Academic differences between Manchester and Mizzou

by Victoria Rowlands – Sociology. (The University of Missouri – Columbia, USA)

Now that I am 2 months into my time here at Mizzou, I feel like now is a good time to talk about the academic differences between here and Manchester. Spring break is in two weeks, and me and a bunch of the other Manchester students, along with some of our other friends, are headed to Miami for a week! I’m so excited, we honestly need the week off uni!

Before I came here, I was under the impression that there wouldn’t be that much work, and that I’d be gallivanting off to far flung corners of the Americas every weekend. How wrong I was. The reality is that I am spending my weekends in far flung corners of the library, instead. I went up to the east wing of third floor yesterday though, which was mildly exciting.

The thing is, that the work isn’t particularly hard – there’s just so much of it. I’m taking four courses here, and I have weekly online tests for two of them, plus every other week I seem to have a mid-term exam. On top of this, I have essays to write, plus entire books to read. For me, having to read entire books for class is one of the weirdest things about studying in America as a social science student. Back in Manchester, we’ll maybe have a chapter of a book to read for one tutorial, and then that’s usually it; I’ll probably never touch that book again. However, here, I have four books to read in their entirety for my module studying organisations and institutions, and two to read for the ‘free-choice’ British History module which I am taking. One of the books for British History is Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’, and I must admit that it’s quite nice having to read a book which is written about a part of the world which is so close to Manchester, and my hometown. Fortunately the books I’m reading aren’t particularly ‘academic’ – for instance, I am also reading ‘Fast Food Nation’, which is actually a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, so it’s nice having the chance to actually do that!

Despite the fact that there is so much work to do, I feel like it’s easier to get good grades here. About 15% of your final grade can come from class participation, or attendance, and there are also lots of opportunities for ‘extra credit’. For example, in my British History class, we have two extra credit opportunities, which involve watching a film and writing a 500 word review of it. If you do this, you can get 5% extra added onto your final score for each film you watch. I feel like the teachers here at Mizzou really want you to do well, and give you ample opportunity to do so. Of course, everyone back in Manchester wants you to do well too, but they express this by giving you the academic tools to write an essay worthy of a good grade. Essentially back home, you have to motivate yourself and push yourself to do well in every essay, and every exam.

Although I’m mainly enjoying my courses here at Mizzou, there is one course which is really standing out for me, and that is Rural Sociology 2010 – Leadership in Today’s World. If you’re coming to Mizzou next year, I’d highly recommend that you take this course. It’s taught by Rex Campbell, who is a retired professor at MU, but still teaches in an unpaid capacity because he loves it so much. He’s also a very influential person within Columbia, and has been asked on multiple occasions to be mayor of the city (however, he’s always declined, because teaching has always been his priority).

It’s not exactly a traditional class. There is no exam, and no notes to take down. It’s really more of a class discussion on controversial topics, such as racism, guns, and smacking children as punishment. Rex’s aim with this is to create individuals who have a critical mind, and who question everything – thus moulding us into ‘effective leaders’, who can make informed decisions. During our first class, he gave us all a list of 100 questions, on topics ranging from ‘how to defeat ISIS’, to ‘should universities teach sex education?’. We all had to choose a topic, and present on it during this half of the semester in order to gain a grade for the class. I chose the topic of whether universities should teach sex education, and for me it was quite daunting presenting on such a sensitive, controversial issue, as throughout our class discussions, I have come to realize that I am exceedingly more liberal than the majority of my classmates on a large number of topics, and I have often clashed with other people in the class on topics such as gun control. I was worried that everyone would ‘shoot me down’ (no pun intended!), when I presented, telling me that my ideas were wrong, however, luckily enough for me, everybody agreed with the points made in my presentation! Whilst I may not agree with a lot of the opinions people express in the class, it is interesting to hear about everyone’s views on topics, and their justification for their feelings. When I first arrived in Missouri, everybody told me that I had come to the right place for an ‘authentic USA experience’, and they were right. Whilst it would have been lovely to study in a big city such as Philadelphia, or New York, living in Columbia has given me an insight into the day-to-day lives of how Americans live and work which I probably wouldn’t have gotten in a big city. As a sociology student, I just find this element of the study abroad experience so interesting!

My next blog is probably going to be about spring break, and contain lots of pictures of me, milky white with stripes of bright red sunburn, lounging on a beach amongst my tanned toned friends. So yeah, I doubt you’re going to want to miss that…

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