An old-school style of teaching…

I was just looking at my previous post about Powerpoints, and it made me realise something. I am happy to report that Powerpoint doesn‘t reign supreme at university here. Most of the teachers I’ve encountered use a blackboard and chalk. I haven’t seen either in about ten years.

Just the other day I had an initial class on Greek religion in which the teacher just talked to us for an hour and forty-five minutes. No powerpoint, a few words scribbled on the chalkboard, that was it. It was one of the most stimulating, fascinating classes I’ve ever had. He was a fantastic speaker, passionate and engaging. This is what teaching should be about. The dude made me want to be a teacher.

But even he couldn’t stop me nodding off in the last half of the class, though that was more to do with the previous alcoholic late night I’d had than the quality of his speech.

Teaching here is excellent. The students seem to actually care about work. All classes are optional, which in England would mean a consistent turnout of zero by the time week four rolls around. Here, I get the impression people will continue to attend in order to, y’know, learn.

One thing I do not like, AT ALL, is the 8:30am starts. 8:30am!!! Why, why? A Swiss girl  explained to me that an earlier start means an earlier finish. Yes, ok, but why not have a later start to make life more bearable?! I don’t suppose I’ll ever get used to 8:30 starts, it’s just cruel.

I realise this post is not what I promised it would be (a list of fun Swiss facts), but that is coming up, promise!

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Money can’t buy me love…or much else, it would appear…

Now, I’m one of those people who doesn’t particularly like to talk about money. I find it slightly gauche. I hate people who are miserly, and god forbid that I might appear so myself. However, I think miserliness is something I need to start cultivating right about now, because stuff here is so expensive that if I do not drastically reduce my standard of living I risk actual bankruptcy.

I know, I know. What did I expect? Switzerland is an expensive country. The refrain was all too familiar. But hearing vague mutterings about things being “expensive” is very different to the reality of standing with your mouth hanging open in a “low-price” supermarket, staring at the price label for a plastic chopping board that reads 20chf (roughly £15). I have found myself seriously considering whether I really need things like a colander, or soy sauce, or toilet roll. I mean, come on! How could I not need soy sauce?!

A bottle of commercially produced light soy sauce

I saw Magnum ice creams on sale for 5.50chf. 5.50!!! Heart attack. In England I feel somewhat fleeced when I pay £1.30 for one! One doesn’t risk sounding cheap when talking about the pricey-ness of everything; that’s what normal people do here. But I’m  adjusting to the shock. There’s more to life than money. Plus I’ve been eating a healthier diet than I have in months, now that things like alcohol and junk food have become a commodity (allthough you can get surprisingly good Swiss chocolate here for cheaper than in England).

The stress of start-up costs aside, I do love it here. It really is a great place. People say the Swiss are cold, but I think they are lovely! So I encountered some rather strange, abrupt women today in the accommodation office, but I reckon they are an exception, and they were still helpful! Plus…ok, let’s be honest. The people here (both guys and girls) are hot. Makes the crowded morning Metro ride a bit more interesting anyway…

I’ve also been having entire conversations in French. It’s amazing. I’ve been told I don’t have an English accent, which a) I don’t believe and b) could be a good thing, but might also just make me look retarded when I come out with broken sentences. In any case, I’ve only had one day of actual university life, so I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface yet.

Next post: fun/bizarre things I have encountered en Suisse…

Departure demain and all a-dither

I used to think planning too far ahead was wasted energy, that everything falls into place without needing to over-worry oneself with minor details.

HA! The last few days have been highly…whatever is the opposite of relaxing. Granted, I think (pray) that I now have everything I need to move my life to another country, but it was a close one. It’s only ok to be relaxed (i.e. complacent) if you have been relaxedly preparing things months in advance.

So, tomorrow is the day of departure. I now have no clue what to expect. I have been told variously that Switzerland is a wonderful place, so diverse and advanced and clean! Oh but they’re completely racist and sexist there – as a woman I will be expected to stay at home and cook and clean, and god forbid I’m a foreigner… The Swiss are really chilled out and friendly…but they’re really uptight and weird and rude.

It’s amazing how people can make these wide-sweeping verdicts of an entire people – even a relatively small one like the Swiss. The above contradictions are a perfect example of how inaccurate, unfair and pointless these judgements can be. Besides, it’s all relative, depending on what one’s opinion of “uptight” or “friendly” is. It also depends on where you are because even in a place as small as Switzerland you will have regional variations – perhaps especially in a place like Switzerland.

Culture shock is a guarantee anytime you visit foreign shores; an open mind is a must. So I guess I best steel myself. Though, let’s be honest, Switzerland’s probably going to be better than England.

Just joking. Kind of.

How to ski in style

I seem to be leaving everything to the very last minute in my year-abroad prep (I’ve got to page 3 of the Year Abroad Guide booklet that we were given in March). It just today occurred to me, as I was wandering the high street, to pop into my local Black’s and check out some of their cold weather gear. I am very susceptible to the cold, and if I am to be clambering over mountains while in Switzerland (which I plan to do), I really ought to be thermoed-up for it.

Skiing is top of my list of things to at least try. I did one class of dry-slope skiing in year 7, which involved a practically horizontal slope, the length of which we were allowed to ski down once. Needless to say, I can’t really ski. I also have no clue what to wear. From my mother I have inherited an unused pair of black leather skiing gloves, which will definitely be useful, a pair of grey waterproof skiing trousers, and a bright scarlet beanie hat. None of them match.

It’s probably a little late in the day to be planning ski outfits. I’m leaving in 9 days (whoop whoop!) and have more important things to be doing. But… now I’m fixated on this. I have googled ski outfits and observed some alarmingly sleek and stylish ensembles. Surely no-one, aside from professional skiers who have tight, hi-tech streamlining fabrics, skis in leggings? You’d freeze!

Still, I, who once abhorred fleeces and those colourful, panelled waterproof jackets, am now hankering after a bright pink North Face fleece, and a windstopper to boot!

Even if I don’t end up going anywhere near a mountain (well, relatively, as you’re never far from a mountain in Lausanne), I ought to make thermals my new best friends. For some reason I seem to have it in my mind that nowhere will have central heating and I will be perpetually huddled in three fleeces, with longjohns on under my jeans. Much as I love winter for the stylish winter-wear (everyone looks so much better covered up in a smart coat, no?), I might just end up trudging around in a pair of wellies, fleece and raincoat. Function over fashion, darling.

Power to the Point! (Not the PowerPoint)

The Anti-PowerPoint Party is out to get your slideshows, and should they garner enough support, they plan to run in Switzerland’s October general election. I refer to an article I read about banning PowerPoint presentations in Switzerland.

It got me thinking about PowerPoint, and its ubiquitous presence in all forms of public address, from academic lectures to speeches at birthday parties. On the whole, I believe it can be a useful addition, as long as it is used for good, and not for presentation evil.

You know what I mean. The lazy-ass student who has copied a mass of text from the Internet and pasted it onto a single slide, too small to read from the back of the room, and who proceeds to intone the entire thing, which we all could have done just as well ourselves in silence. Often the information is generic, dull and comprises no analysis or work on the part of the student.

Then there are the distracting slideshows, containing dizzying flashes, spinning, twisting, fading and wiping texts and images flying all over the screen. One wonders if the creator wasn’t having the time of their life the night before, discovering the magic and fun that is transitions and animations. Or if their presentation is in fact rubbish, and they’re trying to razzle dazzle you into thinking otherwise.

What happened to cultivating good old skills of public address? Such as eye contact with your audience, and remembering what you are going to say, using only a few prompts from your bullet-pointed notes? We mustn’t fear the notion of simply talking to a room – essentially what a lecture is. With the right amount of charisma you won’t need anything other than yourself to hold the attention of your audience. Relying on slideshows dulls that magnetism and makes generic, PowerPoint-enslaved automatons of us all.

Whoever heard of a PowerPoint-accompanied inspiring speech? Did Alexander the Great need such aids when he rallied his tired troops on the verge of conquering India? Would Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech have been quite so stirring if the crowd were distracted by a big projection behind him detailing the major points of his argument? Would King George VI (played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech) have tried so hard to overcome his speech impediment if he had PowerPoint as a back-up? We’ll never know the answers to these questions and frankly I don’t want to because a slideshow just cannot compare to a genuinely inspired and engaging oration.

Obviously if you’re in an art lecture, you’re going to need the projections of artworks under discussion. But I reckon PowerPoints should contain pictures, names and dates, and little else. These are generally what I prefer to include if I have to give a presentation, and I present the bulk of my research in speech. Another problem I have with PowerPoint is it makes for very static speeches. Because of the need to always be by the computer’s side to click onto the next slide, you lose movement and dynamism, which can really add interest and stimulus to a presentation.

Still, I’ve often found having a PowerPoint gives you something to focus on if your lecturer is mind-numbingly dull; a visual back-up if you cannot stand to listen to their voice, allowing you to still pick up key points. Pictures or videos can often provide additional stimulation, as well as making your lecturer look well smart and up-to-the-minute.

Though I don’t think we need to go as far as abolishing PowerPoints, I do believe we need not rely on them. It has become basically compulsory for university lecturers to use them, but why? It may bolster a bad presentation but it can equally do the opposite to a good one. If the projector is not working (as often happens), lectures are delayed, relocated, or even cancelled. What a waste of time on something inessential to many lectures anyway.

So let’s all ditch our PowerPoints, vote for the Anti-Powerpoint Party and get stuck in to some Quintilian!