Adjusting to Academic Life

Flora Scott, Chemistry, University of British Columbia, Canada

Studying abroad is definitely not the breezy vacation I was expecting. When applying for a year abroad you imagine spending your time travelling, meeting interesting new people and enjoying the view. Despite weekends spent doing exactly this, exploring Whistler Blackcomb Mountain and kayaking off Jericho beach, there is so very much more to it. Its rather like embarking on a marathon; a great challenge, enormously satisfying once achieved but at times …well pretty much hell. Academic life in Canada was much more of a shock to the system than I could have possibly anticipated. Moving to a new country and starting again at a different university is already a large adjustment in itself. Added to that it was immediately obvious that a completely different method of learning is enforced here.

UBC campus

Unlike at home, where, let’s face it, people often skate by in the first few weeks of Uni, at UBC you are immediately thrown in at the deep end. Being a science student in Manchester I am used to my grades depending on my final exams in January and June. Here however, I’ve experienced continuous testing; weekly hand-ins as well as midterms in every class all of which count towards your final grade. This took some adjusting to and initially I was so thrown by the workload I failed some assignments. This is disheartening, to say the least, especially when I had spent a significant number of my weekends in the library, while seemingly all of the other exchange students were off exploring Vancouver. At times it felt difficult to see how this was supposed to be “the best year of my life”. However eventually you do adapt and it becomes manageable. In fact, continual testing has it’s upsides. At this stage in the year, nearing the end of the semester, the pressure on my final exams is much less as they do not determine my whole grade. Most finals are worth at most 50% of the module grade. I now have time to do all the things I felt I had previously missed out on. As well as this, after having worked through the difficult period when things weren’t initially going to plan, I feel I have probably come out a better student.

Besides the testing there are other ways in which academic life feels notably different. Students here are much less embarrassed to get involved and participation is a common occurrence in every class. Sometimes students will even challenge the professors. It is usual to get involved and the majority of students work extremely hard. The library is always crammed regardless of the day or time. Struggling to find a seat even at the beginning of term was a bit of a surprise. Although it is admirable, I feel that some of the students could use more of a balance!

It is worth bearing in mind when heading off on a year abroad that it won’t always feel like the best experience of your life. It can be really difficult and the adjustment may take a lot longer than expected. However, as I approach the half way point, I am starting to believe that it is all worth it in the end.


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