Daigaku Z: Double Zeta

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.

The rather anticlimactic midterm went off without a hitch, and I ended up with a B. That’s commensurate with the rest of my grades in oral and written communications, so I’m pretty happy about it. Where things get interesting is that, by design, this week was when we switched over from Mills-sensei to Kanisawa-sensei. And the difference is night and day.

Let me be perfectly clear, Mills-sensei is a pretty good guy, and he’s passionate about his work. But passion does not entirely equate to effectiveness, and he is not at all effective in keeping the class under even the semblance of control that he needs to. In fact, I felt like if I was going to be stuck with Mills throughout the semester, I probably would have skipped the lecture classes on occasion. I learned comparatively little from them to this point, and I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that I had to get up early for something that offered little benefit. In contrast, Kanisawa-sensei is much sharper, much more adept at explaining situations and engaging the class, and actually moved through the material at a pace that worked well (at least for me).

And as much as a leisurely pace might have worked well in the past, the amount of work that’s going on into the back half of this semester is ramping up very quickly. Within a week we’ll have double the amount of handouts to turn in, and the information we’re learning from those is becoming denser and more nuanced. We’re learning how to create more complex sentences than just basic “subject-verb” assertions, and it’s this complexity that is at once enthralling and terrifying. I’m genuinely excited for what’s ahead, but at the same time, I’m worried for the sake of my friends.

Being stuck together in a class by virtue of random assignment is an interesting way to meet friends, especially given that I’m the oldest of the group by far. I’m getting used to being around people literally half my age. For me, I’m not only friends with these people, but like all of my friends I feel compelled to help them. I was the same way in high school; if I understood something my peers didn’t, I made it my goal to help teach them. Getting that instinct back in gear has felt good, but sometimes I try to help when there’s something I’m mistaken about.

In either event, this is the turning point in the semester, even if it’s far past the halfway point. Things are moving forward, as they always do. Let’s see how far it goes.