Ovo što sledi je interview koji su sa mnom uradili moje studentkinje, Natalija i Milena – dakle, mlade anglističarke-u-nastajanju, a za nekakav 'projekat' na Filozofskom fakultetu.
Intervju je rađen na engleskom, pa ga u tom obliku i kačim.
Kao ilustracije evo nekih novih (na blogu), do sada nekorišćenih fotki iz nekih mesta netaknutih mojim izveštajima. Ne mislite valjda da sam u onim 'reportima' pokrio baš svako mesto i svaki događaj tokom 12 meseci u USA?
Konkretno, videćete kroz text fotke:
-iz Japanske bašte u San Francisku
-'25 miles drive', zvanično najlepši deo obale u Americi, na putu ka Carmelu (južno od San Franciska)
-snimci sa proslave Božića (tačnije, kićenja jelke, par dana pre Božića – pošto sam baš tog dana već bio u Severnoj Karolini) kod mog dragog domaćina Eda, koga, eto, sticajem okolnosti, i ne pomenuh u ovim reportima…
A sad, intervju o mom boravku u USA:
First things first: were you sick on the plane?
I was warned by a certain professor who will not be named here that on my first flight I should have some pills, try to be composed and meditate, and not look through the window or I would start to panic... But none of that happened; I actually enjoyed flying very much. I'm not trying to present myself as some kind of hero - it just felt so natural to be above the clouds that I sat as close to the window as possible whenever I could.
Describe the first impression of America.
Actually the first impression was not so pleasant, because when we arrived there was a storm over Chicago, where we were supposed to land. So, we had to land in Indianapolis, and because of all the technicalities we had to stay on the plane for hours until the storm finished. When we finally arrived in Chicago, we missed the plane we were supposed to catch there, and had to wait for the next flight... So, the beginning was really hard, but not by any means ominous and auspicious.
Give us some details about your stay.
The program that took me there in 2003 is called JFDP - Junior Faculty Development Program - so, obviously, it's a program for junior faculty members. It lasted two semesters, although now it is shortened to one semester because now America has some expensive wars to finance. The point is to have young faculty members experience a different way of education in what is supposed to be a more developed system, through the courses similar to those they have at home, and through getting to know people of different cultures. So, the aim is to improve yourself as a teacher, to come back improved and improve others.
I was at Berkeley, one of America's most famous universities, which is in California, right across the bay from San Francisco. It's the most beautiful place in the world, and the only one apart from Nishka Banja where I could imagine myself living.
The first thing I did upon arrival was to cross out all courses that began before 10 or 11 a.m. Out of the remaining ones I picked those closest to my interests, and to what I teach here or what I would like to teach.
Which were related to short story, gothic fiction, film... I attended a course on film noir by Carol J. Clover, and all those classes were very interesting and pleasant and inspiring. My position was that of a visiting scholar, it was not a grade program - I did not get a diploma for that. I was just supposed to sit in the back, observe, take notes, upgrade my knowledge, become a better person, understand things better...
Does that mean you had no obligations?
I had the obligation to attend the courses, and I had coordinators from the program in Washington who took care of the financial aspect and other technicalities about my stay in the USA, and immediate coordinators in Berkeley whom I could address if I had any academic needs in Berkeley.
What was your strongest impression from the courses?
Believe it or not, students came prepared to classes, with books read and thought about, with movies seen and thought about, ready to discuss and participate, so those courses were much more interesting than those in which students are not ready or able to discuss the works (as the case usually is in Serbia).
How different are university classes at Berkeley from those we have here?
There are many differences. For example, many students who were not from the English department but from other departments, attended courses in literature and other courses not closely related to their studies in order to get the grades and points. There is also a much greater variety of choices. Here you barely manage to discuss the classics, and there you have courses on things like film noir or American short story, SF, gothic and many other specific subjects. That way, they can get a bigger picture from learning about smaller things, which is quite the opposite from what we do here.
Which aspects of the American way of teaching and organizing courses do you find applicable here?
First of all, since I am not a teacher but only a teaching assistant, I'm not in the position to organize the courses. But apart from that, there are some aspects, above all technical aspects, which might make my work richer or more student-oriented or student-involved. For example, one of the main reasons why students come to my office hours is to ask about the curriculum and the exams, instead of those information being available on the internet. For example, there were closed internet forums for particular courses where students could discuss issues related to those courses outside of classes, which I liked a lot.
Tell us something about the American students how similar to or different from us are they?
Could you be more specific?
Could you? For example, tell us about their lifestyle.
I noticed that, while many students here come to classes dressed up and made up as if they were going to a party or an opera, in America they are much more laid back and relaxed. I mean, it's California, so they come to classes wearing slippers and bermudas, dressed lightly...but when I say 'dressed lightly' I don't mean dressed like hookers, which is likelier to be encountered here. I just mean more relaxed than here. For example, they sit on floors, since the floors are so clean there that you can freely sit on them, which I never encountered here, nor would I dare to sit on the floor at our faculty.
How much do you think the Americans fit (or do not fit) into the stereotypical image that the Europeans have of them?
I don't really deal with stereotypes, so I couldn’t possibly give a simple answer to this. Well...they tend to be a bit on the fat side, but so do we and yet nobody talks about stereotypical fat Serbs. I think it's just a matter of envy - we envy their fat and their money, we would like to be rich enough to fatten up just like them, and that's why we invent such stereotypes.
However, Berkeley is not a typical place in America. As you probably know, San Francisco is the place where the hippies and the beatniks were born, so their attitudes are not as republican and strict and conservative as in the bulk of America. Their open-minded and curious spirit is something I found very pleasant.
Of course, the experience would've probably been completely different if I were supposed to work there and earn my living. But, I lived there as a guest, protected by the money I recieved from the program, so that's the impression I got from that position.
Who was the most ineresting person you met in America?
The most interesting person I met was Stephanie Manning, a poetess who was my host. I stayed in several host families, but she is just the kind of crazy person that I am, so we clicked from the start even though technically she could be my mother. She's young in spirit, so she took me to all kinds of interesting places, and I addicted her to horror... She also took me on a trip to Mississippi, we went to New Orleans before the flood, visited the Voodoo Museum, the Water World... I got to see the lighthouse where The Fog was filmed, and also to the place where Hitchcock's Birds take place.
Tell us an anecdote.
While we were at the San Francisco Film Festival, Stephanie introduced me to a friend of hers who is a local poet. Actually, in San Francisco everybody is either a poet, or gay, or both, or a hippie, or a junkie, and they all smoke a lot of grass, and have a lot of lovers, and do all kinds of crazy things... So, upon learning that I was from Serbia, this guy asked me: 'Do you know the film Davitelj protiv davitelja?' And he actually even pronounced it in Serbian, which was such a pleasant shock to me I was left speechless! What’s even more curious about it is the fact that he had no friends or relatives from Serbia to recommend that film to him, he had simply seen it many years before at a film festival, and liked it very much. It shows how good art crosses all borders and always finds its way to people.
So would you go back if you had a chance?
Right now? Yes.
Well, I don't have enough money in my pockets right now, but tonight...yes.
What was the last memorable image you saw at departure?
My 3 or 4 days I spent in Providence, the birthplace of my favourite author H.P. Lovecraft. I saw the graveyard where he was buried, and stayed with a member of the Lovecraft in Providence Society who took me to all kinds of interesting places there which were important for Lovecraft and his work. We also went to Salem. Those sights are what I like to cherish as most memorable things.
Describe your experience in America in 5 nouns and 5 adjectives.
Graveyards, Berkeley, the campus - the buildings, surroundings, architecture - everything makes you want to study there, Voodoo Museum and beans- actually a sort of bean soup made of about 15 different kinds of beans we had in Missippi, one of the tastiest meals I ever had.
And the adjectives would be: beautiful, relaxed, complex, enviable, eagerly anticipated.
Now, to give the readers a hint of what we'll be doing in the next issue, we have just a few more questions. Do you enjoy being a teacher?
Yes, I enjoy it. Isn't it obvious?
And what do you think about your students?
They are a mixed bag. There are different kinds of them, and for some I am not sure how they even managed to get to the third year. So, there are always surprises and not all of them are bad. You always have 10 percent of really good students who deserve to be here, 40 percent of those who might be here and are trying to do their work - I mean they are not lazy- and you have around 50 percent of those for whom I don't know how they ended up here at all- they are a mystery to me.
And finally, what was it like to be on the other side- to be questioned by your inquisitive students?
Well... as a media personality, I am quite used to giving interviews, so it was nothing special or strange for me. And I don't really make that strong distinction between the students and the professors, since I myself was a student quite recently.
Thank you for the interview.