14 June, 2016

Am I Being Too Negative?

This semester has been a difficult one so far, but not for the same reasons as last semester. While last semester I was simply taking more classes than I could handle, this semester the workload is more manageable but the work itself is infinitely more frustrating. The most frustrating part is that a lot of the work is group work, and anyone who knows me well (or who has heard me complain about in the last two months) will know that I HATE group work! When it's in a group of three or four it can be okay, especially if the group works well together, but this semester, at least for one project, that has not been the case.

The format and the scope of the group work that I have this semester is just baffling. I would never have imagined that 15 people could be expected to collaboratively write and turn in one assignment over the course of the semester, but that is what is happening in one of my classes. The absurdity of this leaves me speechless. If I were a professor, I would never dream of putting my students through that just so I could grade fewer papers, but that seems to be the goal here. Before I get carried away and start tearing into this laughable approach to text production, I will move on to what I really wanted to talk about in this post.

The trials and tribulations inherent in working on a large project with such a large group (differing opinions, inconsistent writing styles, people not paying attention to group decisions made in their presence, etc) has led me to complain about it, a LOT. To my classmates, to Maxim, to my family, really to anyone who will listen. It's not just me who is doing this, either. Almost everyone I'm working with on these projects has at one time or another complained about it. And that's not even where the complaining and the negativity ends.

The example of this group assignment is simply representative of a larger phenomenon. I hear my fellow students complaining about various classes ALL THE TIME. While I think talking about things that are stressing you out can be beneficial, this goes beyond that. It seems that many of my classmates are complaining not about the stress or about how much work they have to do, but about the work itself, about the topic or about this master's program in general.

When I compare the type of discourse about coursework that I hear here in Hildesheim with the type of discussions about coursework that I heard and participated in at Mount Holyoke (my alma mater in the US), there's a subtle but important difference: the complaining here is about the work, how "dumb" the assignment is (although sometimes the assignments are obnoxiously organized, like these huge group projects) or how the person doesn't want to have to do anything like this at all. At Mount Holyoke the "complaining" (if I can even call it that) was about how much work we had to do and how we weren't sure we were going to get it all done. I rarely heard complaints about the subject matter itself, and it usually didn't boil down to us not wanting to do the work.

It makes me wonder why some of the students in my program are even in this program if they don't seem to be interested in the topic or in doing the work. If you're not excited about writing and translating now, how do you expect to succeed in your future career? The German education system is so accessible that if you are unhappy with what you are studying you can easily switch to something else. It's baffling to me to hear students complaining about a "boring" translation class that I find extremely interesting. Sure, maybe the professor drones on a bit, but he's providing us important insight into the minutiae of the language that will be important for us to know for writing or translation in the future.

The worst part is I've found myself feeding into this negativity and complaining along with the rest of them. Although I am enthusiastic about the topic, I'll chime right in when people are complaining about how they don't want to do this or that translation. It's not even that I agree completely with what I'm saying, it just seems like a social survival mechanism of sorts. It's how many people here communicate with each other, so if I want to communicate with them I have to join in. It's easier to just smile and nod along with what everyone else is saying than to be the teacher's pet who contradicts everyone.

Now that I've begun to more consciously notice this negativity and my participation in it, it's been bothering me. I have an amazing opportunity to study something I'm interested in without going into debt, so why am I complaining about it? How do I find the very fine line between discussing the challenges of an assignment and complaining about it, and how do I avoid crossing that line?

So far I haven't been able to answer these questions fully. What I can do is try to notice the negativity and steer my own additions to the conversation in a more positive direction. Whether I succeed at that or not remains to be seen. At least those two projects will be over tomorrow. Then I should have much less to complain about :)

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