Sunday, June 12, 2011

And So It Goes..

Well it's my last few hours in the great country of the UAE. I've pretty much had the runaround today but now I'm just laying back and relaxing (pretty bored, though).

I woke up this morning to a phone call that basically said if I ever want to come back in the country, I need to get to public relations and beg them to cancel my visa in the next few hours. Apparently, you're supposed to have this done a few days before you leave, but we've been asking for weeks what to do and never got an answer. So as soon as I hung up, I threw some clothes on and went to find out what to do. Luckily they were really nice about it and told me to come back after 2 and it should be done. They weren't too happy that I asked them to put a rush on it, though.

A few of the other exchange students skipped out without doing it since you have to pay 50 dhm for it in person or 200 to do it remotely. Guess they won't be coming back anytime soon. I figured it would be easier to just do it now than have to worry about it years from now.

I cancelled my bank account and returned my mailbox key; those didn't take more than a few minutes each.

Then I went to try to check out of my dorm early so I could get my dorm deposit back (I'm not leaving till about 8pm tonight, but the cashier will be closed and I'll be stuck having them transfer money into my bank account, and I'm not comfortable giving that information to them). They made sure there was no damage and gave me a form to take to someone in student relations or something. He said it would take 5 days, but I might get lucky.

So I went to student accounts to see what they could do about it. As soon as he pulled up my account he said I had a hold. Fantastic. It was through public relations for something, probably pertaining to my visa. So I went back and they had my passport completed and lifted the hold. Back to student accounts. At first, he said I'd have to have the money transfered. I wasn't too happy. So I batted my eyes and looked really sad and eventually convinced him to put a rush on it so I could get cash today. hehe

He signed it and sent me with the form to.. umm someone in another office. He approved it and sent me to the cashier. Finally they gave me my 1000 dhm deposit back! 15 trips later, AUS finally gave me money!

It's been smooth sailing from there. Got some food, did some laundry, finish packing. I'll be heading to the airport shortly. Unfortunately, I'll be there for a while. A friend is taking me so I don't have to worry about taxis but my flight doesn't leave till 1:45 in the morning.

Here's a math problem for you
start time 1:45
+ 17 hours of flight time
+ 5 hours of layovers
- 8 hours of time zones
What day will I land??
If you can figure it out, let me know; I will be soooo confused when I finally get home!

Anyway, I just wanted to write one more blog before I left!

I'm going to miss everyone so much! But I am happy to see all my 'mericans again! :-)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Cheater, Cheater

Dear AUS,

You have a serious cheating problem. Never before have I seen so much cheating as I have witnessed in the past semester. If you're going to continue calling AUS the best school in the UAE and saying how its so difficult, then start being honest students. You have lost all credibility in my mind. 

A Disappointed Observer

It's amazing just how much cheating can go on in such a short amount of time. I've seen personally, with my one 2 eyes and ears, 9 people fail courses because of cheating. That's just seen or heard from the professor directly. Add about a dozen more from second hand sources (yes, this is in only my classes). 

Thermodynamics is a tough course. I haven't met a single person that said it was easy. Last week, we had a final on this program called EES (engineering equation solver) that we've been using scarcely for a while. The final was only worth about 3% of our grade. Because of this final, 8 students will be failing the course. In one of the sections (my section, with only 24 students), somehow several copied the same solution with all the right answers. Those same idiots didn't bother to check if the given information was right.. The first pressure was supposed to be 8000kpa, but instead, 8 people had 800kpa. Makes it pretty easy to spot the cheaters, doesn't it? I was in the professor's office when the TA came in to tell him "we have a serious cheating problem". Those students were immediately reported to the dean.

In this same class, everyday I watch people copy homework solutions directly from the solution's manual or each other, which was also probably copied from the solutions manual. If you look at the entire class's homework, they all look eerily similar. 

I worked my butt off in this class and I'm proud to say I passed with a C (not even a C-, it's official!). I had to drop this class a year ago because I was failing and I knew it would be tough again. I will hold my head up high when someone asks me how I did in thermo this time, because every grade I got, I earned. I didn't copy and I didn't cheat. I worked hard and accepted every low test score. 

Today I witnessed it again. We had our Arabic Heritage final. This one, unlike the 3% on EES, was worth 30%. About 10 minutes into the exam, the professor walks to the back of the room and picks up a pile of papers from a student's desk. The moron had copied all semester's notes onto about 3 pages and was literally copying it onto the exam. He was asked to leave and the professor showed us as proof incase the student tried to appeal it. No more than 2 minutes later, the student comes back in and says something to the professor. I couldn't hear what he said, but the professor replied "if you're trying to graduate, you wouldn't have tried to cheat". Apparently the student was supposed to graduate this semester but will probably not pass now that he'll be getting a zero on the final. Serves him right. He obviously has something to learn before he gets out of college. He also apparently tried the same thing on the midterm but the professor looked away and let him go. Too bad you can't have a cheat sheet for life. 

How did I do on this exam? I probably failed. It wouldn't surprise me. Why? 1. I don't speak arabic and there were several translation questions (as there have been all semester) 2. I have a really hard time with arabic names (they all sound the same to me) 3. Many of the questions came from the presentation last week and I despise the fact that our grade is in the incompetent hands of others (I swear I didn't learn a thing from the presentations) 4. The book is full of arab and Islamic propaganda that can't be backed up or proven. Who wrote the book? Who knows. There is no author. It's a copied book that looks like a compilation of internet articles and brochures. Some of the pages are vertical, others horizontal. Some of the information is copied directly from websites (which is honestly how we learned in class some days).  The professor told us if we want more information to go to these Islamic websites. Hello! Can you smell the evangelism?! And tell me, where is the credibility when a professor pulls up this Islamic website, has us read it aloud all class and discuss the opinions it's "teaching"? Maybe to other Muslims it's totally legit, but if I wanted to be preached to about the "truths of Mohammed", I'd find a mosque. There is plenty of evidence he lived, but not everyone believes in the same religion. This is not a religion class, if it were, we would have been aloud to have discussions about it. The professor refused to acknowledge anyone else's opinion on the topic and simply left it at what the article said. And yes, this was tested on the exams. 

But I don't want to get into the religious argument. The point of this blog is to write about the cheating. So back to that.

Cheating doesn't end with just copying on homework and exams. Another huge problem here is negotiations. Some professors won't even entertain the idea, but other can be convinced to change just about anything. One professor, actually asked us the class before a midterm if we'd rather take it that week or the next. Another professor told us to negotiate amongst ourselves (there were only 8 of us in the class) when we want the midterm and let him know... If you don't have your homework done (or haven't had time to copy it) just ask the professor if you can turn it in before he left the office that day. I've never heard them decline that request. 

Some of the other hand, ironically the non-arab professors (I'm not making any judgement on nationality, just a classification of who doesn't do it) rarely do this. The turkish thermo professor sticks strictly to the course policy. Things are turned in on time, no late assignments, midterms and finals are clearly marked on the syllabus and don't even think about negotiating your grade. Before we could take the final, we all had to agree to not approach him about our final grade. He would let us see our final exam, but we were not aloud to discuss the final letter grade. 

My Spanish music professor wrote to us the Etiquette Rules of Post-Exam Consultation. And I have all the respect in the world for him for it, too. He made it clear that there was to be no "grade-related negotiation, haggling, quibbling, wrangling or arguing", because as he states, it's discriminatory and unprofessional. If two students do work to similar standards all semester, they should receive the same grade. If one of those students goes to the professor and they get their grade raised, where is the justice in that? 

After all is said and done, I have had some really great professors. They are all great, genuine people. Especially my music professor. He's new here also, so he and I could relate in a lot of ways (especially being musicians in a society that really doesn't value music). He worked so hard in making me conformable here and when he sensed that I was having a rough time, approached me and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I have so much gratitude for him. 

AUS really is a great school, don't get me wrong. I just wish the student would work a little harder at keeping up it's good name reputation. It won't take long for it to be known otherwise. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Time Flies; Just Remember - You're the Pilot

Time is such an arbitrary idea. Sure, it's defined by finite actions - 1 day = 24 hours, 1 hour = 60 minutes, 1 minute = 60 seconds and so on, but does that really mean anything to us?

When we're excited and can't sleep, time drags on forever. When we're doing something we enjoy, time flies by. What does it even mean to "perceive time"? Is it really the time we are perceiving? Or is it the events or changes in time? This is just a paradox. In the notion of perceiving an event followed by another. Perhaps flowing in a straightforward motion.

So why is it, that if what we are really perceiving are the events, that they are what goes by the fastest? Shouldn't time slow down to allow us the most "time" in the pleasant instances?

What about your memory? What's the earliest memory you can remember? Think of a date in the past. Can you remember exactly what you did that day? But what about your graduation day? Or prom or wedding day? Or other memorable event? I bet a significant day you can remember exactly what the air smelled like when you woke up. There's no logical reason why we can't remember insignificant details of the past. The human brain is more than capable of it. In fact some people can.

What brought this up, you ask? In 5 days I'll be flying home. Back to the good old US of A. 4 1/2 months have flown by. Sure many time I felt like it would never end. But looking at the big picture, I feel like i just got here. Some moments I remember vividly - like my first night. I didn't have a phone, my computer battery was dead, and there was no internet. I was literally cut off from the world and there wasn't a single person I could talk to because there was no one here. I remember every thought that went through my head as I laid in bed crying, wondering if I made the right decision to come.

How do we perceive precedence amongst events? Why do I chose to remember that night over what I did the entire first few weeks? Life is full of these questions and I continue to ask myself how over 4 months have gone by and how I didn't take advantage of every opportunity here. I met so many great people but never actually got close to many of them. I guess part of knowing it's a terminal friendship kind of hinders that. It's a shame, too. With so much spare time and no extracurricular activities, why didn't I spend extra time studying to get A's in all of my classes? Sure I could have; but I decided to do more recreational activities instead. I guess that's just a choice in how we spend the little amount of time we are given. 

I had a great time being here. The low points and emotional agony just made the good times even better. Life would be boring if nothing bad ever happened. Would the weeks before spring break been better if I wasn't in the hospital having emergency surgery? Sure. I wouldn't have missed so much school work, including a midterm and many lectures and I also would have had more time to enjoy my free time. But without being rushed around Sharjah in an ambulance, I'd have one less story to tell. I wouldn't be able to constantly laugh when I think about honey (ask me later, I might just tell you the story) or any of the other things that happened. I swear I could write a novel about those 3 days in the hospital!

Moral of the story: value the time you are given. You only get to live once.

It's been 130 days and I have only 5 left. Time to make them the best 5 days of the semester!