The end of another semester. There are still some tasks left to be finished up, but the students are done with their work and several of them will be leaving Malaga early Sunday morning. So for them, yes, it is the end. We had our "good bye" get together last night at Tormes, a nice little event to which the host families and professors are invited. Seventy-five people, give or take a few. Towards the end of the evening Erik Strand mentioned to me that he had seen this blog. He suggested I write about them, the students. (OK, Erik, here's a blog entry for you. Let me know what you think. And Erik's blog can be visited at http://apfelturnovers.blogspot.com. Muy postmoderno, Eric.) Logically, I wouldn't mention students by name without their consent, so for the most part my comments would be generic. (Erik, you, for now, are the exception-you mentioned this blog, you're a friend of Alma's, your dad's a colleague, etc.) In any case, yes, the students are a very significant and positive part of my life here. I have contact with the majority of them on a daily basis and overall you get to know them much better than you do during a regular semester back on campus. On the one hand, you can't really generalize fairly about a large, heterogeneous group; on the other, as I said, I'd be very reluctant to write about individual students here. So that doesn't leave me with much to say. But a little yes: as always, I learn a lot from my students and this semester has been no exception. I'm always working with kids the same age, so there is a lot that doesn't change over time, but in some ways today's students are different than those of just ten years ago. One example is the relationship they have with computer screens. Whenever I walk into our little office, where there are three desktop computers, it seems the students working there will have multiple windows open simultaneously. Facebook is very popular. Lots of photos! Instant messaging, music, a Word document... lots going on at once and constant back and forth. I'm sure this trend has been evolving for several years, but I suspect it's accelerating and it is certainly having an impact on education. Today's Dickinson students are, overall, quite capable academically and are motivated to do challenging work. Most of them speak and write well. And I don't lose sight of the fact that for all of us, students and faculty, being at Dickinson is a comparative luxury. It's also true that sustaining focus over time is a bigger challenge for many of them than it was when I started teaching. Yes, it is a stereotype: the attention span of students today is not what it used to be... unfair in some ways, because reality is complex, but there is some truth to this change. I find myself wondering if there are effective ways to counter the trend. I think it matters because, ultimately, one of the most attractive benefits of education, at least as I see it, is intelligent self-reflection. And I fear that some students are being distracted away from the habit of self-reflection, an activity that requires sustained attention over time. Our information age promotes ephemerality and speed. Who knows, it will be interesting to see to what extent this combination impacted our current economic mess. (I suggest we go back and reread Italo Calvino's Six Memos for the Next Millennium.) But the students here have one advantage that is much more powerful than anything I can do in the classroom. They have moved out of their habitual environment, they have traveled extensively and seen that the world is bigger, more dynamic, more diverse, and more complex than they had realized. It's one thing to be told this, and quite another to live it. And of course there's a lot we could say about the wonderful impact of learning another language and living in another culture, which is what this program is all about. Another day. (In the photo, the Christmas lights on Calle Larios.) 

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