A reader just wrote in to say that she enjoys my stories about the Soviet Union. (Thank you, kind reader!) So I decided to share yet another story. It is post-Soviet but still fun.
In Ukraine, I was a university student at the Department of Foreign Languages. The way the system worked was that an oral final exam counted for 100% of the final grade. You had to show up a the exam at the end of the semester, choose a random piece of paper among the many on the professor’s desk, take a few minutes to prepare, and speak on the 2 or 3 topics on your paper. In some courses, you needed to write a final essay to be allowed to take the exam.
I worked hard to make a living when I was a student. For this reason, I rarely showed up at the university. Normally, I’d just read the textbook the day before the exam and get a top grade as a result. The quality of education was pathetically low, and I saw no reason to waste my time coming to classes where the professor did nothing but read the same textbook out loud.
One of the courses I had to take was Sociology. I didn’t attend a single lecture or seminar. At that point in time, I was busy finishing a big translation for the Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Russian Federation. There had been an accident a little while before where I had suffered severe burns to my arm. I still had to type up my translation for hours each day, which I did while shrieking in pain from my damaged arm and hand.
So, of course, the Sociology course was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even find an opportunity to go to the library and take out the textbook before the exam. For my final essay, I went to the British Council, took out several books on feminism, and used them to write my essay. I translated the sources and even quoted them. I was very interested in feminism at that point and cared little that nobody around me had any knowledge about what the word stood for.
When I arrived at the exam and took the paper with my questions, I realized that I had not the slightest idea what the terminology used in the questions even meant. I had no textbook or notes or anything with me. So, of course, I prepared myself to failing the exam very spectacularly.
The professor in the course was a young, nerdy-looking guy. Since I had never come to class, that was the first time I saw him. Now I not only had missed every single day of class and came to the exam unprepared. I had also handed in an essay that passionately defended feminism to a male professor in a rabidly patriarchal society.
As I was sitting there, staring despondently at my questions, the professor suddenly asked,
“Which one of you is called Clarissa?”
“Me,” I answered in a tenuous little voice.
“You are the student who handed in an essay on feminism, right? It was absolutely brilliant! I loved it,” the professor suddenly announced. “You can go now, I will give you an A for the course.”
As I crept out of the room, I mused that feminism was even better than I’d thought before.