I have now sat exams on three continents, in 4 countries, and am just mesmerized at how beautifully illustrative the process has been on culture.
I do want to stress that everyone I have dealt with in all of these situations was EXTREMELY kind. There is no end to wonderful people all over the world.
That said, the processes could not have been more different….
In Rome, the exam center sits in a gorgeous old ruin of a building, filled with statues, a cobblestone courtyard, and a teeny tiny elevator you are not quite sure will actually make its journey up. (I took the stairs.)
Right across the street is a lovely café for a quick espresso and cornetto con miele to enjoy before you head in.
It’s all so lovely and relaxed. I put a big bar of chocolate in front of me and nibbled my way through the questions, my bags scattered at my feet, my coat across my lap to keep me warm. I have no doubt had I asked for a pizza halfway through, or explained that I really did need another espresso, I would have found no resistance as these are mandatory for good exam taking there.
In Uganda, the exam center sits in a warehouse type building in a field that seems to be abandoned at first glance, and second.
Exams are supposed to start at 9 and by 9:30 my fellow students and I were still waiting. The clock kept ticking, we kept waiting, and when finally someone arrived we were all so excited only to learn that we were to be led to another seemingly abandoned building, and then told to wait some more.
Around 10:30, almost exploding with stress, I took it upon myself to ask what the problem was and was told that because the rooms are not used much they were trying to find a rag to dust the tables with, to make it nice for us. I explained that I didn’t really think any of us cared about dust, that we were already well over an hour late to begin and were all getting tired which was probably not the best thing as we came ready to hit the exam hard. At this point my fellow examinees chimed in that I spoke for all of them and we were finally escorted into the dust and cobwebbed room, depositing our things all around, and finally finally finally given our booklets to begin.
This is what is called “Ugandan time.”
In Brooklyn, New York City, I went to a very large campus and after being dropped off on the wrong side of it, felt myself suddenly in a scene from a movie as I raced across field after field to find where I needed to be. Fully no nonsense, as NY people are, I was told there is your locker, put your things into it, here is your desk, pay your fee, sit down. All very straightforward and I did as I was told. Exam started. I finished early. I left. Badda Boom.
This week I sat my first exam in Canada. I can honestly say I have now had a true Kafkaesque experience.
Upon entering I was told I would have to go through the “procedures” thoroughly. I was first given a fire alarm drill–I kid you not–and then told to sit while I was read the ENTIRE booklet on exam regulations. These are the same regulations I am sent as a student and have read many times and nowhere does it say they are to be read to me.
I am then searched, making sure I have nothing with me to take into the room, even having to take off my scarf to show I did not have words hidden inside of it. I was able to get my tissues authorized—which they put my name on— after explaining I was sick and needed them.
Once in the room I was told if I needed anything to just raise my hand as I was on camera. I looked up at the fish eye in the ceiling and this is when I thought this is just all too surreal.
Finally seated and trying to shake off all I just had to go through, I put my head down and dove into my exam, finishing in 2 hours and 50 min. Once finished, I got up, as I have done for the last 7 years, in Rome, in Uganda, in NY, to turn my exam in and was met with complete panic that I had left the room! We then had to get the rules and regulations book and look at whether I had committed a terrible offense. The booklet said, one must not leave the exam room until the exam is completed.
“But I completed it,” I said. “And I am the only one here.”
I was the only one there.
“But there is still 5 minutes of test time,” my proctor says.
“I have never had this happen, I just leave when I am done, I am a bit confused as to all these protocols and please, what do you want me to do?” At this point I am panicking that they are going to rip my exam up and I just wanted a way out of the maze.
“I want you to go back into the room.”
Into the room I went, 5 feet from her, separated by a thin glass window, just staring at her, while the fish eye stared at me, until I was allowed to leave exactly 4 minutes later.
I went out into the parking lot only to find a parking ticket on my car. I had apparently parked 2 spots into the staff parking area and while there were NO OTHER CARS around this was not to be overlooked.
If I do a Masters, I am going to Rome.