I finished my last course at an American university 10 years ago in May, shortly before graduating from Boston University (BU). So it’s somehow fitting that last Friday, I submitted the final project for my first class at The University of Texas at Austin (UT). While it was an intense 3 weeks, I feel like it was a gentle start to my PhD program, all things considered.
The class was on materials development in foreign language education and was to be taught by an instructor who was hit by a car (!) in May. The course was cancelled, and I found myself in an advanced statistics class for which I lacked the prerequisite knowledge. I skyped in while at a the NAFSA Conference in Houston and thought to myself: “Once I get the textbook, once I’m sitting in the class, it’ll be fine.”
It wasn’t fine. So I browsed through the summer course listings and found that materials development was re-opened for registration. I then barged in two hours late and made myself at home.
In Germany, I probably could have just taken the course from there, no further action needed. Here in the US, it was tricky to complete the registration formalities, as unregistering from the stats course would have technically made me a PhD dropout. In the end, though, it just took a little patience and calling around. The university staff of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction was helpful and laid back. It’s summer, after all.
It turned out to be a great class taught by a guest instructor who is an expert on the subject. He is also a former UT PhD student, so he could relate to us very well (including showing relevant videos, videos, and videos). The other students were diverse and engaged. I was able to do coursework that will help me in my German teaching assignment and that I can publish on Elmar’s online science journal, Science Niblets (forthcoming).
So all in all, it was a gentle start to going back to grad school in the US. I realized that I’ll have to work on my academic English, as there were certain terms and concepts that I only know from German scholars. Also, I had challenges that were only related to one single course. Starting in August, I’ll face challenges not only in multiple courses, but in teaching freshman level German. I’m glad that I’ll be sorted out in time to help my students sort out their entry into semi-adulthood.