During my first class on the first day of the semester in Prague, my professor went around the classroom, having each student introduce themselves and share where they are from. It was immediately apparent that I was one of a few Americans, if not the only American, in the classroom. My classmates were from Russia, Japan, France, Italy, Ukraine, Switzerland, Georgia (the country), Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Guatemala…just to name a few. Sure, I’d met exchange students in high school and at college in the states, but I was never so immersed in such a diversity of culture and nationality as I am now, in a truly global classroom.
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My university’s lingua franca is English, meaning everything from lectures to correspondence is conducted in English. I’ve never felt more admiration for people who learn a second language than I do when I’m sitting in class and it randomly hits me that my classmates are pursuing their undergraduate degree in a foreign language. They’re learning ethics and history and media, all the while having to understand it in English. It completely blows my mind. I’m fairly good at French, and I’m currently learning Czech, but if I attempted to take a marketing class in French, I would be so lost.
The class where I’m most impressed with my classmates’ command of language, though, is my Czech class. All of the students (myself included) are learning their third language. But for most of my classmates, their second language is English, which is the language the course is being taught in. I can’t even imagine what levels of translation are going on in their heads, learning a third language in their second language.
Our classes are structured in three-hour blocks, with two 10-minute breaks every hour. During breaks, the classroom fills with the typical buzz of chatter. But instead of several overlapping English conversations, I hear multiple conversations going on, each in a different language. This fills me with such a desire to become fluent in all these different languages, just thinking about how many friendships and connections I’m missing out on in life because of a language barrier.
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In my global classrooms, I often feel like an involuntary ambassador for America. Whenever the States are brought up in class, I feel all the eyes in the room turn to me. The pressure isn’t enormous, but sometimes I’m singled out by teachers, being asked if I knew this or that about America, or what things are like there. It’s not like they’re testing me, it’s just that they’re curious–probably because out of my classmates, I’m one of the few non-Europeans, and my life experiences are very different.
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One of my favorite parts of the global classroom is the different perspectives my fellow classmates bring to our discussions. I’m currently in an intercultural communication course, and if I were to take the same course back at my university in America, it would be filled with students from the same three East Coast states, all native English speakers, who have largely similar upbringings. But in Prague, I’m surrounded by people who are legitimately from diverse cultural backgrounds, and when communicating with them, it’s actually intercultural communication.
Another class where I love being in a global classroom is my world history class. Instead of what most Americans call a “world history” class, in which the focus is actually on Europe, we’re really covering the histories of countries around the globe, from the Ottoman Empire to Rwanda. Because of this, we’re all learning new things.
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The cultural differences aren’t always positive. Sometimes the typical (to me, at least) classroom expectations of not being on your phone or showing up on time aren’t universally shared. Some students don’t seem accustomed to discussion-based courses, or the grading structure. So there can be tensions between teachers who expect one thing, and students who previously never had to meet these expectations.
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I guess all of this is to say that studying abroad has done wonders for my education. While there are days when my six hours of class are killer, and I find myself looking to the clock wondering how much longer I’ll have to sit at the same desk, I am completely grateful to be here, in Prague, at my university. It’s the biggest cliché, but it’s true: not many people have this opportunity. Every day, I have new experiences. I learn new things, in the classroom and out. And I never want to take that for granted.
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