Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Writer's Wednesday

Mama Kat just keeps on issuing the Writer's Challenges. This week she offered the choice of these tasks:
1.) Describe your significant other's most attractive quality (on the inside).
2.) Tell about a time you stole something.
3.) Choose a poem you like. Take the last line and use it as the first line of your own poem. (creativewritingprompts.com
4.) Write about a scary encounter with one of your old professors.

It took a bit of pondering to decide which of the topics I wanted to tackle. The poem was first off the list. Even though I have had poetry published, it was more a mistake on the editors part than any ability on my part. Suffice it to say, you don't want to read my doggerel.

Stealing was the next possibility to go. I lack anything of interest to report. I may have stolen a tee on the golf course at some time (by accident), but that is the height of my career in larceny.

That leaves waxing poetic about L or writing about scary old professors. I don't have many scary encounters with professors to report and I have a hard time narrowing my view of  L down to a single quality. What to do? What to write about? I guess I'll go with the professor story.

Some background. I was ready to graduate in 3 years from the ivy league college I attended as an undergrad. But ... the college had a one year proficiency in a foreign language requirement for graduation. I had started off by taking Russian since it could be useful in my area of study. That was a fiasco. The professor kindly gave me a D for the course if I agreed to never again take a Russian language course. So the next attempt was Latin. That fared no better.

You should understand, I knew at least 30 different computer languages at that time (more now). I could absorb a computer language in days. I just could not learn a foreign human language. Things were getting a bit desperate for me. It is spring and I've already been accepted to graduate school with an assistantship, etc starting in the fall. But it is all contingent on actually graduating. In spite of the language debacles, I will still graduate cum laude if I can just get my foreign language proficiency.

Fortunately for me, the college was a pioneer in foreign language immersion as a rapid method of teaching languages. So I went to visit John Rassias , the professor who founded the program to see if there was any chance of saving my posterior. He believes that if I go to one of the off campus immersion programs, I can come back at the end of the summer and test out of the proficiency requirement. Thus I would graduate and head off to graduate school, etc. So off I head off to the School for International Living for immersion in French over the summer.

Time passes and the end of the summer arrives with me back on campus to test for proficiency. Since I only have two days to be on the way to the other coast for graduate school (if I do indeed graduate), it is decided that the French department will convene a panel to test my proficiency. Immersion programs concentrate on spoken language, so the panel exam is going to be in oral format conducted entirely in French. The next morning at 10am my future is going to be decided by three scary old professors giving me an oral exam in French. If I pass, I graduate and leave for grad school by 2pm that day. If I fail, ... Needless to say it was a tense night for me.

At 10am, I walk into the room to face three professors. John Rassias is anything but scary. He reminds me of a big friendly grizzly bear. One professor is the chairperson of the French department. She has the sternest visage of any professor I have ever had (that might be my memory colored a bit by stress). The final professor is an avuncular looking gentleman who turned out to have the sharpest tongue I have every experienced. The exam starts with John giving a background to the whole problem and laying out the task before the panel. Fortunately I can follow the whole conversation and the questions from the rest of the panel (I think to this day that John was speaking slowly for my benefit). I interject the appropriate Oui! and Non! to the questions asking if I understood the process. And then the exam began.  After an hour and a half of intense questioning and conversation, the panel begins its debate. At least 20 minutes is spent listening to the panel argue, in French, as to whether I should pass or not. Do you know how stressful it is to listen to your future being discussed in a language you are still uncomfortable in, hoping you didn't miss something that was important, and answering the occasional volley when a new area of probing is suggested by the panel? I do. At noon I finally walked with shaky legs and a signed proficiency letter to give to the registrar. But first I had to find a restroom.

In looking back, the whole experience made graduate school easy for me. My thesis qualifying exam and even my orals were trivial compared to the stress of my French oral. Having been through that experience, I never again worried about facing a test or thinking on my feet. It also was the real beginning of my comfort in talking to public audiences. After all, what is a crowd going to do to me that a panel of professors didn't.

Now on to something more fun to reward you for putting up with my meandering story. Here's a chance to see how old you really act.  I came out with this smiling fellow when I tried it:

You Act Like You Are 23 Years Old

You are a twenty-something at heart. You feel like an adult, and you're optimistic about life.

You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences.

You're still figuring out your place in the world and how you want your life to shape up.

The world is full of possibilities, and you can't wait to explore many of them.

Not too bad other than guessing 30+ years wrong on the age. How did you do?


  1. That sounds absolutely terrifying! I studied french all through high school and college and I still would have been out of my mind scared. I'm quite impressed with your smartitude.

    And on the other order of business, apparently I act like I'm 18. However, I was totally expecting to hear something along the lines of 82. Who knew?

    Loved your workshop post!

  2. Well, this is sad. While I loved the post about the French oral exam, I couldn't see the "What Age Do You Act" quiz. Something has happened to the display on my computer - just internet stuff and nothing fixable in the control panel. Consequently the quiz was absolutely microscopic. It made me feel like I was 105, and looking for the light at the end of the tunnel... like God wanted to know which TV show I watched, but I couldn't see any of the answers. Thanks. My head hurts.

  3. We're basically the exact opposite. I'm fluent in Spanish and can at least hold conversation in Italian whereas I do not understand computer language in the least.

    C++ was my first ever failing grade.

    And on the quiz, I act like I'm 26 so about 5 years older than I actually am.

    - Kendall from Mama Kat's

  4. Your story wasn't meandering. Speaking in a foreign language can be very intimidating. But what a great experience to survive. (And I did chuckle a bit that you chose two very difficult languages as your first two choices,to learn proficiently in about a year. Too funny.) And now I'm wondering how you can "accidentally" get poetry published?

  5. The things they put kids through. I did study abroad for a semester during my undergrad, so that counted as my language, thankfully. When I got my masters, though, I had to take a test for proficiency in a language. On the way to the exam, some guy rear-ended me, so I was completely frazzled through the whole thing and just barely squeaked by.

  6. Holy cow, no thank you. I wouldn't have been able to do it. I get super red and blotchy in situations like that. That alone would have failed me. But kudos to you for not faltering under supreme pressure!

  7. Yikes! My hat's off to you because I wouldn't have survived such extreme pressure!

  8. I am scared to know how old I feel. Nope, not going to touch that one.

  9. Oh man that would have been SO Stressful. I can't even believe they deliberated! I would have felt so bad for you I just would have given you the passing grade you needed!!

    And apparently I act like I'm 20. The test totally makes sense...I mean a banana split is SO a 20 year old dessert. I should have said tramisu...but I can't even spell it.


You know you want to ... so just do it!!!

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin