Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I still have two papers to write

Some of my most rewarding activities as Faculty Resident are the simplest. “Study break hours” is one of these. Each night, during finals period, from 10:45 until 12:00, I open my apartment. Signs are posted where I think my neighbors are most likely to see them: “stressed about finals: come and join John for a study break! The Faculty Resident will provide snacks/coffee, Klondike Bars 10:45 PM - Midnight.”

My fridge is well stocked with Clementines, Juice, Mountain Dew, Pepsi. Klondike Bars and sugar free popsicles. There are bright yellow mixing bowls filled with cookies and candy bars on the coffee table. I make a fresh pot of coffee and heat water for tea (both traditional and herbal) each night. This holiday season, I have strung Christmas tree lights on my Sri Lankan ceremonial brass oil lamp and around my picture window (looking out on a parking lot), creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Last night, there were more than 30 visitors. I have a sign posted that says, “it is ok to grab a snack and run.” Some do, but others stay for conversation. Some are talkative, others simply sit and listen. “What are your holiday plans?”, “have you lived overseas?”, “are you thinking of study abroad?; where?” are some topics of conversation. Last night a young woman described her love of learning languages. She had lived in Okinawa and was studying Japanese, but she was also studying Arabic and planning to spend a semester in Egypt. A group of three were planning to spend the holidays in Costa Rica. One young woman lived there and her friends were joining her. I learned that with advance planning, one could make the trip for less than $400.

Final exam period can be a stressful time, with multiple obligations - academic, organizational and social. Some professors, including me, sometimes, assign work as if their course was the only one students were taking, rather than only one of five. But students - at least the ones with whom I speak - mostly bear up well. Perhaps the cozy oasis of my apartment, with Christmas tree lights, cushions on the floor, undemanding conversation and an inexhaustible supply of Klondike bars, helps.

At midnight we wrap things up. In the words of a favorite Robert Frost poem of mine, students “have promises to keep” and many have “miles to go before they sleep.”

“I still have two papers to write,” one remarked as she walked out the door with a candy bar, cookies and a can of Mountain Dew in hand.


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