Academic differences, or the reason I’m going to fail tomorrow’s midterm

By Rhiannon Jones, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This blog starts negative but picks up at the end, because being away from home can be hard sometimes…

Before leaving the UK, I knew that jetting off to another country was never going to be a complete breeze, especially when;

  1. this year actually counts towards my final grade,
  2. you study chemistry; and
  3. you’re reminded before you go that the chemistry course at Illinois is ‘the hardest in the US’.

Coming to terms with the academic differences has been a struggle at times, and has made me appreciate the Americans have very different expectation about their learning. I’m good at exams; I can sit down for the last four weeks of term and learn the course material well enough to pass the exam. However it’s not possible to do that here and expect anything more than an F.

My most heavily weighted final is worth is about 35%, or approximately 3000 miles away from the all exam modules I did at home. It means graded homeworks, in-class quizzes and hour long mid terms are actually a lot more important than they should be. For some people attendance also counts, although with three 9ams a week I’m definitely glad I’m not one of them. On the one hand, it means that the entire semester doesn’t rest on one potentially disastrous day. On the other, it means you’re under pressure for the whole 16 weeks, with more emphasis on memorisation and recall than actual understanding of the concept.

Having graded work every week and the possibility of a surprise quiz means the workload is also ridiculously higher. In the last week and a half, the number of nights I’ve made it back from our study session before 1.30am is just once. The only half-assed positive I can find though is at least I’m not the only one in my position. Walking back to my room after nights out to see people still up studying has been a bit of a shock, and it wasn’t just one person, or even once. My advice is to find a group of people to study with. We usually manage to rustle up at least one bag of Swedish fish between us and once the madness sets in no one will judge you for playing sporcle quizzes instead of studying.

It hasn’t all been work though, and as long as you keep on top of the work, which means staying up to the early hours of the morning to finish start studying for midterms, there is a lot of things to do, even for a small college town like Urbana-Champaign. Because the drinking age is 21, the events put on by societies are a lot more creative. Together with twenty-three other keen international students we’ve done activities here that I would have never done at home;

  • visited a corn maze,
  • went to a barn dance,
  • went to a sorority philanthropy brunch,
  • joined the campus dodgeball league,
  • stayed for the whole three hours of a football game,
  • visited Chicago (multiple times); and
  • watched the home coming parade.

In my opinion the worst bit about study abroad is the study part, but being in a different country has been amazing.

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A human pyramid we made in the quad during a scavenger hunt, and me in front of The Bean, a giant mirror in the middle of Chicago.

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Lacrosse team photo after our first tournament in Indiana, and a squad photo in front of the Chicago skyline.

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Us after a night time hunt through an eagle-shaped corn maze and all dressed up in flannel for the October Lovers’ barn dance.

P.S. We finally have a week off because it’s Thanksgiving (apparently it’s a big deal here or something?) so we’re off travelling again, going to visit another American city known for its pizza – New York! Elizabeth promised to make a blog about it, so you’ll see pictures go up in a couple of weeks.

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