As I mentioned in my last post, there are two other types of days we have at the FSI during language training. The first type of day, an area studies day, happens once a week. The second type, admin day, is one day every other week or so. While I find both types to be necessary, I think that they tend to disrupt language learning and I always have a hard time recovering from them.
Area studies days happen once a week but not every student has area studies on the same day. On these days, we get broken out in to groups by region our country for a special 3 hour class that is designed to give us historical and cultural information about our respective posts. In the western hemisphere group there is a class entirely devoted to Mexico, which is logical seeing as they send hundreds of us there every year. Central America and the Caribbean are lumped together but Haiti has a class of its own. Then there’s Andean Republics (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia), a class dedicated to Brazil, and finally the Southern Cone (Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina). Other regions are broken out in similar lumps. I’m not sure how many area studies courses there actually are but suffice it to say there are a lot.
I have mixed feelings about the Mexico class. We’ve had some really great classes, like this past week’s where the Deputy Chief of Mission of Mexico to the U.S. came and spoke to our class. But for the first oh, 3 months, class was for sure less than spectacular. Every day we’d do the same thing: watch a movie then have a lecture with zero time for questions. The speakers were mostly interesting but the lack of Q & A time was really really frustrating. It’s gotten much much better in the last few weeks so I think we probably just came into the class during the slow period. Today’s class was pretty good again so I’m trying really hard to be optimistic. 🙂
Area studies days disrupt my language learning mostly because of the way my particular class is structured. See, in the Spanish section, we attend classes in shifts. As I described in my last post, this means I’m in class from 8:00 – 10:00 and then from 12:00 – 2:00. Area studies for the western hemisphere runs from 9:00 to 12:00. Do you see where I’m going with this? This means that students in the morning classes have 2 one-hour sessions of language instruction on area studies days: one hour before area studies and one hour after lunch. For me at least, this means that by the time I get warmed up and functional in Spanish in the morning I’ve got about half an hour before it’s time to switch to English for area studies. Ditto in the afternoon. Coming back to Spanish-language-land after what usually amounts to 4 solid hours of English (area studies + lunch) is super hard and I find myself spending the first half of the afternoon session trying my hardest to remember that I actually do speak this language.
On admin days, we only have 1 two-hour session of class so for me that means I’m done with class at 10:00 a.m. We get admin days so that we can take care of administrative stuff like getting our diplomatic passports, navigating the seemingly impossible bureaucracy of travel orders and travel paperwork, and meeting with mentors, language consultants, and attending seminars and conferences at Main State. On the one hand, I love admin days because they give me some time to actually get non-language related stuff done and to not feel bad about spending my time at work not studying. On the other, most of my teachers have used admin days as a day to give us tons of extra homework since we’ll “have extra time” which means my admin days are more like 10 to 12 hour days once I’m done with homework etc. I don’t dislike admin days, I just find them exhausting.
Today was an area studies day so after a 3-day weekend and 2 one-hour sessions of class today I’m still a bit fuzzy and am trying to get back into Spanish mode. Luckily, I worked ahead in the book over the weekend so I only have a few pages of homework to do plus a couple of other assignments but I should probably stop blogging now so I can get them done before it’s time to make dinner…