Thursday, September 20, 2012

No easy fix

There's no such thing as a simple fix.

Yesterday I went to the T-Mobile store to try and get a new SIM card for my iPhone. I had already heard that I needed to unlock my phone to enable the company to put in a new card, so when I asked the employees for their help they referred me to a sketchy place across the street.

I walked to the sketchy place across the street and asked for their help in unlocking my phone, but when they asked who my provider is and I said Verizon, it couldn't be done. I walked away in sadness and shame for having not fixed this issue back when I was in America. But that is beside the point.

When things seem to be going well, it doesn't necessarily mean they aren't. But it also doesn't necessarily mean they are. And vice versa.

The next step was to walk into another phone provider who arranged that I will have a junky little phone for the next three months with unlimited data and text as well as 300 minutes of talk for the same price as the T-Mobile offer and significantly less hassle.

Out the door in a few minutes.

So why am I telling you this story?

Well for the past few days, a lot of my experiences have been filled with little annoyances and things getting in the way of simplicity. But that doesn't mean they haven't turned out well.

I used to think that in a competition between the United States and UK, the battle for supremacy in organization (or organisation if we're going with the British spelling) would always go to the latter. The stereotype would indicate that United Kingdom is the more sophisticated of the two countries, so it would logically follow that things in this country tend to be more smoothly run than the equivalent institutions in my home country.

Well, I thought that until I arrived at my university.

Note: For the sake of privacy, I'm not going to write the names of my university at home or in the UK, but for the sake of clarity I'll call my British university "uni" and my American college "college".

The first step when getting to uni was to go to an international student orientation. We'd been given an address and asked to arrive there at 9 am. When we got to the building, there was no one inviting us in, but a huge line of international students had accumulated outsides. No ushers stood around telling anyone where to go, so until about 9:15 we waited impatiently to be led in.

That was only the beginning of what would continue to be a pretty wackadoodle introduction.

After our initial orientation sessions were over with, we were introduced to a registration website that is supposed to assist us in registering for classes. But in the interest of making things as unnecessarily complicated as possible, the website has the production value of something out of the 1990's. With error messages galore and pages linking to other pages in the same window, forfeiting previous submissions, it becomes almost impossible to navigate.

As the instructors began their tutorial on how to use the website, they went quickly through the motions only to be met with red X's and confused looks from their already confused audience. Trying to write notes and keep a tally of every step, I found myself getting lost in the tone of one of the instructor's voices. She would say "yea" as a confirmation after her statements, and with each successive word I'd become more distracted and less aware of the functions of the registration site.

I guess I didn't realize that the very next day I'd have to figure it all out for myself.

Today was my first day meeting with the History department, my main department at uni. They finally gave us the courses we'd been registered for, despite not giving us the chance to register for the ones we'd initially hoped for and then following up with a list of alternates that were random and (some of them) undesirable. Then they sent us on our way to chase down the other department heads and ask for their permission to take electives in their respective subjects.

I complain a lot about my college's registration system. In fact, everyone does. And there are many problems with it. But if we're talking about absolutely insane methods, then the award would have to go to my uni. Because it's one thing to have to email professors for permission to take their courses way in advance, or to register for classes at an unreasonably late time and have missed the opportunity at taking all the ones you wanted. But it's another to have to chase down actual human beings and beg them to let you take a course. And then you still have to enter it online?

But that isn't the only catch. When you finally have entered the courses into the online registration system, you will only be notified officially of whether you're registered or not once they have been checked to make sure there are no overlaps. Because they don't let you know when the classes will be taking place until you've already registered.

This is a topic I could complain about for paragraphs more, but I won't. Because like the phone situation, after a few meetings with other departments I feel pretty confident that things will be working out some way or another. Despite the difficulty of getting everything squared away, at the moment they seem to have not fallen apart entirely.

Still, this is reason to question my own internal stereotyping of the British people. Assuming that the fa├žade of sophistication indicates a better ability to handle organization is presumptuous. Because all in all, my transition into an American college was a lot more structured than anything involving my uni.

Despite this, though, I've had a great last couple of days. And I'm still excited about what's coming up next. And after that. And so on. Because there's so much left to experience. Even if there are no easy fixes, that doesn't mean there aren't any at all.

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