Grading continues. I am actually in the midst of my busiest grading. Probably. And I’m nearly through it. We have surprisingly little time left. If my math is right, and it usually is, I will be back in the United States in 35 days. It’s a sign of how long we’ve been here that that seems short. It is, in fact, longer than we were in Argentina. It is very close to the time from when Mary and I landed in Santiago in January to when I returned to Santiago in March.
In other words, we are not now nearly done.
But in terms of class, we are. Next week we are in the Atacama Desert (yay!) and there is yet one more national holiday. The result is we have but four class meetings left before finals begin. Actually, it’ll be five as I’ve booked a room on Tuesdays and am subjecting the poor students to “make up” classes. Looking forward to those course evals.
Those who teach at university level will recognize how assignments pile up toward the end. We have a mid-term exam in each class left and the main assignment in one, a review of a chemical topic and peer review of same, are yet due. I am just now grading the first drafts. In a vain attempt at teaching them how to approach writing I require a first draft over a month before the final draft is due. Students, because they are human, like to procrastinate. If you just tell them to turn in a final copy at the end of semester they will spend two days on it. This way they probably spend three.
The upshot is, while we have but a few class meetings left, three is a pile of assignments left for them to complete and me to grade. Moreover, finals week is two weeks long. So time is going to fly. The fact that the weather is generally pretty crappy (though today is beautiful) has also affected the mood.
So, I have been trying to organize more group activities. Last weekend I had everyone (and they all showed up) over to watch the Champions League final. Tonight, all are invited to watch Game 4 of the beatdown that is known as the NBA finals. We’ll also have a look at the moon and Saturn after. I’m organizing these get togethers around sports because it provides a cultural touchstone. As you probably expect, about 1/3 of the guests watch the game and everyone else huddles in the kitchen eating and drinking.
I had an impromptu get together Wednesday night for Game 3. There are three diehard NBA fans in the group, all rooting for the Cavaliers. They twisted my arm into meeting them at an Irish pub to watch the game after our late Wednesday class. Wednesdays, as I may have written, are loooong days. I spent most of the day in the office marking papers and then a 3:30 orgo class and 6:40 history of chemistry class. I generally like to come home, microwave the first thing I touch in the fridge and turn in. Going out to a bar, in a cold rain, is not my usual scene. But the students specifically found a bar showing the game within a ten minute walk of my apartment so…
Just as I was about to leave, right at the tip, they texted that the bar was crammed and there were only four seats. If the other four people hoping to attend still wanted to show up we’d have to find somewhere else. I’m not sure why, but I suggested everyone simply come to my place. And, so, 15 minutes later I had a houseful of college kids, two of whom were Dutch. These were housemates of my students and I’m not sure they were wild about the idea of leaving the bar. They were less interested in the NBA than my students, by several orders of magnitude and, I think, were interested in other things one might find in a bar.
For me, though, it was great. First, I didn’t have to leave my apartment. Second, I didn’t have to spend time in a bar shouting at people who can hear. Third, I didn’t have to make my way home. I also got to try Telepizza. Telepizza is a chain pizza place along the lines of Domino’s or Papa John’s. I have thought, for cultural study, I should try some but they don’t sell by the slice and I really didn’t want to buy a whole crappy pizza to see how crappy the pizza was. Because one student brought one, I could have a slice, fulfilling my cultural investigation, and move on with my life.
The students spent some time trying to rank Telepizza, Dominos and Papa Johns with the most votes going to Papa Johns then Telepizza then Dominos though one student insisted, vigorously, that Dominos was far better than either. For my part, I’m just glad I don’t have to eat more Telepizza (or Dominos or Papa Johns). Seriously, they’re fine if you have $3 for dinner. But it’s been a very long time since I’ve had enough to drink to think any of them “really good pizza”.
The next debate was one that is popping up a lot: LeBron or Jordan?
This made me remember another evening, Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. I watched that game with a Danish student at Duke who was, for about two months, my roommate. I was just finishing and and he was just starting. We were from wildly different backgrounds. But that summer we found in common sports, the NBA and World Cup. Despite our very different backgrounds, we could slip into an easy conversation about sports. It was this way on Wednesday. I recounted to the Dutch students watching the 1998 World Cup, where their team advanced to the semi-finals and I saw a Dutch friend dressed entirely in orange leap a sofa when they scored a game winner in the quarter finals. They were just babies then but have heard the stories for a long time. So we had that in common. They knew who LeBron is and so had that in common with their American housemates.
It need not be sport. Music and theater can fulfill the same purpose. I imagine a Spanish student and Italian student studying in Cambridge in the late 18th century bonding over Mozart. Cultural phenomena like sports and entertainment may seem trivial but they easily cross national and ethnic frontiers and let us relate to those with whom we differ significantly in other respects. They are, therefore, indispensable pieces of what it means to be human. Twenty years later I remember Game 6 not because of a foul that wasn’t called but because my Danish roommate could not believe a referee could make such a terrible mistake. He continued to talk about it for as long as I knew him.
So, tonight we will break bread in front of a game. Hopefully that cushions the blow that is coming in the form of Exam 3.