By Maddison Carr
Study Abroad: an indulgent semester full of sightseeing, money spending, extravagant eating, international partying, friend making, and occasional class going. Sounds about right, wouldn’t you agree?
While a month of living in London, England has proved some of those stereotypes to be correct, I’ve found that picking up and moving my student life to another country—even if it is English-speaking—isn’t as one-dimensional as it’s made out to be.
Arriving at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham (a small, quaint borough of London) about a month ago, I was wholly unaware of what to expect.
“Can they tell I’m American? Do they like Americans here? When is class? WHERE is class? I am lost. What do I do? Is my outfit European enough? HELP.” These were just a few of the thoughts sprinting through my mind while taking my first few steps on campus.
Since then, I’ve already discovered a great deal not only about the study abroad experience, but also about myself.
I quickly realized that the first few weeks of study abroad are comparable to anyone’s first few weeks at any college. I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t know my way around, and all I really wanted was to find some friends. Thankfully, St. Mary’s is a lot like St. Ambrose. In only a few days’ time, I had found a little SMU family within my corridor, learned to navigate campus—or at least how to get to the refectory and my classes—and fallen into a routine of sorts. Classes run as scheduled, I tolerate the refectory’s food, and I’ve mastered fitting in both naptime and play time.
Now is when you’re allowed to wonder where the differences lie between University in London and University in Davenport, Iowa; and trust me, there are many.
The first major difference: a full schedule here is composed of four classes, each meeting only once each week. If you’re doing the math in your head, you’re right when you realize that every student here has at least one day a week without any classes at all. I, for example, only attend lectures on Wednesdays and Fridays; two lectures each day for two hours each. It’s not a stretch to say that I have a bit of downtime on my hands.
The classwork and grading here, however, is known to be far stricter than the laid-back lecture policies. On average, each of my four classes has two grades that come together to create my final mark for the semester. Usually, there is one essay, anywhere from 1500-2500 words long, that makes up approximately 50% of the coursework evaluation and a final exam administered in late April or early May worth the other 50%.
This is where, as an American student, anxiety kicks into overdrive. Without participation, attendance, homework and quiz grades, there is little to no room for slip ups over here. The English take their self-discipline and written work very seriously—something that I’ve realized we (the Bees, who can pull off a term paper the night before) might find a bit difficult to deal with.
While such freedom and such high standards for coursework can be a bit intimidating, the learning structure here has become a lesson in itself. I know, now, that I do not need my professor—as nice as it might be—to e-mail me a reminder for the next day’s homework. Students, whether we believe it or not, are extremely capable of being responsible for keeping up to date with reading, staying on task, and creating priorities.
To me, it’s become all about balance. The nightlife here is just as wonderful as everyone makes it out to be, yes; but I also have to remember that study abroad is about so much more than just going out, just studying, or just sightseeing. It is about learning how to do it all and making the most out of the wonderful, beautiful opportunities given to me; and that, my fellow Americans, is something I believe we can all relate to no matter what country we’re living in.