4th, November 2019
The past several weeks have been very hectic and time to write has been fleeting. Since my last entry, I settled into the Swedish education system as much as one can expect. After 2 months of living here, I finally received my residence permit and started receiving mail. What follows is a collection of entries describing what I have been up to for the past month.
10th, October 2019
The Swedish (European) university system takes some getting used to. Each semester is divided into 2 periods, with the 1st period running from September through October and the 2nd spanning November and December. Like the US system, most students take 3 to 5 classes per semester depending on the number of credits each class carries. Here, a student typically takes two classes during the 1st period and two during the 2nd period. There are exceptions. My Fisheries Ecology class, for example, is a 1st period class which started the second week of September and goes until the third week of January. My Statistics class, which started this week and is also a 1st period class, ends on the 31st of October.
Classes which are heavy on math are already challenging enough for me, and this Statistics class crams what would be 16 weeks of material in the US into 4.5 weeks in Sweden. English is not the Professors’ (2 different Professors) first language which, while I do not fault them at all for this, adds to the difficulty. I also found out, yesterday, this is a Master’s-level class, despite it being an “introductory” course, because many of the undergraduate degrees offered here do not require stats. These factors make me feel slightly better about my general mathematical incompetence, the trouble I’m having with the subject, and wanting to curl up into a near-catatonic ball of equal parts abject terror and existential dread.
Still, in my defense, 15 hours of lecture and 6 hours of in-class exercises every week, in a Master’s level course, should be overwhelming to most people. Except for maybe one of those math/physics/engineering prodigies who is unaware as to why this subject might be difficult for some people. Still, without tutors, a student “help desk,” and faculty office hours, I feel a bit trapped under ice. I wake up constantly in the middle of the night for fear sleeping through my alarm and missing a lecture. Am I stupid? I feel stupid (in regard to this topic). I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with being realistic and knowing one’s own limitations with respect to a subject. In fact, I would say most people could do with a bit more modesty but to say that is rather arrogant, no? *rimshot* Subjects requiring lots of abstract problem solving, such as math, are a limitation of mine. It is not self-deprecating to say “I suck at this.”
I have always had a very difficult time with math. In grade school, I would fall far enough behind the other students, or become so lost, that teachers often forced me to stay in during recess and sit, alone, on the cold stone floor of the hallway, and work on a sheet of math problems. Teachers always insisted I knew how to do the problems and was merely “goofing off.” I vividly remember a time I felt overwhelmed by a multiplication and division worksheet. I needed a break and asked if I could go get a drink of water. I had entered the hallway and, just as my lips touched the stream of water, my teacher grabbed my arm and yanked me back into the classroom, pushed me back into my desk, and told me to quit screwing around and finish the worksheet. I spent the following recess period staring at yet another worksheet that made no sense to me. There was a time in high school where, after struggling with an algebra concept all week, it had finally started to “click” a bit. As we went over the problems in class, I was so excited to discover I had the correct answers that I exclaimed in elation. The teacher, assuming I was trying to cause a distraction, didn’t take too kindly to my joyful outburst. She snapped at me and insisted I move to front and center of the class as she was sick and tired of dealing with me. With my head hung down, I started shambling to the seat dictated by my teacher as I muttered “Jesus Christ” along the way. Her scorn turned to directed hostility as she ranted about how “Jesus Christ has nothing to do with your being lazy and incompetent.” She immediately kicked me out of the class and issued detention. I was expected to wait in the hall until after class so, presumably, my teacher could belittle me some more. Not wanting to wait around for that, I wandered off. Crushed, I skipped the rest of my morning classes and sat outside one of the schools side exits, against the scratchy brick wall, staring at the grass between my knees.
My experience with this Statistics class has been the grow-up equivalent. After the first couple lectures, I approached my professor and explained that I was lost and that I needed some help. She assured me that feeling was normal and to give myself time. After a week of lectures, I approached her and made a similar comment. She told me to keep coming to lectures and assured me it would all make sense. At this point, I described to her the difficulty I have had with these concepts in the past but she didn’t seem to care or understand about the point I was trying to make. At the end of the second week of lectures, I approached her again and stated I was having serious trouble. It was at this time she coldly informed me, “I don’t know what to tell you. You knew this class required at least 2 semester of college-level math. If you do not need this class, you can drop.” This class is required.
Currently, I am exhaustively exploring every support option available. This includes signing up for a few sites that are supposed to put me in contact with a tutor, none of whom respond, which is aggravating given the subscriptions cost $30 per month (which is separate from any tutor’s hourly rate should one ever respond). I will not bore you with details of how I am exploring other options, such as contacting student services and video recording lectures, because I trust you understand that I am being proactive and responsible.
Maybe I have dyscalculia?
I wish, just once in my life, something would come naturally. I have yet to discover a subject or concept for which my mind is well-suited. You may be tired of reading my lamentations about “struggles” and “effort” and “working hard for every opportunity,” but it would be nice to be a natural-born rockstar-ecologist or environmental prodigy.
Unrelated note: Why does alcohol have to be so goddamned expensive here?
Honestly, though, I rather like solving algebra problems. It is like a puzzle with symbols and letters instead of tiles or cut pieces. Each piece of notation is like a little hint at what must be done to winnow the solution. When a lack of time, a lot of money, and an important grade are on the line, however, I have trouble. Which is a shame because, usually, I perform well under stress and pressure. Just not with maffs. Yes, yes, I know statistics “is different from math.” Shut up and let me have my moment. 😉
My statistics exam was today. My life for the last 3 weeks has been little more than stats. An acquaintance I made here in Sweden was kind enough to put me in touch with a friend who enjoys statistics and would tutor me for no cost. Naturally, I insisted on providing some form of compensation. For the last few weeks, I have been traveling to Stockholm twice a week to meet her where we would spend as much as 5 hours a day going over the material. Tutoring, and recording my lectures and exercises, has helped. We will see how much. I finished my exam with 40 minutes to spare, there were still 1/4th of the students left in the room when I exited, and the exam seemed easier than I anticipated. This makes me nervous, as if I forgot something important or overestimated my abilities. We will see. Still, it is done and, I can sleep a bit better, prepare for my next class (which starts tomorrow) and move on. It is out of my control now and I no longer need to worry about it.
Oh, wow! It’s Halloween! I just realized this today. I mean, it snuck up on me. It is unfortunate that I do not have any plans. It is my favorite holiday next to Beltane. It would have been great to celebrate it in the land where its traditions extended back a thousand years or more. It is kind of a big deal here. Lots of people doing fun things in cemeteries and graveyards. Though, the 31st is more for the children and November 1st — All Saints Day — is reserved for the adults.
As is my personal tradition on Halloween, I make it a point to at least listen to appropriate music on the day. Some silly. Some strange. Some are just rock & roll goodness. Below are a few — feel free to join in!
Descending by relevance:
A New Challenge Awaits
My next class, the name of which I will simplify as Watershed Management (but it involves a lot of concepts in chemistry and ecology), started today with 5 hours of lecture. This class requires a lot of writing but, at least, that is something I enjoy (at least more than mathematics and stats) and have been told I do well. It is a very diverse class. There are students from Sweden, Italy, Canada, Switzerland, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, The Netherlands, Germany, Russia, and Poland. I am the only American student that I know of. I hope to learn a lot from it. I need to strengthen my knowledge of freshwater and organic chemistry to better round out the knowledge and skills I wish to acquire. We have a 10 page paper (not including figures and images) due in 2 weeks.
A Short Break
I decided to take this weekend to try to unwind a bit. I made it a point to get out and enjoy the city. I still do not know much about Uppsala. Today, however, I went through the Botanical Center. Truth be told, the UW-Madison greenhouses were more impressive, but it was a nice walk through a warm greenhouse on a chilly day. The indoors is meant to be a self-sustaining ecosystem, with insects, frogs, and fish. I seems to be reasonably stable given that I saw several tiny frogs hopping around (below). Naturally, they were more interesting to me than most of the plants, and I spent most of my time shooing them from the footpath as to not be crushed by the other visitors. I handled one ever so briefly only because I had recently washed my hands and… well… no one was looking.
Now that the stress of Statistics has subsided, I can hopefully now find time to get back on a pathway to being in better shape by utilizing the weight bench I bought (below). I bought it right before stats started but have only used it 3 times. I was dedicating most of my time to the class material.
And in case anyone wonders what my apartment looks like, it can be summed up in the photo above. It’s a cube. I am surprised that I am so comfortable in such simple living quarters. My last apartment, after all, frequently earned me compliments on my sense of fashion and décor. I installed the lights under the window to help combat the early sunset. $225 for the weight bench is less than what I would be paying for a gym membership while here, and it allows the luxury of not having to leave my home or deal with gym members. I do not want to invest in any décor, plants, or whatnot because I will be moving out in June, but I may buy some planters to maintain some fresh herbs. I have a tiny kitchenette, a mop sink-style bathroom where the water just runs into the drain in the middle of the floor, and a tiny single bed. The bed does not provide the best of sleep and I am thinking about buying a larger, better one. I am still mulling over the decision. I leave in 8 months, so will it be worth spending $500 on one? Will I be able to get any respectable amount out of it when I sell it? The thought of buying a used bed, and running the risk of lice or bedbugs, does not appeal to me at all. If I am going to do it, I need to buy one now. Speaking of which, I need to buy a truck-load of groceries with what little time I have before the end of the day.
As always, thanks to those of you who read.
PS: 16:30 hrs. I bought a bed. It arrives Thursday.