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First Year writing Seminar Vs. Fall Break


Posted by Musbah Shaheen on Saturday, October 12, 2013

As an international student, I know that my chances of going back home are restricted to Summer break and maybe Winter break. Which is kind of sad, but still fine. There are so many things you can do during breaks if you’re an international student and it is a great way to explore the US. Some people choose to go on Alternative Winter or Alternative Spring break instead, which is also pretty cool because you get to help others, learn and have a good time.

This fall break, though, Vanderbilt had different plans for me! You see, I am taking my first year writing seminar in Jewish Studies. When I chose it, even though I am more of a science guy, I thought it will be boring and I wouldn’t do well in it (that’s yet to determine, though, since we’re still half way through the semester.) When I asked my CASPAR adviser about it he actually told me that the Writing Seminar is about taking something you’re least familiar with and exploring it. So I took it! And here I am during fall break thinking about where to start with my research paper.

Buttrick Hall, home of the Jewish Studies department

What’s so great about this writing seminar is that we don’t have to write 14 different papers per semester. We need to plan one big paper that’s due by the end of the semester. The class sessions are about discussing the readings and pointing out the important facts. The thing is, there is no prompt for a paper to write. Each student needs to find a topic they want to write about which means that we will have 15 different papers by the end of the semester.

Professor Liebermann doesn’t just let you waste time the whole semester and then write your paper three days before its due in December. He is teaching us how to research, analyze and write in a scholarly manner. First we had to come up with an annotated bibliography, and now we have the paper proposal due. After that we will draft the paper and revise it then submit it by the end of the semester.

This all sounds good, except that I realized last week that I still don’t have enough sources for my paper. I have the ideas in my head but as wanna-be-scholarly writer, I need to have sources to base my writing on. I kept calm, and used up all the sources I had at hand:

First, I made an appointment with the writing studio. Back then I didn’t even have solid ideas and the counselor sat with me for an hour during which we put together an outline for my paper. She also taught me how to find sources on the library web page and how to cite sources. When I left the writing studio, I felt much more confident with what I wanted to do.

Having had four midterms last week, I just didn’t have enough time to sit and read or look for sources so  I went to Central library all freaked out. I asked for a research librarian and Voila! I had a research librarian sit with me for an hour looking through sources to evaluate which were important for my paper. She also told me to breathe, which was needed.

A trip through the stacks was my next destination. I roamed the floors of Central, Divinity and Judaica libraries pulling out the books we had picked out during our library research session.I must say, I was astonished by the amount of books we had in the library. I also didn’t know I was a book worm. I felt myself reaching for books that were not on my list but had quite appealing titles.

The books I checked out so beautifully arranged by the window

What about articles that we don’t have on the library website? All I needed to do to get those is fill out a form and two days later I will have the article I want. I even ordered an Arabic book that is almost never checked out!

Such an exciting day in the library. But more importantly, I didn’t know I had it in me to sit and read for hours! I also discovered that learning works! hahaha who would have thought that I would know about names of Jewish scholars of tenth century Iberia? Or that I can can talk eloquently about the history of al-Andalus? I had studied history back in Syria but it never stuck because we just learned facts, memorized them and took tests. Here I am enjoying the academic challenges. The “find it yourself” policy my be annoying sometimes, but I can see how it works. It’s the perfect method to get a Biology major to check out books about The succession of the Rabbinate just because they seem interesting!

Now the paper proposal is due Monday and I am very excited to see what the professor thinks. I think I have a good plan for the actual paper, but I need to remind myself how freaked out I was about the paper proposal, and pace myself throughout the next month or two. Note to self!

So it was an interesting fall break, at least to me!


Posted in Academics, Books, Fall Break, Freshman Life, International Student, Studying and tagged: , , ,


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