VIEW FROM ABROAD: All could learn from Cyprus

The first day of school is terrifying – whether it’s the first day of kindergarten, high school or college. A feeling of nausea takes over as you break out into a nervous sweat, your fingers tightly grasping at your backpack. Add a few hearty doses of eager expectation of going to classes in a foreign country, and you would arrive at my state of mind the morning of my first day of classes.

The more one waits eagerly in expectation for something, the more it builds in one’s mind. I was hoping my excitement to begin classes again would not allow my expectations to be crushed when reality hit, especially if reality turned out to be disappointment.

The University of Nicosia, with one fifth the student body of UH and four large buildings encompassing the entirety of the campus, is the private institution I am enrolled in for this semester. Imagine Agnes Arnold Hall, Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall, Melcher Hall and the Graduate School of Social Work buildings put together – that is the extent of the Nicosia campus. The average size of classes -including those for introductory courses – is no more than 25 students. Aside from the drastic difference in class and student body size, another phenomenon at Nicosia caught me by surprise.

Everyone is late to classes – students, teaching assistants, even professors. I don’t mean "late" as in five or 10 minutes after the session is to begin. Rather, students stroll in with a cup of coffee in hand, half an hour or even an hour after the lecture begins. The professors give only a cursory glance if the student is familiar, or stop their lecture to check off the attendance and then continue as if nothing had changed. Those professors who arrive late are usually half-running and half-scrambling, their keys in one hand and a stack of handouts in the other.

Regardless of which party is late to class, the other simply shrugs their shoulders and says, "What can you do?" with a laugh. Of my five professors and the countless other professionals that work in administrative departments, I have seen only one in business attire. Many of the professors are dressed in sneakers, jeans and t-shirts and look more like me as opposed to the native Cypriot students in their classes; their teaching methodology consists of more discussions than lectures, more YouTube videos and fewer PowerPoint slides.

I’m not pointing out these differences to condemn professors or students; it is their attitude that amazes me. Their tardiness is not seen as being disrespectful, but is accepted as a common occurrence. Their unorthodox attire enables them to blend in and ensure students feel comfortable speaking. The small size of the university allows professors and students to be familiar with each other to the extent that students have met families of their professors. Classes travel together for an evening of drinks and bonding. There is such an air of informality between the two parties that I forget, at times, that I am in a classroom. As my design history professor said to me, "There is no difference between the teacher and the student in my classroom – we are all equals, we are all colleagues. I will learn as much from you as you will from me."

Perhaps that is the key to making even a university as large as UH, or as small as the University of Nicosia, successful for the students. Even after the clock has struck the top of the hour and everyone has settled into their seats, the line of a professor’s podium and a student’s desk can be erased to bring the two together in conversation.

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