Friday, October 26, 2007

Week in Review

Went to Tbilisoba, the annual festival celebrating the city. Unfortunately, there were many thousands of people and not much to do (unless looking at carved fruits is your thing). There was no shortage, however, of churchkhela, the snack made of hazelnuts or walnuts dipped in grape syrup (it tastes about as you would imagine it, though not very sweet--you can see me biting down on one at my flickr site), as vendors sold every imaginable variety throughout the fairgrounds. By the time evening arrived, Rustaveli, the main street in Tbilisi, was shut down as thousands gathered to watch a concert given by the Italian group Ricce e Poveri (I've never heard of them before). I made the smart decision of getting back home and watching the concert on TV before the city's public transportation system became overwhelmed.

My first class on Monday is Biology practical. The goal of our practical lessons is to discuss in more detail what was covered in lecture. My lecture is given by one professor and my practical session is led by another. Prof. Dato, my practical professor, is a nice guy who is quite enthusiastic about biology, but he doesn't know a thing about teaching. Again, the lack of textbooks makes teaching difficult in the first place, but even so, Prof. Dato never has a lesson plan for us and instead discusses what he wants to discuss. For me, this makes class more interesting, as I've already studied the material, but for my classmates, it's an utter disaster. He's obsessed with his out-of-date biology computer programs, and inevitably we gather around his equally out-of-date computer (it runs on Windows 98!) to watch animations about the construction of the cell-membrane. Then there are pointless tasks, such as last week, when he had me memorize in class a list of organisms and their corresponding genome sizes.

This leads me to a general statement about the quality of education at TSMU: It's not very good. I do find Anatomy(the practical portion of it, anyway) and physics to be well taught, as are the language classes. As for chemistry, our professor is quite bright and and a good teacher, but she is faced with the impossible task of teaching all of general inorganic chemistry in one semester. In Biology, as I've already described, the professors lack basic teaching skills. In History of Medicine... well, just read my previous post. But, as our physics professor confided in us, the English-language program (i.e. for international students) is far much better than the Georgian-language program. It's impossible to teach the Georgians, he says, because there is chaos in the classroom and a general lack of effort; a consequence of letting 16 and 17 year olds study medicine. Not surprisingly, very few Georgians from TSMU make it into residency programs in the US, and those that do, do so by working on their own.

When I walked into Anatomy lecture, I was surprised to see that the number of Indian students had doubled. Apparently, 20+ Indians just arrived a few days earlier, having been delayed by visa issues. I also met one new student from Pakistan. With so many more students, lectures have only become louder and more likely to be interrupted by a Bhangra ring tone. Perhaps due to ethnic exclusivity or more simply because I am in a "Turkish group", I haven't had a chance to get to know well any of my Indian classmates; by contrast, I have several good Turkish friends.

Georgian lessons with Nana:
Four times a week I'm reminded how insane a language Georgian is. Here's an example: In the present and future tenses, the verb "to do or make" (akateb) takes a nominative subject, but in the past tense, the subject is in the ergative case, not the nominative. Here's another: the verb "to eat" (chame) takes a dative object in the present and future, but in the past tense, the object (i.e. what's being eaten) is in the nominative case!! And in the pronunciation department, having to distinguish between 3 k's, 3 ch's, 2 t's, 2 ts's, 2 p's, and 2 r's... In spite of all of the challenges that Georgian presents, I'm actually doing quite well and if things continue as they are, I'll finish the program I've been learning from by the end of the year (meaning I'll have learned all of Georgian grammar).

Had another plagiarism-filled History of Medicine class, only after the professor showed up 45 minutes late. Also had my first Russian class of the semester (TSMU requires all international students to study 3 languages: Georgian, Latin, and either Russian, German, or French) which looks to be promising. The teacher knows hardly any English (to give you an idea, my Georgian is better than her English) so we are immersed in Russian. Luckily for me, I studied some Russian back at Chicago, so I wasn't totally lost and was able to help out my Turkish group-mates.

Had another worthwhile Anatomy practical session. Manana, my teacher, insists that I know the vertebral column better than she does so whenever there is a student who has just joined the group (at least 3 or 4 have done so) and doesn't know what we covered from week one (the vertebral column), she assigns me the task of explaining the entire vertebral column to the unfortunate student. After having to explain it so many times, I almost do feel like an expert on the vertebral column...

All of our practical classes consist of two 45-minute halves with a ten minute break between. For most students, break means a chance to smoke. Well more than 50% of students smoke, a habit that is much more affordable in Georgia considering that a pack of cigarettes can cost as little as a dollar. During break, I leave the classroom with my classmates to stand outside and watch them smoke (I have no intention to start smoking!).

During Chemistry practical on Thursday, our chemistry professor, Mzia, joined me and my friends during our "smoke break." After some introductions, which included the discovery by Mzia that I was from America--a moment that always makes the professor say "Really!!"--and a brief conversation among the smokers about what the world's come to if you can't smoke inside public buildings (you can in Georgia, though), I discovered that Mzia is the director of organic synthesis at some laboratory (forgot the name). When I told her that I loved organic synthesis (yes, I know, I'm weird), she said that there would be no problem if I wanted to volunteer (they don't have much funds) in her lab. She said that working in the lab is always an interesting experience because there isn't always water and electricity, and in the winter, there is virtually no heating.

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