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Journals from England 2008

2008-12-05 Hitting the Books

Greetings! For this entry I thought Id talk a little about the reason were all here: academics. Coming into the semester, I really didnt know what to expect. I had been warned numerous times by past students and faculty representatives that, after this semester, my GPA would go down (there is lack of the grade inflation, and the temptation of travel doesnt help). This seemed like a small price to pay for the opportunity to live in Europe for four months, but even so, the knowledge that the last years group came home with several less-than-preferable grades left me with a certain amount of apprehension. Aside from the fact that the British university system is inherently different from the one in place at colleges in the United States, the University of Nottingham is 20 times the size of Linfield, and things were bound to be different. Instead of having a class two or three times a week, terms are mapped out on a weekly basis. Each module (or course) will have one or two lectures a week, along with smaller, discussion-based seminars and, in some cases, a workshop or tutorial. The result is considerably less time spent in class each week. My busiest days are Monday and Tuesday, and for both I spend no more than three hours in a classroom. Courses follow a strict schedule given out in a course handbook at the beginning of the term; while some courses assign weekly reading or written assignments, most provide an extensive reading list that students are required to peruse individually throughout the semester. It is up to the student to seek out extra information and keep up throughout the semester, as the finals are often based on this outside material. Up to this point (and next week is the last of term), aside from reading, I havent had to complete a single homework assignment. Instead, Im in the process of completing two essays that will determine 40% of my course grade, respectively. The rest will be determined by final exams. Needless to say, there is a considerable amount of pressure put to on a five-page paper. Even with these pressures, the atmosphere has been decidedly different than I expected. Within the first week we had heard about promptness in more than a few orientation sessions, but, in the cases of my courses, its not unusual for half of the class to arrive 10 to 15 minutes late"and thats out of a 50-minute session. Last week I showed up to a mandatory seminar and ended up being the only student to do so. The professor didnt seem too surprised by this, saying that theres one week every term that this happens. Out of my 100+ person film course, there were only 13 people at our viewing yesterday at any one time"most came late and left early, which makes me question why they even came at all. Maybe its because Im in Level One courses with students in their first term at university and maybe Im alone in saying this, but something tells me this wouldnt fly at Linfield. Still, I almost prefer the separated lecture-seminar format, as it guarantees that the material set for that session will be covered. Well have to wait and see my exam results to see whether its been covered effectively enough. All in all, Im grateful for the opportunity to experience a different style of learning than Im used to, and the small, inevitable frustrations that its brought have by no means put a damper on my study abroad experience as a whole"if anything its reaffirmed the academic choices Ive made back home. No matter what, Im sure that this will be one of the biggest adjustments Ill have to make coming back home and that more and more advantages to the British system will become apparent to me when I return to real life in the spring! ~Claire

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