Two weeks ago I started my class at the Catholic University of Central Africa. I only have to take one class there because I am taking two with the Middlebury Program and my internship at Promhandicam counts as another. Registering for a class at UCAC is a process. New classes begin every week starting in October and the semester runs until February when there is an exam period. As we won’t be here then, we had to pick a class the very first week so that we would be done relatively early and would be able to focus on other things for our last few weeks here. Picking a class entailed taking two taxis to the university early Monday morning on the opening day. The campus was full of students starting school again, including many students training to be priests and nuns as the religious orders program at UCAC is very popular. We spoke to Victoria, our Cameroonian friend and a student at the university about how it’s different seeing a religious program that is so popular! In the U.S. and even in Europe it seems like there are fewer and fewer men and women who want to work in the church. She replied that it is the most popular program at the university because it not only provides good education, but it provides a good, relatively comfortable, stable life afterwards which is appealing to many students and their families.
We checked out the list of new classes that are posted on a bulletin board every Saturday and chose Introduction to Cameroonian Criminal Law or Droit Pénal Général. It is a class that has 4 hour class sessions (this is no joke), twice a week until 12 sessions are complete. However the hours and days can change each week so while we had class Monday and Tuesday that week, we could have class Wednesday and Friday next week. This makes for an interesting week for sure… After choosing our class, we were introduced to Driss, a french student studying and living at UCAC for the whole year! He gave us a tour of the stunning campus. It is up on one of the many hills surrounding the city and has a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and rainforest as well as the city below. It is very calm and quiet compared to central Yaoundé and the campus is covered in lush grass, fruit trees and tropical flowers. It also has an outdoor swimming pool! I guess you’re not allowed to use it during the day though because it’s not considered polite for professors and staff to see students in bathing suits. The campus also has a large chapel, a library which was voted best in Yaoundé, three small restaurants, classrooms, a basketball court and dormitories. There are only about 40 students who live at the university (about 1000 students attend the university in total), but we visited the dorm room of Driss to see what it was like. While the campus is nice, we are glad that we are staying with host families. Being in a single room on a campus far from central Yaoundé would be lonely.
We started our class the following day with no idea what to expect. We had been warned that often professors come to class up to an hour late, or they don’t come at all, with no notice given to the students. Luckily our professor, a catholic nun named Dr. Ngono Bounougou Regine, is very prompt. She immediately enforced her rule of punctuality in making several late students sit outside the classroom for the entire class, peeping in through the windows. We quickly learned that class in Cameroon is nothing like class in the U.S. Instead of having the liberty to take notes on what we deemed important, we were forced to write dictée-style, meaning the professor read from a handout and we had to furiously write down EVERY WORD. She stops every once in a while to give an anecdote or to explain, but most of the class is spent writing and trying to keep up with her quick reading. We have a break halfway through in which we walked around the campus to get the blood flowing again. Two of our three classes had a half hour break in the middle, so we assumed the same for our third class with this professor. However, after 20 minutes, class had started again and we crept in late with another few girls to a severe telling-off about how she “specifically said 15 minutes” when no one had heard any such thing. At least we didn’t have to sit outside! The classroom with over 50 students, is stifling at all times and is constantly noisy with students talking in the back (the professor is relatively unconcerned). Four hours is also a LONG time to be sitting and is much longer than we’re used to, but the content is relatively interesting and the class will be done in less than 4 weeks!
We also tried out one of the restaurants available to students and got full, hot meals of pan-fried, fresh fish, plantains and rice with sauce for $1! One of the other two restaurants is more fancy and expensive and the last is student-run and is mostly snacks and fast-food.