Where I went wrong: Academics
Next thing that went wrong: Academics.
There is a fifteen credit minimum, and depending on which university you’re taking classes at they range from 3-6 credits. Upon selecting classes, you submit the course information to UW Madison requesting an equivalency, so that they can transfer your credit. I ended up with 3 classes: The 3 credit IFSA Castellano course, that is pre-approved by UW. A 6 credit Literature class, that was quickly approved by the Spanish department.And a 6 credit International Criminal Organizations course, that was taking an oddly long time to be approved by UW’s Political Science department.
I’ll be honest, I did not take my classes very seriously. It all felt surreal. With it being taught to me in Spanish, and being in different buildings, and just a different environment altogether, I didn’t feel like I was really in school. Especially when in my literature course there would be pigeons walking in out and out of the room, confusing sign up lists to order course books that came up every other week, with an equally confusing time trying to remember which books i had signed up for, which I had paid for, and which I had picked up. That made it also difficult to keep up with what reading was due for when. Often a reading was due when I didn’t have the book yet, and I would end up reading the book the week after it had been discussed, almost always behind, but never once reaching out for help. It was part pride, part embarrassment. Part being difficult to follow along in classes when the students would speak so fast about topics I wasn’t familiar with: recent Argentine current events and social issues.
Another factor that I think affected me was having so much free time. Back at UW I have classes, a job, meetings, volunteer events, friends to socialize with. Being busy helped keep me on a schedule, being on a schedule helped me stay organized, being organized made it easier to get work done. In Argentina, I only had class 3 days a week. I volunteered one day a week. The rest of the time I had was free. And back on campus if I had free time I would spend it resting, bumming, and generally being lazy and not doing anything. So that’s what I ended up doing with my free time in Buenos Aires. I would put off work until last minute or sometimes not do it at all.
It seemed like I would get away with it when in my literature course she assigned us a paper, due the last day of class. I had previously asked her how the course was being graded and she said we were getting that paper. That was all she mentioned. So I was pretty excited when the topic she assigned me was something we were about to talk about in my next class. I read what she had written about the topic in her book. I read the stories I was to analyze. I paid close attention when she spoke about it in class. She emphasized that she didn’t want us to repeat what she had said, but to come up with our own conclusions. My IFSA advisor reminded me to email him my paper before turning it so he could review and correct it. He knew how she grades, he could be a huge asset. I struggled to develop my concept, when I finally had it and had completed my paper it was midnight before it was due. Despite the late finish I was confident in my paper. I emailed it to my professor expecting a decent grade and relieved to be done with that class. I really hadn’t enjoyed my time with it and to have that paper over with was a huge relief in my life.
A few weeks later she emailed apologizing for not correcting our papers yet, she still had a few to get through. She also was sorry she hadn’t sent us the guidelines for the final paper yet. I did a double take. WHAT FINAL PAPER?! I had thought I was done with that class, I was working on my final 15 page paper for the other 6 credit class. I didn’t want to deal with another 15 pages before I left in 3 weeks. I was also terrified because i had left all the books from that course at my old host mom’s house, I did NOT want to have to see her again(I get to those details in my next point). I sent several emails, in the end it turned out I had failed to properly read the syllabus where it clearly said that we had a midterm evaluation(the paper I had turned in) and a final project(the one I was dreading having to do). She sent out the guidelines and I began the brainstorming, the good news was that the I didn’t need the old books I had left behind at my old place.
A few days later she emails me asking me to resend my paper, she couldn’t correct it in PDF form. I obliged. The next day she sends me an email. Essentially my paper was a disaster. She said I made a lot of points without giving the evidence to back them up. And that it appears to her that I didn’t properly read any of the materials necessary for the paper, and combined with my lack of participation in the class, she could not pass me. She awarded it a 3/10. The minimum to pass is a 4. She gave me two options: she could report my 3, admitting that I failed the class. Or she could withdraw it and say I was never in the course, therefore “avoiding” my fail. I looked into the documentation of the program. On my way there, I discovered my Criminal Organizations course was denied for transfer to UW. This sent me over the edge. I was bawling. Out of 3 courses, I failed one and the other was denied for credit. My semester had been a waste. The damage to GPA and my plan for graduation were irreparable. Could I even afford academically to spend another semester in Buenos Aires? Would I need to return to Madison to offset this blow to my academics? I sent emails to several advisors. I finally arrived to look at my program paperwork. A 3 at UBA would transfer as a D. A D is not good at all, but it is better than an F. With a D I still receive credit. I felt somewhat relieved. But not much. I asked my professor what happens with my final paper, could I turn it in to improve my grade? She said that no, a condition for turning in the final paper is passing the first.
The next day I received emails back from all the advisors. A few wanted meetings with me. A Skype appointment with my UW study abroad advisor, assured me that the course that was denied would be accepted in some way, since I am with a UW program, I am guaranteed to have my credit transfer one way or another. I would not need to return to Madison, but if I wanted to they would support my decision and help me through the process. I decided it would be messier to leave than to stay. I met with the IFSA advisor, we discussed the fail actually being a D. He said if I was ok with that then ok. He really lamented that I hadn’t had anyone read over my paper before turning it in. Such a step would have avoided this mess. I went home content, well as content as you can be with a 6 credit D. But knowing I would get credit and not an F helped me feel better.
Later that afternoon I received call from my IFSA advisor. He had been thinking, and he realized something very important. I might not receive the 3 in the class. Since I didn’t meet the conditions to turn in a final paper, I technically didn’t meet the conditions to finish the class. It was very possible I would receive an incomplete. That WOULD be an F. He advised I email the professor asking for some way to get the 3. I could rewrite my old paper, work with my advisors, do some name dropping. He drafted the email for me and I sent it. I was nervous all over again. She responded that she wasn’t sure if it was bureaucratically possible to give me a 3 instead of an incomplete. She would talk to the foreign students office and ask for me. My advisor also promised to speak to some university administration. The next day I received an email from my professor, it was a forward of what she had received. I was confirmation that. Could be given the 3. It was failing anyway. I was so relieved. I related the story to my one argentine friend, bemoaning the impact it would have on my GPA. He was astounded. I still passed the class without having to write the final paper? That was the best situation I could have gotten out of it. So I’ll be thankful I managed to get through all of that drama with credit. It’s not pretty, but it’s better than an F.
Aims/goals to improve next semester: I recognize that all my free time really hurt me, and so did being at such a disorganized university. So I will try classes at one of the better organized private universities, that have classes several times a week. My schedule will be a lot busier, but I’m hoping that will help me in the end. Also, I want to make sure the classes I take are clear about the way they will grade the class, and also what materials I will need and where to find them. I don’t want anymore ridiculous lists of books that I need to keep track of. Also, I need to establish a relationship with whoever is teaching, so I will not be so intimidated if I am confused, and so I don’t end up drowning like I did last semester. And lastly, I need to improve my attitude in regards to these classes. They’re real. They count. The sting from the 6 credit D will probably be as strong of a motivator as anything else. I am abroad and in college on full scholarship. People are investing in me to do well and work hard, I need to live up to those expectations.