describe myself. I still am a person who frequently worries, though, so while that confidence is still in the forefront, all it has done is quiet that little doubt in the back of my mind: the one that is shouting obscenities in English the entire time I’m trying to remember if I should be using wa or o in the next sentence.