More about Tom's students
We gave a general description about our students at UB earlier in J&T's world. This time, Tom is going to write a few things specific to the students in his Chemical Kinetics class and in the Physical Chemistry labs. There are quite a number of them ( believe it or not, Tom is not sure about the exact number, as there is not an official role sheet from the administration, the rough estimate is about sixty ) who are taking both classes, so Tom has quite a bit contacts with majority of his students.
First let's talk about students' expenses. To save time, I will use US dollars for convenience. While there is no tuition officially, there is a registration fee for every students every semester. It is about $80. They will pay their room and board on the monthly basis from $30~45. Printing fee is about $8 a semester. They need to pay this because they do not have books, they would copy Tom's hand-written notes from one chapter to another. This put a lot of pressure on Tom, as he is not used to make detailed notes and sticking his lectures to his notes has not been easy task for him. The cost is small according to US standard, but it is clear that students here are struggling the same manner as we have seen in the US. It is amazing to us that they are so healthy looking, as we found out that their diet in general is very starchy, short of proteins ( Tom's lunch usually cost $2~3, and he still feels that he is on a diet, about half the amount of meat he would eat in the US ). Of course, there are rich kids, but Tom found out that most of them are very careful with their expenses. Their support comes from a much wider sources than in the US. There is no such things as student loans; as a matter of fact, there is not much of any kind of consumer loans. In most of the cases, one of the extended family member would be the "kind" person to give cash to their benefactor on a regular basis. One of the older gentlemen Tom met is supporting nine "sons" and "grandsons". After a bit more conversation with him, Tom found out that none of these "relatives" is biologically related to him. It would be too confusing to tell you what kind of relations they have on the individual basis. But we can tell you that this man's primary wife had been very active to produce children with other men in her earlier life. He is a gentleman, indeed! Quite a number of Tom's students are supported in similar situations. They do not like to talk about the situation, but Tom has learned how to understand what they mean and try to guess the rest.
There are very few commuting students, they usually rent a room near campus and cook rice for dinner most of the time. By the way, the rice here are coming from Asia, the cheapest starch food in the store. They have some recreations, they enjoy shoot the bull or what Tom used to say "kill the cow" and watch soccer games on TV or hear them on the radio. There are chorus groups, traditional dance groups and orchestra groups on campus. The University organizes competitions on Arts and culture in first semester and sports competition in the second semester to encourage these activities. They do spend most of their time studying, this is where they are different from US students. Tom estimated that they have to spend close to twice the amount of time than the US counter parts to get to where they are. Because they are so busy studying, very few work on campus or outside. All of them are very polite, respectful, and considerate. An educated person in Cameroon can speak at least three different languages, English, French, and one of their parent's native tribe language. While it is good that they can understand three languages to a pretty high degree, they do suffer from this diversity as well. Not only they have a special accent--- Africa style, not American or British, in their spoken English, their writing skill in English clearly reveals their weakness because of their lack time for practice in their earlier school years. Most of them have beautiful smiles, but they are generally very formal as well. They are more conservative than most US students, not only in thinking but also in dressing. They do not like to take any risks, they believe printed materials. These are the impression Tom got from his students. Since chemists maybe not typical, Tom is not sure that this observation could be generalized to extend to all students.
Finally, Tom wants to point out one more typical situation here at UB in Cameroon. Most students are the first generation to receive college education in their family. Many of their supporters are farmers, you can easily imagine how prevail is the skeptical thinking on the value of this education which does not even guarantee a job after they finish. But it is wonderful to see that many of them are so excited about this education that they came to tell me if they have a choice they would like to be a student forever.