Experiential Learning

You know, my understanding of the whole “experiential learning requirement” is that it’s supposed to be about learning about life in some way.  You can get it from doing an internship.  You can doing it from studying abroad.  You take the experience you learn from doing something in the, “real world,” and apply it to your life in some way that you couldn’t see from just going to class.  But I kind of think the whole institution is a joke.  We’re all going to learn about the world in our own time.  There’s no reason to require us to take some stupid class, or work for some asshole, or go to some random country, just to get it done.

I think my girlfriend is going to dump me.  And I must be honest, the terms of this blog requirement are rather vague.  I have to talk about whatever I experience here.  Well, I’m experiencing that the girl I’ve been dating since before she left for Ireland is about 2 weeks from leaving Ireland, and wants to leave me.  We made it over the gap.  We both made it to Europe, and were happy until last week.  And I didn’t do anything wrong.  She’s just found time for everyone else other than me.  What else can that mean?

Experiential learning…  That’s a little redundant, isn’t it?  Isn’t ALL learning experiential?  I mean unless you’re still deluded enough to believe that “rationalism” is the real, functioning, way that the human brain works, you’ll realize all learning is empirical.  So why make it required?  Tabula Rasa.  I mean Jesus, John Locke figured it out about almost 400 years ago, why are people still contriving to find it otherwise?  And it’s not even though he was the first to think of the human mind that way.

The liberal arts education is a joke.  Why did I even go to UMW?  Well, because it was either Rutgers University, or TCNJ, both of which were essentially high school round 2, and I really wasn’t about that life.  Plus, I hate meeting people.  I really do.  I find it absolutely abhorrent.  That’s what I’ve hated most being here.  I got into both Rutger’s and TCNJ, by the way.

They say a liberal arts education prepares you for life.  I think that’s false.  I think most people would agree that’s false.  What prepares you for life, is life.  Not learning about how Amoeba reproduce, or about how Hegel was far more of a deist than a Christian, despite what many older interpretations may consider him, or how Stephen Crane was a naturalist, not a realist, a slight, but important distinction.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

-Stephen Crane

I’ve always been an absurdist.  Albert Camus started the tradition, in case you didn’t know.  It’s the belief that ultimately, life is absurd, in that any attempts for human knowledge to attempt to make sense of it will ultimately fail, since we do not have the capacity to understand life on a fundamental level.  If there is a point to life, we’ll never know for sure, so why care?  That’s what I believe.  And I’m proud, that even if I’m wrong, I promise you right here and now, that I didn’t even look up that definition as I wrote it.  Even if I’m wrong, that’s what I believe.  But I digress.  As Camus said, “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”  The rock drops from all our hands at some point.  I’d imagine Stephen Crane would find that philosophy rather enticing, even if he didn’t believe it entirely.  Naturalism is hardly a stones throw from absurdism.  One’s more of a nihilism, and one’s a sort of existentialism.  All that really differs is the meaning to life.  I guess that’s a big one, though.

Bob died recently.  He was my friend.  A good friend.  I won’t pretend we were the best of friends, but he always was able to make me happy, and I always looked forward to his company.  That’s a rare quality, in anyone, really.  And I say that sincerely.  I feel like people say stuff like that because someone’s dead and they feel they should, but Bob really was one of the best men I knew.  He was smart.  I was in One Note with him.  It’s funny, I remember Ian once called him, “The Sage of One Note.”  He was nice.  I never ever was angry at him.  Everyone knows how easily they’re offended.  To never offend me, someone that’s easier to offend than a damn bear, is a damn accomplishment.  I’m sad he’s gone.  I was supposed to live in his apartment next year, after he graduated in the spring.  I don’t want to anymore.  I’m not a superstitious man, but I don’t want to live in a place where your friend has died.  Everyone lost a lot when Bob passed.  He was one of the few people that truly deserved to be remembered, even if he didn’t DO anything to be remembered by.  He was just a kind soul that made everyone happy.  That has always been a rare quality.

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones lately.  As such, I feel as though I’ve gained a bit of a penchant for being dramatic.  But this is what experiential learning means to me: it means going to a country to learn a language you don’t speak, to have your girlfriend dump you, and your friend die, and come back alive, and eventually find the courage to be happy just the same.

I’m past the point of “culture shock.”  I know I’m not unhappy because of GERMANY.  But my life has gone to Hell in a hand basket since I’ve been here.  Well, Jesus.  This is a BLOG about LIFE.  Professor Rotter, if you truly find my post offensive, I will deter from doing anything like this in the future.  All you need do is let me know.  But I haven’t been this unhappy since my grandmother died my Junior year.  Granted, I’m a kid of no small privilege.  But still.

So I ask you: what is the point of an experiential learning requirement if you don’t talk about your EXPERIENCES?  And forgive me, I’m hardly being sarcastic at you, but more the whole institution.  This has been on my mind the past few days.  It’s been eating away at me.  I have to say something.  I hope you understand.

My friend told me this once: everyone is the center of their own Universe.  Ain’t it the truth, though?


1 thought on “Experiential Learning

  1. Marcel Rotter

    Dear Thüringen traveler,
    Thank you for your openness in reflecting on your experiences in Germany. I do understand your frustration of being abroad and feeling powerless by not knowing the language well enough or by trying to deal with personal events that affect your life deeply but take place far away. I have been in these situations myself a number of times. And it sucks, no doubt about it. I don’t want to play it down, deflect, or say “get over it.”
    In terms of the German language, you are able to do something about it; it will take time, but you can do it. You were a talented language learner here, and I have no doubt that you will acquire more knowledge in the coming months. Unfortunately, language acquisition does really take time and can only be compacted to a certain extend (by immersion, for example). Your impatience reflects your motivation, and that’s a good thing.
    To lose people that are close to you is something that is much more difficult. To remember the good moments one shared might provide comfort, but the sting of the finality of the loss remains. If I understand your philosophical approaches correctly, then you might see death as a part of life; the final point if you are an atheist, a door to a new chapter if you are religious.
    With regards to experiential learning, I do agree that all learning is (or should be) experiential. When we instituted Experiential Learning as a general education requirement, we were, actually, trying to acknowledge that learning takes place outside the classroom as well – during internships, in foreign countries, while doing independent research. Call it a corrective measure to the “teach-learn-test-repeat” approach that the “No Child Left Behind” policy instilled in high school students and that some of my colleagues also subscribe to.
    We could certainly discuss the validity of having a blog reflecting on your experiences. If you prefer, write an old-fashioned diary. I like, however, to be able to respond to your posts while you are still there. The instructions are certainly vague, but your experiences are different from those of others and I do not want to limit your writing. As you say, “it’s a blog about life” – I would add “in Germany.” Write what brings you joy and what bothers you, went your frustration and c
    Is a liberal arts education useful? Before coming to the U.S., I did not know that there were differences in college education. Liberal arts reminded me of the 7 liberal arts (artes liberals) that a free man in medieval times had to learn (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_arts_education). Only when I started at UMW did I learn more about it, and I have to say I think it’s a good concept. From what I see in students coming out of high schools here, I think that a good general education is needed. It’s not about “learning about how Amoeba reproduce, or about how Hegel was far more of a deist than a Christian,” it’s about HOW you approach a problem and solve it, HOW you find answers to questions you have. Moreover, you weren’t born with your knowledge of Camus, Crane, absurdism and naturalism. You learned that, maybe even at UMW (or not), and it seems to help you to deal with life right now. Others should have the same chance. And maybe, it’s not Camus and Crane that helps them dealing with life but those Amoeba or Hegel. You won’t know before you are exposed to them. “Learning from life for life” might be a narrow process – you only reproduce what exists in your life. How do you get exposed to new ideas? One could wait until one might come across them (or not), or one could willingly expose oneself to them in a liberal arts institution.
    Does Liberal arts education work 100% for everyone? Certainly not. But it’s a good thing!
    I hope that you will have positive experiences in Thüringen. Erfurt is certainly a good place to be in Spring.
    Best – Prof. Rotter

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