The first word in study abroad is “study.” Before leaving the United States for London, I would ask people I knew who went abroad about their experiences. I found they’d brush over the whole studying part, focusing more on travel, culture and atmosphere. I wanted to know more about how they actually managed their academic courses abroad. It would have been nice to have some kind of insight so I could have an idea of my semester’s difficulty level.
In my personal experience, I’ve found my courses abroad to be relatively simple to juggle. Because I am a communications major, coursework can be quite similar in many parts of the world. I know that for others in different majors it isn’t as easy. Sometimes, differences between the higher education system of the country you come from and your host country can impact your experience, as well.
Here are a few differences and similarities I’ve noticed between British and American universities when it comes to academic culture and courses abroad:
In the United Kingdom, professors and all administration are called by their first names. In the United States, you call everyone by their last names. On my first day of classes, I called a professor by their last name and they gave me a stern look, then requesting that I call them by their first name. I think that the professors here in London want us to be more comfortable with them.
My professors in London also seem to be much more relaxed. During breaks they will tell you about their social life and personal life, as well. I’ve also observed that they swear — not something commonly found in the United States.
I’ve found that professors abroad really want to help you and work with you one-on-one to make sure that you are doing well in their class. For example, in London we have a week before finals and before midterms where we don’t have class. During this time, every student meets with their professor(s) individually. They discuss how they are doing in the class and also as what the professor should do to make the class better.
2. Tests and Assignments
In my courses abroad, I’ve found that there aren’t constant assignments that compose my final grade, like there are in the United States. In classes that require testing, there is a paper, a midterm and a final.
In communication classes that I am taking, there are just three assignments that make up my entire grade, which I haven’t enjoyed much. If you do not do well on one of the assignments, it can be really hard to improve your grade. The other two assignments are now that much more important to how you do in the class. My friends are worried about this aspect of courses abroad because some of them are not good test-takers, so there is less opportunity to help bring up their grade.
As a student abroad, sometimes it is hard to handle these bigger assignments. It requires finding a balance between school work and traveling, as well as maintaining a healthy routine. It makes the weeks difficult because you are doing all your work and the weekends busy because you are traveling.
3. The Grading Process
I’ve found that British professors are also a lot stricter than those in the United States when it comes to grading. They have specific grading rubrics that the university gives them and they are required to follow them. Additionally, more than one professor looks at your assignment. This is done so that the professor doesn’t show favoritism to any one student and won’t give them a better grade than they deserve. The average of both professors’ grades is what your final grade for the assignment will be.
There are times when I have felt like I am trying to balance too much at once, and I feel like I am going to crash. School work is important, but so is your mental health. Courses abroad can be difficult sometimes and balancing both school work and traveling can get stressful. Despite the challenges, it has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the differences between the higher education system in the United Kingdom and the United States. It has been so interesting to experience how, despite the differences; my courses abroad have been both engaging and rewarding.
Remember: The first word in study abroad is “study!” This means that even though you are traveling the world, you are overseas to get an education. Not everyone gets the opportunity to study in another city or country, so take advantage of the educational opportunities at hand. It can and will help you in the long run.