I am almost a week overdue and still reluctant to share this. This past week, I met with both of my liaisons/supervisors at both of my host universities to report my concern that a sizable percentage of my students—all Masters level, mind you—was in danger of failing my courses due to lack of attendance and/or completion of assignments. Correspondence with my fellow Fulbright colleagues confirms that I am not alone.
Note that most Romanian university classes meet only once a week for two hours for 14 weeks, which equals 28 contact hours , while an American university class typically meets for 40-45 contact hours. This is a substantial difference, which presents many challenges in content-rich courses—assuming that the students actually will attend these contact hours.
At the University of Bucharest, my liaison noted that 75% attendance was required by the university; however, her program (American Studies) reduced that and requires only 50% or 7 total classes (14 contact hours). I grudgingly accommodated this in my syllabus and still have found that several students do not attend class regularly nor complete their assignments. Fortunately, she has intervened and exhorted the students to understand and comply with the syllabus, and most have. Further complicating my U-B scenario is that an Erasmus student showed up at mid-term and clearly is overwhelmed by the syllabus and its requirements; I have yet to understand her status in my class and whether or not she is capable of completing the syllabus.
The situation is much more challenging at UNATC, where I’ve never been provided a roster nor a calendar, and where the majority of my “anticipated” graduate pedagogy students have not attended a majority of classes nor have completed their assignments. My liaison, now the Rector himself (since my actual Fulbright liaison recently quit), noted that my expectations were “very American” and not in accord with his university, which favored “professional” engagement (jobs, rehearsals, auditions, performances) over class attendance and academic performance.
I also was not told of the upcoming national holidays and the effect they would have upon classes. I also do not know about the schedule for finals and, as a result, simply will ask my students to submit a final project/paper via email.
I find all of this alarming and discouraging. A laissez-faire attitude or even minimalist approach to university studies, much less graduate studies, is beyond my fathom. I find it a challenge to continue with my characteristic enthusiasm, when the system itself seems to lack the qualitative and quantitative elements I associate with credibility and value.
Still, I am glad to have this opportunity and will welcome my move to Babeș-Bolyai in Cluj this spring.
Postscript: In rereading this post almost two months later, I realize that my tone is rather bleak. While part of me wants to rewrite and “soften” this, I think it best to leave it as is. Our reality as Fulbrighters is that living in a different country and teaching in a different culture is always difficult, sometimes daunting, and occasionally depressing…but it also IS incredibly rewarding. It’s all a matter of perspective and continually reminding yourself that the forest IS greater than its trees.