Your Language Confuses and Frightens Me
Having just begun my second year of college, one would think I'd know something of how this institution is supposed to operate. I'm not the most intelligent person on the planet, nor am I the least, but after thirteen months at Shoreline Community College, I've had to utter the most embarrassing of sentences far too many times to various students and members of the faculty: "I'm sorry," I'd begin. "I don't speak College. Can you dumb that down a little, please?"
My first day of classes I was awash on a sea of unfamiliar terms and acronyms. What is this PUB of which you speak? Is there an Irish bar on campus? What is a "Veeseetee" building? Why are people talking about chairs like they have thoughts and feelings? Even such simple terms as "Credit Hour", which I'd heard often on television, were beyond my understanding as my high-school education never seemed to include a sit-down with a college-literate teacher proclaiming, "Despair not, ye masses, for I shall teach ye the meaning of AAAS, FAFSA and TBA."
During orientation, so many unfamiliar terms whooshed by my ignorant ears that I couldn't imagine I was the only person feeling left out in the cold. I looked around, however, to see countless bright-eyed heads nodding in understanding and I mistakenly kept my mouth shut. After grilling my wife for more than an hour on terms and acronyms that evening I resolved to become a loudmouth. Now, more often-than-not, when I ask what I'm positive is an absolutely ridiculous question, I'm often met with a collective sigh of relief from other students also seemingly trapped outside the supposed-common-knowledge-of-college bubble.
How could this problem be solved, I often wonder. Would a handout on the first day of classes with a glossary of terms be sufficient? Is it my own fault for lack of committing the whole of Google's results pages on "College terms and acronyms" to memory? Is it the faculty's for forgetting that though they're steeped in these terms daily, many of their students are hearing them for the first time? My question led me to interviews.
Nearly everybody I know graduated college in the mid-2000's, so I wasn't lacking in sources. The question was always the same: "How did you learn college terminology?" In all cases, the answer was simple: "Exposure." One former student even compared the experience to his time in Germany. "You just have to hear everybody using it in context for a long time and then you get it." Really?! Learning how to attend an institution whose sole purpose is to teach is akin to immersing yourself in a wholly unfamiliar language until you just "get it"? Really?! In 2011, more than 15 percent of SCC students spoke English as their second language. If I -- a native English-speaker -- had so much trouble learning this new and terrifying language, I can't imagine how much more difficult this process would be for a student working outside of their first language.
The facts seem evident: Expecting a bit more up-front instruction on college terminology and culture doesn't seem unreasonable. This campus is hardly lacking in friendly faculty willing to answer questions, but this level of assumed knowledge being commonly misinterpreted until finally one just "gets it" hardly seems ideal. And while a first-day glossary of terms would be of some help, and further instruction would also be of great help to those such as myself who find themselves often uttering those five terrifying words: "I'm sorry. I don't understand," the greatest weapon against this phenomenon is -- and always will be -- a certain lack of shame. Learning to eschew the fear of looking foolish is difficult, but asking questions, no matter how ridiculous-sounding, is never a bad thing.
Joseph Olsen, Copy Editor