By Chris Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).
firstly let me apologise for my absence from this blog. I really didn’t believe it had been as long as it had been since I posted but time is really, really flying by this year. I do plan to be able to post a few more of these in the coming weeks as I have a brief gap in my workload it seems (fingers crossed). With that in mind it seems like a good time to perhaps talk about some of the differences in school life that I have experienced over here. This is after all an academic experience and not just another chance for me to travel!
So the first difference worth mentioning for anyone coming here, and especially for those from England, is the workload. It is considerably higher than you will find you experience most of the time in England. In many ways it is closer to what we all experienced during A-Level rather than university, though of course more challenging. This semester three out of my four classes each require a weekly piece of work to be submitted, usually based upon the readings set for that week. I personally quite appreciate this as it does mean that firstly, you always keep up with the work and reading, which as we all know, is very easy to let slip for weeks and indeed months at a time in England. It also means that you do get into the habit of being productive generally and I feel it is a situation that will much better prepare someone for the ‘real’ working world after university. As well as these regular assignments there are normally two or three bigger pieces of work and then multiple exams. Now this may sound like a lot but due to the greater number of assessments it means that none of them are as all-encompassing and therefore as full of content as their English counterparts, and also they are not weighted as heavily. This has the benefit of meaning that if you miss an assignment or don’t do as well in it, the impact is not as great as in England where a class is often decided merely on the merits of one essay and one exam.
As a result of this I would say much of the class material is perhaps a little less in-depth or maybe intensive as it is in England, however there is certainly more of it which makes up for it. I can safely say that there have only been 3-4 weeks in England where I have worked as much as I do on a weekly basis here. That said I have yet to get as stressed about pieces of work as I have in England so it all does even out.
So beyond classes, what other differences are there as far as the academic side of things goes? Textbooks is a big one. As I said there is much more reading to do here, however unlike in England, or at least Manchester, the Library cannot necessarily provide everything and so most students have to buy their textbooks. The price of this can be very high, often exceeding $80 per class on books. Indeed I and others have dropped classes on the basis of the cost of textbooks. There are ways around it and it isn’t the case for every class. Indeed my first semester I managed to avoid buying books for all four of my classes, so it shouldn’t put anybody off of coming here but it is worth thinking about.
The other big difference is interaction between students and teachers. It is much closer here than what I have experienced in England. Pretty much all third and fourth year classes (the vast majority of courses are four years here) are small enough that teachers can get to know individual students. As well as this the teaching style involves much more interaction. Most classes actually include a percentage of the grade for participation in class, so talking and interaction between students and professors is greater. As well as this there are many more chances for interaction between students and staff outside of class. Either at events (often for extra credit in class as well!) or teachers simply getting to know you. All of this leads to a very different relationship to staff than I became used to at Manchester and one that I can see certainly having benefits as far as things such as job references are concerned.
Anyway, I am going to draw this to a close here but as I say I plan on padding out my blog contribution a bit more in the coming weeks. Holidays and trips definitely seem worth talking about later. but for now, BYE!!!