Rebekah Nathan is an anthropologist teacher at a University, as a professor she wonders how college students are so lazy in class and so unmotivated to learn. Being the anthropologist first she decides to go back to school as a freshman in 2002 and give her perspective as professor being a new student. She starts using the acronym AnyU to mean the university she is attending to hide its real identity and the people she describes in the book. My Freshmen Year shows the road the Nathan travels through one year of college living in the dorms and balancing the demands of a modern day student, through the eyes of a professor (Nathan 2005, ).
Nathan’s first college experience came when she went “Previews” which is a two-day event required for all freshmen at AnyU. I relate this to orientation that is recommended to all freshmen at UCM in the summer before classes start. Nathan stood out immediately in the crowd as being a parent, which is a common assumption since at this time she was around fifty-something years old. She did not have the common look of the other college freshmen and made the connection that things will be more difficult to blend in than she originally thought (Nathan 2005, ). The students were put into dorm rooms for the night with another student of the same sex, and Nathan could tell her roommate was a bit skeptical of her. Previews were an introduction to school, meal plans, tuition and such with ice breakers and issues brought up for freshmen to be ready to face in the upcoming future; much like orientation was for my freshmen year (Nathan 2005, ).
Nathan soon moved into her single dorm room and began “Week of Welcome.” This week is full of activities, hall get-togethers, and informational publications about how to be successful in college (Nathan 2005, ). She also noticed that RA, resident assistants, were very involved in the running of their halls by putting notes on doors and hanging up posters to promote different things each month or so. In beginning a good majority of the hall came to the activities; and a pivotal moment in her sabbatical was during a game of touch football she made some passes and gained the respect of the other hall mate to be included in the college student world (Nathan 2005, ). My experience was much like that of Nathan’s except the hall advisors are called CA, community advisor, and activities were jammed packed with things to do to build relationships within the hall. Everyone in my hall was bombarded with things to do to be more involved in campus life; it was a bit annoying actually.
My experience was also like Nathan’s in regard to being confused on where to go and how to figure out the structure of college. Even though Nathan was a teacher at the university she soon realized that she did not know students walkways to navigate campus, only the teacher routes that lead to the street not inside actual campus. The experience for Nathan in the dorm was an interesting one to say the least. Within her first week of living there she got a citation for drinking in the lobby, where alcohol is not allowed at any times (Nathan 2005, ). She also realized that the lingo of the younger generation would take some getting used to as well and no matter how hard she tried she would not fit into this setting. An older woman can be accepted into the college world to a degree, but could not entirely fit in like other freshmen.
After classes started at AnyU Nathan soon realized the demands and choices each student has to make in regards to clubs, activities, studying, picking classes, working classes into a schedule and making the most of your time to get the best grade possible (Nathan 2005, ). Classes were a learning experience to say the least. Nathan discovered that students resented students who talked or asked questions that were pertinent to learning the material instead of questions about what will be on a test, which were acceptable to students (Nathan 2005, ). The norm of student life is doing the least amount of work and students’ minimal talk in class to each other was about complaining about coursework. Nathan came to realize that students do not do the readings assigned for class because they have other classes that are asking them to do the same thing (Nathan 2005, ). Class work for students came down to priority, about what needed to be done or if the material would be used on a test. The demands put on students for classes, clubs and a job leave students doing what is necessary to pass the class.
Today, students treat class work in the much the same way. Students have to balance a million different things and prioritize to do everything asked of them. I have five classes and each of them ask for a fairly tough load of reading that I could not get done and understand completely. So I read what is necessary and what is important to help me save time to do everything else in life. I found Nathan’s chapter on foreign students the most interesting easily. I never realized how Americans come across to people from other cultures. All foreign students noted how closed off American students were, what is known as the norm here comes across as rude and unwelcoming to people who do not know it. The foreign students also noted how much students did not care to get to know them at all or care to ask about their home country (Nathan 2005, ).
It also made me sad to read that foreign students regarded Americans as ignorant about life outside of the United States. And that those students think they live in the best place in the world which makes them not care about other places at all. I had trouble relating to this section because personally I would love to travel and learn more about other cultures. I do not know everything about other countries but I know the basics and I like to believe that students have a basic common knowledge of other countries as well. This section also made me appreciate and try to work harder in school whenever the foreign students all said the American educational system was much more relaxed than anywhere else, with a wide range of individuality (Nathan 2005, ).
Nathan’s book led to a large debate about whether or not her research was ethical in the eyes of the anthropology code of ethics. In this code it says to always let those that you are studying and researching know exactly what you are doing and get permission from them to do so. Nathan did not follow this protocol and went undercover basically to study the lives of college freshmen. She used them in her book, using different names and did not reveal even the school she went to.
The students she talked to were made aware she was doing research but for a class, not for a professional study for an ethnography. I can see how the ethics of this study can come into question, but I can also understand the reasoning for not being completely honest. If Nathan was to be completely honest with the students they would have treated differently and she would not have gotten a glimpse into their lives that she did. The knowledge of her actual identity would have made others treat her differently and not see her on an equal level. In order for her study to be completely accurate she had to be part of the community, without being seen as a professor.
My Freshmen Year really opened my eyes to take complete advantage of the help that teachers put out for my use. I am going to try to learn as much as possible for the benefit of knowledge, not just for a passing grade. I will also appreciate the work of professors more and the dilemmas they come across with students who want to the least amount of work possible. Nathan has brought the perspectives of teachers and students together to make them realize the lives of one another.
Nathan, Rebekah. My Freshmen Year. London: Penguin Books, 2005. (February 5, 2013).
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