Monday, April 25, 2011

Funny Story About Russian Students

To brighten up everybody's day, I want to share a story about my days as a university student back in Ukraine. I will begin with this very old joke about Russian students that my non-Russian readers have probably never heard.

Researchers ask an American student, "How long will it take you to prepare for an Advanced Placement exam in Chinese if you never studied Chinese before?" 

"Well, about 3 years," the American student responds.

"How long will it take you to prepare for an Advanced Placement exam in Chinese if you never studied Chinese before?" they ask a European student.

"Probably about 18 months," the European student answers.

Then, the researchers approach a Russian student who is smoking in front of the university and ask him the same question.

"Do you have the textbook?" the student asks.

"Yes", the researchers say.

"OK, then," the Russian student responds, "let me finish this cigarette and I'll go pass your exam."

When I was a university student in Ukraine, I hardly ever showed up for any classes. It wasn't easy to survive in the Ukraine of the 90ies, and I worked day and night to provide for myself and my husband. In every course, the final oral exam constituted 100% of the final grade. Lectures consisted of professors reading chapters from the textbook out loud. There were never any discussions or anything that even remotely resembled discussions. So, obviously, I, who was a very highly paid translator, considered these classes to be an awful waste of time. Before the finals, I'd just get th textbook, read it, memorize stuff from it, and rattle it off at the exam. I was considered a stellar student, too.

There was this course in International Relations that I didn't attend once during the semester. This course used to be titled "The History of the Communist Party" and was still taught by the same KGB guy who had taught it during the Soviet Union. The exams had this weird structure where you could show up any time over the course of several hours, get a paper with questions from the professor, prepare your answer for 15-30 minutes (without consulting anything, of course), and then recite your answers to the professor.

It so happened that I arrived early for the exam in this International Relations course. The classroom was empty. There was just this professor sitting there. I had no way of knowing whether he was my professor and whether I was even in the right classroom because I hadn't attended a single class that semester. 

"Are you here for the exam?" the professor asked.

"Yes," I responded tentatively. I knew I was there for an exam, I just didn't know if I was there for his exam.

"So come in and get the paper with the questions," he said.

I got the paper with the questions, hoping that the nature of the questions would elucidate whether I was in the right room with the professor who was my professor and not, say, a professor of quantum physics. When I got the paper with the questions, however, things did not become any clearer. I had no idea what the questions even meant, let alone what discipline they could belong to. There was, for example, a question about the combined tonnage of some country's warships during the 20ies. I knew that the only way out was just to bullshit my way through the responses.

When I approached the prof's table, he really saved me by asking in a severe voice, "So are you interested in international relations?" 

"Oh, I love them!" I gushed feeling happy that I was at least in the right room. Then, I made an impassioned speech about how the young people of today were criminally indifferent to the world around them and had no political stance. Our grandparents, however, really changed the world with their passionate Communist beliefs, and so on, and so forth.

"OK," the professor said. "I'm guessing that you have no idea how to answer any of these questions, right?"

"Not a clue," I confessed brightly.

"Fine, you can go," he said. "I'm giving you a B."

So if you think that people in the KGB were all humorless and cruel jerks, think twice.

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