Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Lot of Pressure for A Fifteen-Year-Old...

This past week one of my tenth-grade girls started to leave the building with tears streaming down her face...

I convinced her to stay for while to talk, and I felt so bad for her...

That evening we had Parent-Teacher conferences, and the pressure about what she's going to do in college (university) had become too much.

Like kids in many other European countries, Russian students have to decide what they're going to basically do with their lives by the end of their Junior Year (10th grade here). Universities don't allow you the freedom to choose a major after your first year; most are highly specialized and it isn't even feasible for you to take courses outside of your area of speciality.

As a result, you have to know what you're going to major in--and pretty much do afterwards--before you even apply. If you hope to get in on "бюджет" (scholarship), you have to stand out as extremely qualified in your area--and fully committed.

The university application process has become so corrupt that if you can't get in on "budzhyet," then your chances of doing so without paying extensive bribe money are very slim. This particular student's family can't afford to pay for university, so she basically feels backed into a corner with no way out. (Russian universities traditionally are inexpensive and open to all qualified students--but the increasing amount of bribe money many have to pay makes them more closely resemble American universities when you look at the ratio of cost to family income).

She needs to know by now what she plans to do so she can start making herself really stand out in that area... Her problem is that she likes everything in school and feels such angst about having to so sharply narrow her focus before she's certain.

The upside to the Russian way of doing things is that you basically cover material in both an undergraduate program and master's program within your four years of study...

But is that truly a good thing? I'm not sure that it's worth it. When I taught first-year foreign language oral drill classes in college, so many of my Freshmen came in certain about their eventual majors and paths in life... A year later, over half of them changed directions, some quite radically...

How you can decide what you're going to do with your life when you haven't been exposed to all the choices out there?

This is even truer when I look at how Russian high schools don't offer all the elective classes you can take in a good American school. Everyone takes pretty much the same thing and you don't have the freedom to pursue more specialized topics such as marine biology, forensic chemistry, literature by theme or topical history.

In the meantime, I urged my student to make some lists of what she loves doing--what kinds of activities are so enjoyable to her that she genuinely loses track of time when involved in them. I then suggested that she think of what jobs would allow her to do those things; perhaps that could help her narrow her focus in a less stressful way... In any case, I told her that the most important thing is to pick a pursuit that fulfills her, rather than simply being the means to a financial end...

I'll write more about the university application process some other time.

7 comments:

The Expatresse said...

Americans are blessed with so much freedom of choice in terms of college majors and careers. I spent many years doing academic advising for incoming college freshmen, and one thing we always told them was that the average person (American) changes CAREERS upwards of three times during their working life.

It is one of the good things about American culture.

Tina in CT said...

How can a 15 year old know what he/she wants to do at age 22 after their Bachelor's degree? Part of the joy of high school and college is the freedom to take courses that are interesting and expose them to something new. Our system is much better. Amen.

Tina in CT said...

Got home from dropping off Xmas gifts to Beth's and Cheryl's, laundramat and all the errands on Rt. **. Call me about errands as I have questions. I should be up until around midnight. I need to discuss stuff I bought before I start packing in AM.

Annie said...

Too bad you can't just tell her to pray.

Thus speaks the girl who majored in Russian Language and Theatre and has had a career in church work. Hm.... I always remember how in 8th grade speech I did my speech on wanting to be a missionary. Of course, I wasn't Catholic then, but....it sort-of fit.

That explains the odd phenomenon of the Russian ladies I know here in the US. Well - I know three. One is an at-home mother, happily so, who explained that her "career" is planning city infrastructure. I couldn't for the life of me imagine how you could study that to the point of being able to do it, and have the total lack of interest in it that she displayed. Another friend, who is deeply Orthodox, has no children but assists her husband with churchwork (he is a sub-deacon) and does organic gardening; her "profession" is biochemistry. The highly scientific college backgrounds of these two highly domestic ladies struck me as odd in the extreme. The third woman is forensic pathologist; she loves her work and in fact, they are going back to Russia so her mother can care for her children and she can work. So one out of three?

My Russian 15 year olds are as far from being able to make that kind of choice as any two boys could be, I think....

We'd love to host someone this summer, if you have anyone who would like to come...and, in fact, if you know anyone who would like their children to do a year here in school, that would be a blast, too.

Tina in CT said...

Need to go buy a new suitcase tomorrow night as the tapestry one with the broken zipper pulls will never close for me once it's full. Guess I can only pack 2 today. Getting a late start at it. The other one you left is not the biggest size and we need all the room we can get. Sure wish I could bring a cardboard box on CT Limo.

Anonymous said...

Natasha,
Happy Birthday!
I hope you had a great day.
Olga

garnet said...

I've seen this stress as well, though it sounds like at least in Russia high schools are fairly general? What I encountered in Romania was the need to choose a high school to attend, because you had to go to the right sort of high school to get into the college you wanted. My husband went to one that had a focus in math and science classes. I taught in one that was more literature / language based -- so the kids studied in addition to Romanian (plus Hungarian if they were in the Hungarian sector) French, English, Latin, and then even some Greek or Hebrew (don't remember which). This school was on the grounds of another one that was a technical school where students did a lot of learning how to repair items.

I taught in a language school in town and in one course had two girls -- friends -- who were attending a teacher training school. They were seniors and very frustrated because neither one really wanted to be a teacher. When they were about thirteen they had to choose what their career would be. They'd had no idea of their interests so when their parents suggested teacher training they went along with it. Now they realized it didn't appeal to them but they weren't really qualified to be accepted to any other college. It is hard enough for students to pass their college entrance exams as it is -- they seem to have to already know all about the subject matter. My husband failed his first try to enter engineering school and even his straight A cousin failed at her attempt to go to an English literature / language school because there were so many good applicants and only a few places.

Yet, I can also see disadvantages with the American system as well.