On Monday, I made my first visit official visit to Universitet Crne Gore Niksic. I loved the university and the building facility is very nice. I ended up not having to ride the bus because one of my new colleagues, Marija, (Dean of International Study Abroad Programs and a Native American Literature Professor) invited me to ride with her from Podgorica to Niksic. We had a wonderful conversation. Marija was actually a U.S. Fulbright Scholar that taught and conducted research at the University of Louisiana in Fall 2009. Her English is superb and she has published a few books and journals. Marija mentioned that the University has a Simga Tau Delta Chapter (International English Honor Society). I about jumped out of the car window because I a member of Sigma Tau Delta. She said that the university's chapter has been fairly inactive over the last few years. I told her that will most definitely change in this upcoming school year. I am going to serve as a the chapter's advisor and try to coordinate a number of professional development workshops for English majors, social functions, and more. It's going to be a blast. With this arrangement made, we arrived in Niksic.
As soon as we arrived in Niksic at the University, Marija took me on a wonderful tour. However, nothing could really prepare me for what I was about to witness and see. When you walk into the university building there is a big lobby. To the right is a small book store that sells basic school supplies, snacks, etc and to the left is a coffee shop. Marija needed to go to the Registrar's Office to sign off on a few students diploma forms. When we entered the Registrar's Office, I about fell over. There were probably 50 plus students waiting outside with these little green books. Every course a student takes has to be documented in this note book. It is the students responsibility to keep track of their little green note book. It basically serves as their university transcript. The professor writes the name of the course and their final grade in the book and then stamps and signs off on it saying they have passed. There was no special computer program or database to keep track of student grades and produce student transcripts. There were student folders everywhere. No filing cabinets in sight. It was definitely a mad house and the lack of organization made me realize that I was definitely no longer at an American University.
From the Registrar's Office, Marija took me to the Print and Copy Shop. Thankfully, I will have free access to copying and printing at my university since I am a professor. The guys who work there are friendly. Marija then escorted me into the library. The library was nice and I was really impressed with their collection of books. The library at Universitet Crne Gore Niksic houses the second largest library in the country. I would say there total volume of books is probably under 12,000, which is impressive. They also have a number of books in English. The library was literally a place for books. There wasn't any study lounges or places for students to access computer terminals. We finally made it to where my department is located in the building. I am going to be sharing an office with my Department Chair, but I will also have access to a few other large spaces if I need to meet with students for advising, out of class help, etc. The office is simple and standard. It will be a fine working space.
I did get to see a few classrooms. They definitely are not as advanced as what we have in the U.S. All of the classrooms have chalk boards, T.V 's, wireless internet, radios, and basic audio equipment. I am not for sure if it all works, but I will figure all of that out soon. I am planning to bring my lab top with me to class every time I teach. I am hoping that I will be able to connect my lab top to the T.V. Overall, the classroom space is very nice and it will serve as a wonderful teaching and learning environment.
After my tour, I had the opportunity to watch the Diploma Thesis Paper Defenses of three, fourth year English Literature university students. I really enjoyed getting to sit in on their presentations, hearing about their research projects, and seeing the differences between American Thesis Defense Presentations and Montenegrin Thesis Defense Presentations. I was very impressed with all the students that defended their final diploma papers. The topics ranged from Oscar Wild to the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. All of the students spoke excellent English and they made very compelling arguments. Similar to America, the students were required to assemble a committee that would evaluate their Diploma Papers and determine if they would pass or fail. All of the students I watched passed. I was cheering for all of them. Before we went in to the Defense Presentations, I had the opportunity to meet all of the professors serving on the committee. After the presentations were over, the students were asked to leave the room and the committee discussed each students presentation and diploma paper in detail. I was surprised because they asked me for my feedback and what grades I thought they should be awarded. I offered my initial perceptions and feedback on each students presentations. I did not have time to read all of the papers, just glance through them quickly. I really enjoyed being able to observe and to learn about how this whole process works. I would say it is very similar to the U.S.A., but with a few minor differences. The Defense Committee didn't ask a lot of questions. However, when they did ask questions, I was surprised by their simplicity. I expected their questions to be more thought provoking, reflective, and challenging (not so much). The Defense Committee was very positive the entire time, but behind closed doors (once the students left) they were much more honest and critical about the quality of the students work. The nice thing about observing the Diploma Paper presentations was that it helped ease some of the anxiety I was having about the students. The students that I observed were clearly dedicated, bright, intelligent, committed, and the cream of the crop. I'm not going to try to pretend that all of my students will be like this, but it was nice to know that the students are genuinely dedicated to their studies and passionate about learning.
A fourth year English Literature University Student receives her Diploma at Universitet Crne Gore Niksic. (From the left Aleksandra, Marija, Student, and Biljana)
I had the pleasure of finally meeting my department chair, Biljana, in person. Biljana and I have been communicating through e-mail since the beginning of May. She is wonderful and has a warm personality. She takes her work seriously and like all department chairs, she is a very busy woman. It is going to be an absolute pleasure to have her as my department chair, mentor, and colleague over the course of the academic school year. She is very supportive of all of my creative ideas and values enthusiasm.
Biljana and I had ample time to talk about the courses I will be teaching this semester. I am going to be teaching eight classes. At first I started to panic thinking, "Oh my gosh... there is no way I am going to be able to teach eight classes." Biljana assured me I would be fine and explained that it will actually only be two, but I'll have four sections of both classes.
The first class I am going to teach is titled "Teaching Young Learners." I'll teach the class four times a day ever Wednesday for 16 weeks. Each class will last approximately an hour and thirty minutes and I will have 12 -15 students per class. The title of the course describes the course well. I will be doing just that, teaching teachers how to teach for the primary school level (ages 6 - 13). This is pretty much all we did in Washington, DC during Fulbright Teacher's Training. They gave us a plethora of teaching resources and taught us basic teaching methodology and pedagogy for teaching English as a second language. The class is pretty much mine to develop from scratch. I am planning to make the course very practical, with lots of in-class activities, mini-presentations, journal writing, group work, field experience, and essays. I am working away at my syllabi now. I'm not really intimidated by it anymore, as I am excited to get in there and deliver my first lesson. It's invigorating.
The second class I will be teaching will be a course titled "English Conversation." This course is mandatory for fourth year university students. The class is pretty self-explanatory and much of the course content has already been determined. The class is 45 minutes and I will teach four sections of it. It's going to be a discussion oriented course. The university has decided that they would like me to teach the novel "The Sea, The Sea" by Iris Murdock. Many of our discussions will revolve around this novel.
Overall, I could not be happier with my Fulbright Teaching Fellowship Placement. The faculty are exceptional and the classes I am teaching will provide me with new and rewarding experiences and challenges. It's time to dive into lesson plans and course syllabi now. My Fulbright work has officially begun.