Studying abroad brings changes in classroom as well as culture

By Nick Fawell

There’s no disputing the cultural adjustments that American students have to make when studying abroad. The food, language, public transportation and overall customs are different. But, perhaps the largest adjustment comes in the classroom.

For students studying in the United Kingdom, this adjustment comes in the form of fewer classroom hours but more time studying independently.

Tom Heltzel, junior in architecture at Miami University currently studying at the University College London, said he may not spend as much time in the classroom but there is much more independent research and emphasis on essays as opposed to the frequent assessments in the States.

“It means instead of learning useless facts like names and dates, you concentrate on the big issues and their implications,” Heltzel said.

Heltzel also explained that he would like to see the U.S. adopt a system similar to that of the U.K.. He said he feels there is less competition between students in the British educational system and that it feels more like a “learning community.” Moreover, he said he believes the more open, freer curriculum enables students to internalize the material more and retain it for longer periods of time.

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However, Neil Tyler, a junior in psychology from Duke University also studying in London, said he believes there should not be as much emphasis placed on the educational system as the individual students.

“Unless you are interested and want to remember the material you won’t internalize in either system,” Tyler said.

For Tyler, students who want to do the bare minimum to just get by could do so equally in either system.

However, similar to Heltzel, Tyler explained that the U.S. system places a greater emphasis on tests and deadlines, whereas the British system has fewer regular assessments and a more of an open study mentality. This, Tyler said, allows students to explore their own interests in a subject rather than being forced to learn what others think they should.

Danny McLachlan, a junior in economics at Northwestern University currently studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said he believes the U.K. system has a more open curriculum, the long periods without assessments allow students to procrastinate rather than truly internalize the material. He said he feels the constant assessment of the States helps students stay on their toes mentally.

“The library during the last week of school is just ridiculous here compared to back home,” McLachlan said. “In the States it’s better … you have a midterm every four weeks. I feel like you’re going to learn more if you have a midterm and a paper and a final.”

However, whereas it is always important to keep up with studies, studying abroad can prove extremely valuable in many ways.

“No matter the hesitations or worries you have,” Tyler said. “As long as you are outgoing and try to meet people and experience all of the country you are studying abroad in, there is no way you can not enjoy the experience.”

Nick Fawell is a senior in communications. He is studying abroad in London, England. His column usually appears every third Wednesday.