When you come to university in your first year you have a lot to learn about how it all works. Then, if you decide to spend a year abroad, you often have to go through that learning experience again at your host university. And because there are plenty of other things you could be (and you would probably like to be) doing instead, let me make it a bit easier for some of you. Here are four key aspects of student life and the university system in France that I learned about during my first weeks at Toulouse.
Lund University and the University of Manchester have quite differing teaching and assessment regimes. I am now able to see advantages and disadvantages to both and why it is a great experience, if there is the opportunity, to try different styles outside those you are comfortable with and used to. Lund University offers a wide range of module choices which cover a lot of topics and agendas. As a human geographer and international student, I have to take at least 15 ECTS per semester from the Social Sciences School. If I wanted to take modules from outside this School, this would be allowed but I would not be a priority. However, there is still such a diverse range from Social Sciences where you can learn about subjects that you have not previously studied or potentially go into more depth about ones you have.
The way that the
academic year runs is different from Manchester for a start. Each semester has
two study periods within it, each of which runs for about half the semester.
So, for example in the first semester, the first study period runs from the
start of September until the end of October (ish) and the second period starts
at the beginning of November and finishes just before Christmas. The semester
as a whole also runs for a longer period of time. For 2019, the Autumn semester
ran from the 2nd September until the 19th December for me
and you have no real breaks during this time, i.e. there are no reading weeks.
This can make the semester feel really quite long in some ways, especially at
the beginning when Christmas seems very far off. However, the first study block
has just finished for me and I cannot believe how quickly it has actually gone!
The second semester this academic year is running from the 20th
January until the 5th June. However, the precise dates depend on the
specific modules taken.
Across the two semesters, you are required to attain 60 ECTS, the equivalent of 120 credits at home. This means 30 ECTS are taken per semester and generally 15 per study period. At Lund University, this is undertaken largely through 2 x 7.5 ECTS or 1 x 15 ECTS. This mean of learning enables you to have a strong focus on your module choices and keep up with the high amount of reading which comes with studying a social science. The amount of reading is balanced by the few lectures there are each week. I have on average 2 or 3 lectures per week. Additionally, the volume of reading is needed for the essays (for my module choices, there is one due about every fortnight) and is then reinforced by the seminars. Seminars are mandatory and, if they are missed, a ‘make-up’ assignment must be completed instead. The seminars normally take place prior to the assessment hand-in date to help with the writing of the assessment. This study pattern means that the assessments immediately follow the associated teaching and reading.
Something to note on the readings given also is that not all of them are online. Having said that, most pieces will be either online or in a university library, but nevertheless some classes may expect you to buy some books. However, I would say to always check UoM’s library search before spending your money as they have had most I have looked for so far!
are a few options of studying one 30 ECTS for the whole semester. I do not
think that I would recommend this as you would be doing only one module for the
entire semester with no other work to do, so it may seem repetitive even if you
enjoy it. Additionally, if you discover you do not enjoy the module, you are
then studying that one single module for the whole 16-week semester. As well,
Lund does not have a ‘pick-up/drop period’, where you can trial different modules,
so you have to do what you chose. I believe there are some cases where you can
change but it is not the ‘done’ thing. Of course, this is subject to how you
learn best and what you think will work best for your learning. The way in
which assessments are graded varies too. All assessments I have had have either
been marked on a sliding scale of A-fail (A being the highest and E the lowest
passing grade) or pass/fail (G/U in Swedish).
A Lund University tradition is
the ‘academic quarter’. I believe this is not unique to Lund but essentially it
means that, when classes say they begin on the hour, they actually begin at a
quarter past. So, if a class starts at 10:00, it will actually begin at 10:15.
Supposedly this tradition is from when students knew the time from the
cathedral in the middle of the city. When the cathedral’s bells rang at
o’clock, the students knew they needed to get to class for quarter past. As a
result of the academic quarter and a break in the middle of the classes, the
time passes very quickly. This is a particular perk if lectures are at 8.00 am
or 5.00 pm, the times classes can run from. Something to note is that classes
run all day on Wednesdays; there’s no half-day. Also, as far as I am aware
currently, there is no real break for Easter.
Although I can see many advantages to the shorter and more intense study periods, I would also say that there is something of a feeling of temporariness that follows it. In itself, the temporariness can have advantages and disadvantages if you do not enjoy your course for example (or a lecturer!).
Simon Hird / / Geography / / University of Auckland / / NZ
I thought it would be a good idea to dedicate one blog post specifically to academics and the differences I have experienced between Auckland and Manchester. New Zealand and the UK definitely have many parallels and it didn’t take much time to adjust to a relatively similar style of life and study that they have here. But there are some distinct differences in how university works here compared to Manchester and the UK in general.
One of the most resounding differences you will experience here is the way degrees are set up. Like many universities outside of the UK (US, Canada, Australia etc.), undergraduate students enrolled on a degree program at the University of Auckland will usually not be solely enrolled into courses on their discipline, but have the flexibility to take a variety of different courses. Take a Geography degree, for example: students will be enrolled on a Bachelor of Science programme in which they may choose Geography as a major and another subject as a minor, based on the courses they wish to take and allowing them to tailor their degree to their interests. Whilst this does not directly affect us as exchange students (we are enrolled on Certificate of Proficiency for Exchange) it does change the class dynamics noticeably. Continue reading “Studying at the University of Auckland: what’s different?”→
Anthony Bladen – The Chinese University of Hong Kong
I have been at CUHK for almost three weeks now and while everyone at Manchester has just finished exam season, here at CUHK we only have one more week of classes until the Chinese New Year break – meaning I have a lot to talk about!
Academic expectation at McGill. This is the blog that I’ve been putting off the longest and that has been for two reasons. The first is that it would probably be the least engaging to write whilst the second was because I had to find a way to write it so as not to put future prospective exchanges at McGill off.
Though I realise in confessing that it somewhat undoes my efforts.
There are distinct differences to the academic system they have over here relative to the one the UK has and invariably these differences will be viewed as good or bad differently for every person and degree. Outlining some of these differences will hopefully shed some light on what to expect for people considering McGill.
McGill operates a continual assessment system the result of which is that the only time you won’t have a deadline is in the first week of term when you’re still learning your professor’s names. Regularly I have been absent-mindedly chatting to someone in lectures and they have mentioned an exam or assignment due the next week which I have known nothing about (there is very little hand holding).
Talking to humanities students this works quite well however since the majority of learning done in the arts is in one’s owns time via assigned ‘readings’. The persistent roll of assignments provides a faithful motivator for these readings.
In the sciences there is less of an obvious benefit although in my opinion, due to limitations in any human’s capacity to take on new information, the breadth and depth of content covered here is less than that covered in Manchester. What struck me in the first few weeks was the asymmetry between what I knew compared to my peers. Though they were infinitely better at managing their time. This is the largest distinction in university styles. The rest are just novelties that add to the academic experience:
Teaching assistants (TAs) wield more power than PhDs probably should. Befriend them or suffer.
People actually use ‘rate my professor’ sites. Definitely worth checking out prior to signing onto courses.
You can actually view exam transcripts and get marks back if you put forward a convincing enough case!
Exams aren’t really standardised or decided upon by a committee, they are simply made up by a professor. So in this sense it worth going to their lectures where they’ll probably let slip what they’re going to put on tests. Or at least the lectures during the run up to the exam.
You get a lot more choice concerning the types of course you pick. Hence people pick a selection of ones they find interesting (often hard ones) and ‘birdies’ (easy courses that ensure you maintain a good grade point average). Identify the birdies you’re eligible to take.
Exams results are usually fitted to a curve against the best result. So if you ace it and no one else does… your selfish.
People take pride in the study places they’ve found on campus.
No hour at McGill is an inappropriate hour to hit the library. In fact on several occasions I’ve consolidated friendships with people I’ve just met by studying with them. It is not like only people who want top marks go to the library. Everyone does. All the time. McGill’s equivalent of nightline often serves coffee gone 8pm at the library.
I like to think of the lifestyle here like breathing. Often you might need to work during the weekends, but if you manage your time well this isn’t always the case. Resultantly weekends become the time you can ‘inhale’ and do all the things you enjoy doing that leave you in a positive and restful head space.
The following week sees you ‘exhale’, where all the positivity is converted into library hours and hard work to ensure you’re getting what regularly seems like an insurmountable amount of jobs done.
Don’t worry though. It is surmountable. Having written this it has become glaringly obvious why McGill’s informal motto is ‘work hard, play hard’.
By Erdoo Yongo (North Carolina State University, USA)
1. You always seem to have some kind of test – whether it is a midterm or pop-up quiz, these are so frequent that after the first few tests you stop being surprised when your professor issues you with a test.
2. You have to submit papers via hard copy – for those of us who are used to staying up all night before an essay is due and submitting it online with only minutes to spare, this is quite a hassle.
3. Attendance contributes to your final grade – most professors take attendance every class to monitor students attendance and usually if students miss more than a certain number of classes, it is deducted off your attendance mark… How fun…
4. Students don’t have seminars – so this means that you will usually have a day (or if you are lucky enough a few days) off each week to sleep all day. But even though seminars don’t exist, professors ensure students don’t fall asleep in their classes by making sure participation in classes contribute to your final grade… Awesome!
5. Students get unimaginable amounts of free things – those of you who thought freshers’ week was the biggest freebie event, you were wrong! American ‘colleges’ give out tonnes of free goodies – pizza, cakes, water bottles, t-shirts – on a (nearly) weekly basis… #Winning
6. Sports is a huge thing – everyone in some way can relate to sports, whether it is watching it, such as football (not what real football is, but a sport similar to rugby), or going to the gym. The gym is amazing, with a swimming pool, basketball courts and places where you can rent out equipment… for free! I never thought I would hear myself say it but, I LOVE THE GYM!
7. Students don’t interact in classes – this is pretty odd because for most of us it is a usual thing to talk to people in lectures.
8. People tend to recognise your accent – this is especially true if you have a British accent. When you speak in class some students look at you as if you grew another head. People notice the accent so much that it becomes strange if someone doesn’t notice your accent.
By Jamie Chapman (University of Sydney, Australia)
So, while Sydney is experiencing what’s being called the ‘storm of the century’ (really, it’s just a little taster of Manchester weather), it’s as good a time as any for an update on how things are going out here. It’s week 7 of term, assignments are piling on, and we’re slowly approaching the bitterly cold Australian winter with temperatures plummeting to as low as 15 degrees Celsius. Maybe one day I’ll be able to use that beanie hat…
Here in Sydney we’ve just had the week-long mid-semester break. Whilst it’s not quite as long as the three weeks we get at Manchester, exams are still a way off so there’s not so much pressure to revise. Upon hearing this, my dad thought that this sounded like the perfect excuse for a little holiday down-under, so a mere 23-hour flight later, featuring a soundtrack of faulty headphones and screaming
babies, I met up with him in the middle of Sydney to show him a glimpse of my incredible experience abroad. Unfortunately, the overly dramatic Australian weather didn’t quite have the same idea, with a week of sunshine, storms, and me getting caught on a boat in the Harbour wearing nothing more than shorts and a t-shirt in the torrential rain! It definitely wasn’t a week to forget about though, with a day out sailing around the Sydney headlands, a trip up to the stunning Blue Mountains, and a week of living the student highlife and having my meals paid for. Not too bad!
I suppose that now, after six weeks or so of teaching, it’s a good idea to take a look at some of the main differences between university life at Sydney and Manchester. While for the most part, classes are structured pretty similarly, with a 2-hour lecture per module and weekly tutorials, it’s the small things that really make you realise that you’re studying in a new environment. Assessment tends to be more evenly spread out across the semester, as opposed to bundled together into exams at the end of term – for one of my modules, the bulk of the grade is based on small weekly assignments. The great thing about this is, I’m only going to be left with a single one-hour exam when it comes to exams in June. Another difference is the importance of in-class participation – for another of my modules, 20% of the grade is for tutorial participation. As long as I say one thing each week, that’s 20% in the bag – last week, my only participation was discussing the ‘Australian image’ in popular culture and explaining the Foster’s ads on British TV. Turns out the beer doesn’t even exist over here!
In addition to academic differences, there are also some things that Sydneysiders do or say that are just a little bit alien to the average Brit. I went to my first AFL game (Australian rules football) on Saturday, Australia’s most popular sport, to see the Sydney Swans – one of the top teams in the league. Despite being called football, the game is played on a cricket oval, the ball looks like an American football, is carried like a rugby ball, there are 4 goal posts at either end of the field, and the umpires look like they’re in a Wild West shootout whenever a goal is scored. It’s baffling to me. Aussies also have a weird habit of shortening nearly all of their words – afternoon is arvo, car registration is rego, and McDonald’s is Maccas. I even overheard a woman call Aldi, ‘Aldos’, which isn’t even any shorter.
Yesterday was the Sydney Abroad Fair, for all of the USYD students that are interested in taking a semester abroad next year. Despite the fact that an impromptu storm meant that the Fair had to be relocated at the last minute, causing a bunch of hassle and some pretty damp UoM handbooks, it was great to see the potential interest that a lot of Australian students have in studying in the UK, and at the University of Manchester in particular. It also let me really reflect on how different life is here compared to back home, and to chat with some Sydney students that have done exchanges in the UK in the past. I hope that some of those students end up taking the leap to study in Manchester, and I’m sure they’ll absolutely love it (as long as we don’t tell them about the weather).
Before I finish off this post, I’ll briefly mention some of the things I’ve got planned for the next few weeks. In May I’ll be involved in the Vivid Festival – an annual festival of light shows and live music gigs around the city, most well-known for the colourful installations on the outside of the Sydney Opera House. This year, the festival is coming to the main Quadrangle building of the University of Sydney, and I’ll be part of a group of students composing the music for a visual installation. Exciting times! Next month I’ll also be playing a gig with the University’s Big Band, and possibly taking a trip up the east coast to go sailing at the Whitsunday Islands. There had better not be any storms for that…
By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
Having done a semester and a bit at Queen’s now, academic differences have become clear to me between the Canadian and UK university systems. However, by all means, it is nothing to worry about, especially once you are used to it and the basics are still in place that you would find at any university; readings, tests, assignments, tutorials etc.
1. The first difference that became pretty apparent early on was the differences in the assessments here. The assessment is cumalative throughout the semester and the final mark for a course will be based on the various components, such as online quizzes, small reading reflections and attendance and participation marks as well as presentations. Nothing that you won’t have done at Manchester, but it is nice in a way because it spreads out the assessment and it reduces the pressure of the final exam, if there is one (some courses are just all coursework based). Exams tend to count for about 30 to 40% of the mark instead of 60 to 70% that I have experienced in Manchester. A common component is a term paper as part of assessment that is normally around fifteen to twenty pages long and will be kind of a mini research project where you choose a topic within a course and it gives you more freedom in what you want to write about and discuss.
2. Mid-terms are common in Canada, not every course has them but you can expect for most classes that you will take it around week 5 to 7 of the term. From my experience, they are not daunting at all, just like a more formal class test with normally multiple choice or short answer questions. I had one business one that was open book and online so I could just do it at home with my textbook and notes right there to help me. Again, a mid-term takes off the pressure of the final exam for the course.
3. One nice difference is that the exam period is attached to the end of term as Canadian semesters start a couple of weeks earlier than Manchester at the beginning of September and therefore, even though there is a 2 to 3 week exam period at the end of the term so there are only a few days between the end of classes and exams beginning, you can have a Christmas break where you don’t have to be revising, which is more enjoyable I would say, and then come back in January for the next semester.
4. The multi-component nature of the courses and the assessment at Queen’s means that there is often independent study to be done, such as reading (which was really important for some mid-terms and exams in first semester as they asked specific questions on readings), but the campus has a variety of places to work, whether you want the really quiet library or more casual atmosphere in cafes. This is important because to keep up with the continuous assessment style you need to keep on top of your readings and homework set in the classes.
5. The teaching style in Canada is not so different that you will find yourself in a completely different environment, but I found that they are a lot stricter on caps for numbers of students in classes and often limit to smaller classes, such as one of my classes on GIS this semester which has around 20 students in it. This means that the professors will expect more class interaction and will set small group activities and discussion within the lectures that they will expect people to contribute to and give answers in class. Some courses will also have tutorials or lab sessions (for my science based courses) and these are mainly run by TAs (teaching assistants) who are generally PhD or postgrad students, sometimes final year undergrads, who will be responsible for marking most of the assessments as well, and this is where attendance and participation marks can be gained. All the professors and TAs are very keen for people to use their office hours for questions and are often interested to chat with international students as well.
6. Course choices can be a little daunting idea as I have found that pre-requisites for some second and third year courses (which exchange students are recommended to take for their third year abroad as Canada’s undergrad degrees are 4 years long) are pretty strict, which obviously you are not going to have because you are from another university. However, do not let it worry you! In the registration for your exchange university they will give you detailed instructions to find them; Queen’s for example sent me a form on which I could write the courses I wanted to take and they are listed on the website. Once you are at your exchange university, if you are struggling to find courses, do two things: visit the International Programmes Office; they are very helpful and friendly (at Queen’s for definite) and they will either help you find them or recommend you visit your subject department office. If you show your face and show your interest, you are much more likely to get onto a course that may be full or you are finding harder to take due to the wrong pre-requisite courses or requirements.
Best piece of advice:
If your course at Manchester allows you to, try some new modules out. I study Geography but have taken a Psychology course and a Business course this year and it has broadened the learning experience. Although it is a pass/fail year, it is a ‘study abroad’ and so you should take advantage of the academic experiences you could get at the exchange university as well as the travelling and meeting new people which you will do lots of.
The latest appearance of the Manchester beanie, in Parc Mont-Royal in Montreal, Quebec, a hill that gives you a 180 degree view of the city and was very snowy! Second semester is flying by and after the reading week coming up next week (a trip to Chicago!), I will have six weeks left of classes at Queen’s, a very sad thought. The university alone has had made a big impact on the year abroad, and only a year ago I had just been accepted and knew very little about it! So for those of you who have just found out if you will study abroad: get excited, it will be a memorable semester/year.
By Jing-Jing Hu (University of British Columbia Okanagan, Canada)
To all those coming to UBCO, or interested in coming to UBCO, here are some differences that you might be interested in knowing beforehand:
Term dates and alternative assessment
The second term at UBCO starts about two weeks earlier than in Manchester and lasts about four months. Since the start of the term at UBCO falls into the January examination period in Manchester, you have to arrange alternative assessment for these exams. While it is in most cases possible to arrange alternative assessment in the form of an essay in more discursive subjects, such as Politics and Philosophy, other departments, such as Economics, require you to sit your missed exams during the August resit period for the first time. While it felt nice not to have to study for exams in January, the alternative assessment, the deadlines of which coincided with the start of the term at UBCO, as well as the academic system at UBCO both require good time management.
Since it usually takes four years to complete your bachelor’s degree in Canada, exchange students from Manchester usually take third year courses. You are, however, allowed to take one or two second year courses. What I noticed is that some second year courses complement my first year studies in Manchester very well while in other cases third year courses were a more appropriate choice. For this reason it is useful to email the professor about the syllabus before you make your choices. At UBCO, as in Manchester, you are allowed to add or drop courses within the first two weeks. After that there is another deadline here in February, up until which you can still drop courses, but with a W (for withdrawal) standing on your transcript. Although withdrawing from a course is not recommended as you would need to do the required number of credits per semester in order to complete the equivalent of a full year at Manchester.
Different from the typical combination of lectures and tutorials at Manchester, there are no tutorials for most courses here at UBCO. Instead, there are two 80-minute classes per week for every module that you take. The class size is much smaller with usually no more than 100 students in one class. In one of my classes, there are just 40 students which is a great contrast to the 200 to 300 people you sometimes find in a lecture theatre in Manchester. I enjoy the small class sizes, since it makes it easier to get to know your classmates and generally facilitates class contribution. Many students ask questions during class and it is not unusual to do exercises in class and to discuss the answers afterwards or for the professor to engage students in a discussion. You also get to know your professor better and, as in Manchester, all professors have regular office hours and are very willing to help with any problems you might have. Moreover, there are TA (teaching assistant) hours as well. Teaching assistants are usually students that have taken the class before.
Whereas there is usually a great emphasis on the final exams in Manchester, the final exams often accounting for 60 to 100%, more weight is placed on continuous assessment here in Canada. There are a variety of assessment methods that are used, such as midterms, group work, take-home midterms and exams, graded assignments and homework. None of my finals accounts for more than 40%. If, however, you miss one of your midterms, the weight of the midterm is usually added to the final. If the midterm is worth 20%, for instance, then missing this midterm would mean that the final exam accounts for 60% of your grade. Although it takes pressure off you to do well in your finals and spreads the workload throughout the semester, this makes it even more important to stay on top of your work and keep up with the reading throughout the term.
Essays or term papers here often require you to choose your own topic or pose your own question within a certain framework, a little bit like a mini-dissertation. It gives you much more freedom in your focus and research and allows you to explore a certain aspect of the course that is of particular interest to you in greater depth. The preferred writing style and form can vary slightly from the way you are used to structure essays in Manchester so that I would recommend asking the professor about any formalities you might be uncertain of beforehand, such as referencing or the word limit.
(Can’t finish a post without a picture of the beautiful scenery, I just love the view too much. I am sure you will too if you decide to come here 🙂 It looks even more beautiful in real life.)
Finals have just finished, ending semester 1, and I head home for the holidays in a couple of days, which I’m so excited for. My first semester at SFU hasn’t been the easiest, however, once I finally settled in and found my feet, things have only gotten better. The academic side of life at SFU is what I’ve had the least issues with; it was what I expected and hasn’t yet caused me any major difficulties.
Lectures are fairly similar to Manchester in layout and teaching, although not all professors use slides or put them online. The size of lectures depends on the course, mine range from around 40 to 100. Other differences are that people participate in lectures more by asking questions or actually answering the professor’s questions, which wasn’t really done in Manchester. Lectures are usually based on the week’s reading, plus some extra detail. Therefore it is vital to do the week’s reading, especially as they are then discussed in that week’s tutorial. Tutorial participation and attendance is a percentage of the course’s overall grade, so people get involved a lot more and show interest in the topics, which makes the content easier to understand and remember.
In terms of workload, there are fewer essays: I only had to do two this semester. Instead, there are smaller exercises such as group presentations, weekly readings, midterms and final exams. The grade boundaries here are also a lot higher than Manchester with a B- equalling 73-77 and an A- 86-89! Exams for geography typically involve some short answer questions and definitions, and an essay. SFU has exams morning, afternoon and evening during the exam period and even on the weekends! I am definitely not a fan of 7-10pm exams!
However my first semester hasn’t been all work. I’ve been up to lots, including visiting Seattle, watching the Canucks play, visiting the Vancouver Aquarium and much more. Vancouver also gets very festive over the holiday season, with snow, the Vancouver Christmas Market (definitely not as good as Manchester’s), Roger’s Santa Claus Parade and Bright Nights at Stanley Park. I can’t believe how quickly this semester has gone and that I’m halfway through my exchange. Time is running out so I really need to get started on my dissertation, as well as doing all the other things I want to do and see. I’m looking forward to second semester and the adventures it brings!