Abroad classes require a mental turnaround

By Phil Collins

Well, Thanksgiving break is just around the corner, for you. I have to admit it will be odd not being able to properly celebrate Thanksgiving, but let’s save that for next time. For now the point is I have no fall break, and for the first time since starting school I actually feel like I don’t need one.

For one thing, here in England classes just started about one month ago. More importantly, I’m only in class three days a week. This is due to a couple of things: scheduling luck and the fact that classes just don’t meet incredibly often here. I only have one class that meets twice a week; all the others only meet once. This is one of the many things about the British education system that has turned my world upside-down.

Before I get into the specifics of what my schedule is like, let me explain some general concepts. First of all, attending a university is a three-year program here. In fact, many of the exchange students I have met so far are here the full three years. So, why three years instead of four?

There are no general education requirements. Let me say that again. There are no general education requirements. Students come in here knowing what course they’re studying, and they take classes in that course. Which is why I get weird looks when I say I’m taking biology, history, English, and creative writing classes. Most people I’ve met are taking engineering, engineering, engineering, and more engineering classes. Yes, it’s big here too.

All right, so how on mother Earth do these classes mostly only meet once a week? Well, that comes with a trade off. Classes are long. I miss the days of 50-minute classes. I’ll even take one of those hour and twenty minute sessions. Here, my lectures range from an hour and a half to three hours each. And that’s not even the worst of it. My poor roommate has a lecture from 10am to 5pm every Thursday. How does someone talk for that long every week?

Perhaps the most challenging, and definitely the most dreaded part of this school system is the assessment. All of my classes are based on one, or two components if I’m lucky. I hardly have anything due until the end of the semester, which makes it difficult to motivate myself to do anything. It’s hard to know what I should be doing when instructions are so vague.

Let’s take my biology class for example. This is probably my most difficult class, as it is the direct opposite of what I want to do (journalism) and of course is worth the most credit. The class grade will be based 100 percent on one test taken at the end of the semester. Just saying that makes me want to go hide in a hole somewhere. Moving on, the class meets for two three-hour lectures a week.

If all that isn’t enough, let’s get to the tricky part. The reading list consists of 17 items, not including the “journals to follow.” One of the books I clearly have to read from front to back, it’s going to be on the exam, et cetera. The other 16, well I recall my teacher saying something like “you might find something useful in them.” A whole lot of good that does me. I guess it’s time to start skimming.

One more important thing to note before I wrap this up, as an exchange student, I’m allowed to take classes from any department I please. This includes a wonderful thing called the Department of Continuing Education. This department is comprised mostly of people who are passed their days of education and are taking classes out of pure interest. Two of my classes are in this department, and it’s quite the experience. The age range goes from a few people around my age to most people in their 40’s-60’s and a few people older than that. Besides that, these classes meet in odd places, which gives me a chance to get off campus.

All in all, I should make it through. There are plenty of libraries here, and plenty of time to go to them. All I have to do is remember that even though I have nothing due, I should still be doing work.

Phil Collins is a sophomore in LAS. He is studying abroad in Nottingham, England. His column appears every third Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]