I remember sitting at my computer, scrolling through the list of choices for my tutorial class. My eyes jumped across the screen, and my mind nearly exploded with excitement. There were so many different topics to choose from, I could barely contain my geeky self. There were courses ranging from environmental science to Icelandic sagas to weird music to basically anything that could be possibly studied at a liberal arts college. There was even a class entirely dedicated to studying Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I mean, how many college students get to do that for an entire semester?
After about two hours of shuffling through my choices, I settled on “Don Quixote and the Modern World.” Since I am interested in Spanish language and culture, I figured this class would be a perfect opportunity to read one of the classic novels of the modern world. Never mind the literary analysis aspect; I just wanted to read about a crazy old man who tilts with windmills. Stepping into class on the first day, there was that familiar first-day awkward silence. Not only did most of us not know anyone else in the class, it was also eight o’clock in the morning, an hour at which most of us could barely function. Just as we were about to fall asleep, the door swung open and our professor, Esther Fernández, greeted us with a warm smile. “Good morning, clase!”
After briefly discussing the purpose and goals of the class, we dove straight into the book. That’s what I found great about tutorial. Although its focus is teaching first-years how to adjust to college- level writing and research, the bulk of class time goes into discussing your topic. I quickly became engrossed in dissecting every bit of Don Quixote’s literary adventures. I fell in love with the text and was surprised with the amount of vulgarity and satire Cervantes was able to get away with without censure by the post-Inquisition Spanish government.
New discoveries such as these make class discussions fun and exciting. Not only is our professor always challenging us to dig deeper than generic answers and move beyond the literal words on the page, she is also very animated and engaging. The day we discussed the windmills story, Profesora Fernández reenacted the dialogue between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in her tiny, but fierce, Spanish manner, and the class couldn’t stop laughing. Another time the class got a kick out of trying to explain the concept of “emo” to Profesora by using the character of Grisóstomo, an astronomy-student-turned-shepherd who writes bad poetry, as an example. With experiences such as these, I’ve found that I enjoy the content and dynamics of the class so much that I no longer mind getting up early to attend.
After this semester, the class will be over, but the relationships we have forged will not be. Yes, that sounds like a big ball of cheese dipped in more cheese, but it’s true. Our class chemistry is pretty tight, and I can easily see my classmates spending time together in the future. Our professor, meanwhile, will serve as academic adviser for each of us until we declare a major. Essentially, the tutorial is our social and academic core. And to keep myself from sounding like a college brochure — because I’m sure you get enough of those — I’ll stop there.
For now, I’m excited for what the rest of the semester has in store for my tutorial class. Maybe some more role-playing? Or using more 21st-century slang to explain a 17th-century text? Who knows? But what I do know is that I’m actually having fun while working my tail off to adjust to college life. While there is a good-sized leap from high school to college-level writing, I assure you that it isn’t anything to fear. Tutorial is a challenge to look forward to when you get to Grinnell. Think of it as an adventure, like Don Quixote. Just don’t go off and fight windmills. Knowing the end results, I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try it.
Aki Shibuya '11 is undeclared and from Orinda, California.