Exchange Student

by Jonah

Date: Mon, Jan 29, 1996 20:31 EDT

The altitude is getting to me. I have to breathe hard when trying to keep up with Max, although I’ve made it up stairs much more successfully than I thought I might. Maybe my blood is still thick from this summer. I fell asleep this afternoon on the couch until most of my body woke up, leaving my arm painfully numb. I flopped it against the sofa for a couple of minutes before rolling over to find a new position that would keep the blood in my arms circulating and drool from escaping onto the pillow. I probably slept for an hour and a half. Probably a good thing considering I had to get up before dawn this morning to make it down to the mail room at the air force academy to meet Max at 7:30. Mom dropped me off after swinging by the point where she would pick me up around noon.

Dave was waiting outside the mail room. I bid him a good morning before handing him the text book he’d left at the house the night before. We walked inside and found Max approaching. After checking his mail, he led me outside and into a large building filled with parka-donned cadets. Max was wearing his blues for some reason. I was the only civilian to be seen. We trotted up a couple flights of stairs and entered a class room where Max directed me to a seat next to him. He skimmed his Management book, circling key words with his pencil as I read along. The room slowly filled up until the female instructor walked in at 8:00. Someone said something that sounded vaguely like “ten-hut,” and all the cadets rose instantaneously to attention leaving me sitting all alone. The voice went on to mumble something incoherently as the instructor saluted in its direction. Then everyone returned to their chairs.

The lecture was as informal as most I’ve been in at UM. The instructor insisted on class discussion. The topic was TQM, which, I was pleased to discover instead of having to guess at like I do most military acronyms, means Total Quality Management. The instructor mentioned that it was a buzzword and tried to get the class to explain what that meant. One of the cadets was still confused. “So,” he asked, “a buzzword is like an oxymoron, or a catch 22?” The instructor shook her head. “You’re using buzzwords,” I suddenly pointed out. The entire class turned toward me. “Ooooo…” several of the guys uttered. Max chuckled quietly, “Good one.”

We hurried to the next classroom for BS. This was set up into four tables surrounded by chairs. Max grabbed an extra seat and added it to his table. The class started the same way, this time Max mumbling the unintelligible phrases while saluting the entering professor. The topic was communication. Max turned to the correct page in his Leadership book so I could follow along with the graph the instructor was presenting. The instructor had the class read a story about a navy captain giving orders. Then he gestured toward me and asked Max to make an introduction. Max obliged taciternly, introducting me as from Mobile, Alabama.

“Your sister?” asked the professor. We looked at each other and back up to him, shaking our heads. “Bremer, Brenner,” explained Max, “It’s confusing, I know.” “You’re not really a spy from the general,” asked the instructor, “Are you?” Max nodded. I smiled.

After watching a short segment of Apollo 13 and discussing the giving of orders, we were onto the next classroom for Law. Max and I got into a debate about the constitutionalism of the amount of laws Congress makes before everyone rose to attention again as the instructor entered the room. He talked about freedom of speech as stated by the Constitution and outlined by the courts. Then he divided us up into groups and had us each look at an example and decide what should be done in each according to what we had just learned. Our group got a good one about libel and slander. That was the most interesting class for me.

Finally we walked to the Russian classroom. Inside were a couple of chipped mannequins in uncomfortable looking positions wearing Red Army uniforms. The five guys and instructor all spoke in Russian except occasionally. The instructor looked at Max and seemingly asked a question. Max spoke slowly, saying, among other things, variations of my name and “Alabama.” One of the other guys asked him a question. “Nyet,” responded Max. He asked another one. “Nyet,” Max answered again. Everyone laughed. “Don’t worry,” the instructor assured me, “We’re not laughing at you.” I smiled uneasily.

They reviewed briefly for an upcoming test before we left the classroom and walked to a sort of language lab, listening to one of the students belting out “Silver Bells” in Russian in his deep bass voice. The instructor handed a laser disc to each student when we arrived. Max led me to a cubical where he inserted the disc into a machine and placed a pair of headphones on over his ears. I sat down next to him, repeating his latter action. Clicking the mouse a few times on the monitor in front of us, he started a film up about a Russian investigator. I removed one headphone as Max translated what was being said. Then he switched to scene 4. We watched the whole thing in Russian. Then Max started it over again, this time only watching a couple lines of dialogue at a time and reading the Russian text along with it. He attempted to translate each line, clicking on words that gave him trouble. This brought up a lexical meaning for the word at hand. If he really had problems, he’d click in another spot to reveal the entire English translation of the lines.

When the time was up, I followed Max outside, across the terrazzo, and into his dorm. Four degrees were standing at attention in the hall, shouting out today’s lunch menu. Max dropped his book bag in his room before leading me back out and up to the chapel, where I was to meet mom. We said goodbye, and I watched him walk away.

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