The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Studying Abroad

There is no doubt that going away for a year to a foreign land can be remarkable. The endless stream of Instagram posts and vlogs are clear evidence of this. From the shots of students lost in the urban paradise of Hong Kong, to my fellow Mancunian travellers taking snaps in the idyllic rural landscapes of South America. For those that want study abroad, there is certainly enough substance out there to tickle your taste-buds and inspire you to go on an adventure.

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5 (surprising) things I’ve learned on exchange

By Catrin Stewart, (University of Guelph, CA)
As we approach the end of the semester, I’ve decided to reflect upon what have been some of the best months of my life.
However, there were a few unexpected bumps along the way, so I’ve decided to list them, and my (suggested) solutions to make the journey smoother for others!
1. Canada is EXPENSIVE 
And not just in the ways you’d expect. I knew my residence and flights would cost a lot, but food shopping, even with exchange rates taken into account, is about double what I pay back in Manchester. There are ways to get around it, like trying different supermarkets, and figuring out what is more/less expensive, that is not necessarily the same things as back home. For example, some meats are ridiculously cheap, but there are a lot less vegetarian options and they are usually more expensive if you’re not cooking from scratch.
Also, Canada is a big country – if you didn’t already know – which means travel is much more expensive. £2 mega buses don’t exist like in the UK, but if you use student discount, do your research and look elsewhere other than the greyhound buses, you can lower the prices.
2. Internet shopping: it’s not a thing.
If you’re like me and have a mild addiction to amazon prime / ASOS then prepare yourself to go cold turkey. Because Canada is so big, and a lot of online produce comes from the US, next day delivery doesn’t really exist. Standard delivery is much more expensive and usually takes 2-3 weeks rather than 2-3 working days. Yep, weeks.
3. A lot of exchange students will be pass/fail. 
The majority of students from Manchester have their grades count when they go on exchange. However, 95% of the people I’ve been surrounded by only have to pass during their time abroad. This means that you will be spending a few extra hours in the library than everyone else. But it truly is worth cutting out a few hours of Netflix and replacing it with studying if it means you can take that weekend trip away with friends instead of staying home to finish an essay. I’ve found it’s much easier to use your time wisely if it’s a matter of going to New York or not!
4. Alcohol and nightlife 
It’s very similar, but there is slightly less of a drinking culture in Canada compared to England, especially coming from such a vibrant city as Manchester.
Alcohol isn’t usually sold in supermarkets, so you have to buy branded which means it’s quite a lot more expensive, and laws in Canada mean that all clubs and bars shut around 2:30am
Although it might seem a bit tame at first, it does make it easier to get to lectures the next day!
5. Academics 
Before coming abroad I was warned that the workload would be much more intensive, and this is definitely true. Whilst this was a shock and has been incredibly hard work, I also struggled with the standard of work I was producing. If you are truly passionate about your degree, it can be difficult not to be disheartened as the rate of work you are expected to turn in is much faster, and this means your standards inevitably lower. Whilst this won’t affect your grades as the marking is more lenient because of the volume of work, it can be a little demoralising. However, I have found that satisfaction can be found elsewhere, such as in seminars, as they are longer and therefore can facilitate more in depth discussion. Also, later in the semester you will be handing in longer essays more alike to the ones in Manchester, and will get the chance to work more in depth again.
Even despite these changes, my time on exchange has been incredibly positive and has taught me important lessons about adapting to new places. I understand that moving to Canada from the UK is a small culture change compared to lots of other places people go on exchange, but being prepared for some of the small differences can’t hurt!

 

NC Chapel Hill: Work/Life

By Emily (North Carolina, USA)

Whilst it has probably been covered before, one of the biggest differences you might face in the US is the academic differences. It will definitely take a while to get used to, however having said that it is by no means a bad thing.

At Chapel Hill, classes run either Monday, Wednesday, Friday or on Tuesday and Thursday. So if you have class at 9am on Monday, you will also have that class on Wednesday  and Friday. The consistency is good, and it means you don’t forget about that topic as you will have covered it multiple times.

Unlike in England, for me our time is not split between lectures and seminars. Instead, we have one type of class, that in fact feels like halfway between a lecture and a seminar. The professor will discuss the reading given briefly and then will ask questions to the class. The biggest change for me actually comes from the students. Everyone happily participates with no awkward silences, and there have been occasions where the more than seven hands will go up at once to offer a perspective. This naturally comes from a system where participation matters.

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(An irrelevant yet beautiful picture, on the left is the UL library, on the right is the dining Hall- Lenoir)

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Exams and Goodbyes

By Chloe Coradetti, Mechanical Engineering, The National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore

Pic Nic
End of Semester/GoodBye Pic Nic outside Vivo City, one of the humongous mall of Singapore. Enjoying the sea view… and the company 🙂

Hellooo Manchester,

First, a little retrospective on my adventure so far which I wrote on my Facebook wall in December 2015:

The first semester is coming to an end,
I’ve been through a great range of difference experiences, beginning by meeting awesome, intellectual, hilarious, enriching people which I went on some adventures with, at boxing classes, skateboarding, partying, laughing, dragon boating, chatting philosophically or politically until 3AM…
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Academic Expectations at UWA

By Rachael Harrison, University of Western Australia

This is my second post in a very short space of time. But I’ve finally finished, my first semester here at UWA. I’ve had a total of fourteen assignments and 3 exams, which actually means I’ve done more work then I would have in Manchester! Apparently there is a ruling here that exams can only be weighted a certain percentage, so my exams were only 40% which is at least 20% less than back home, plus in some you don’t even need to pass the exam to pass the unit. However, Australian universities seem to look their assignments and particular group ones! The system over here works on a continual assessment basis, hence why I had so many. This has led me to have mixed responses to the units I have partaken in this term, in which I took all Earth science units.

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Academic expectations

Harry at McGill in Montréal

 

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’.

A gentle reminder

By Callum Campbell (National University of Singapore, Singapore)

With all the travelling and the constant tropical climate it has been really easy to forget the real reason why I am in Singapore – to study. The upcoming exams, however, have acted as a gentle reminder of this aspect.

Managed to find time to watch David Beckham turn on the Christmas lights
Managed to find time to watch David Beckham turn on the Christmas lights

With only a couple of days now until I finish and travel back to England, it would be easy to lose track of revision, but it is important that I maintain my determination and motivation over this last stretch. What does not make this easier is the fact the majority of other exchange students have finished and left to travel around the region to relaxing beaches and beautiful countries while I am stuck revising.

Just a few more days...
Just a few more days…

With four exams I am doing the same workload as I would have been doing in Manchester, however, each of my modules range from different subject backgrounds to academic years. This means that the studying has been very diverse and at times more complex.

The largest and most notable difference with exams in Singapore compared to those in England is that the marking is done on a bell curve, meaning that a small proportion of the class can achieve the top grade and the largest amount will achieve middle marks, while a small number will obtain the lowest. This system comes with its positives and negatives as although some members of the class will fail, the bell curve makes it hard to do so. However, this also means that it is actually harder to achieve the highest grade and therefore has the potential to make fellow classmates slightly more competitive with one another, but thankfully this is not something I have experienced.

 

An illustration as to how the bell curve system works
An illustration as to how the bell curve system works

As an exchange student though, my grades from NUS will be taken and converted into Manchester results based on a number of factors, meaning when I am told my results in the first instance, I am likely to have little idea of what they mean in terms of English grades.

Just as unpredictable as my results for the first semester is the current dramatic and drastic change of weather, ranging between beaming sunlight and monsoon storms within a matter of hours. One of the strangest things to comprehend out here is the fact that the weather is still above 20oC, yet it’s December… Christmas is less than a month away and I’m still wearing shorts and flip-flops?

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Speaking of Christmas, I recently found out the news that I will be notified by NUS regarding my grades a couple of days before Christmas, meaning there is the potential to either make or break the festive period. Thankfully, I am feeling confident of what I have achieved during my time in Singapore and feel assured it will be a time to celebrate on all fronts.

 

Exams, new experiences, and the cold

By Hamish Russell (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA).

When -6 starts to feel like it’s not particularly cold, you know you’ve settled into New England – or so my new friends tell me. With the weather in the northeastern United States as bad as it has been, I’ve not been venturing out too often since my trip to New York – but a good time is still to be had. Encouraged by some of the Americans I’ve made friends with, I’ve started ice-skating fairly regularly. While fun for us, we’ve had a mixed reaction from some of the regular skaters because of some of our antics, which have included skating round with American and British flags billowing behind us.

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As well as picking up a new sport, I’ve had to get to work due to mid-term exams in all my subjects. While not counting for a huge proportion of the final grades or being particularly arduous, these exams are still taken seriously by everyone here (except those international exchange students lucky enough to be on a pass/fail programme). Thankfully, they’re all scheduled around the same time so that they’re all over quickly and, hopefully, painlessly.

On a slightly more enjoyable note, spring break is in less than two weeks and everybody is planning their various trips with ideas ranging from Cancun, Mexico to Miami, Florida. I however will be flying to Philadelphia for the break to see my cousins at their place, something I haven’t done for almost nine years, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing them all (and the city, I’m here to travel around after all).

Until next time.

Oz Diaries 4: Let’s Study

By Olivia Dove (University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia).

There once was a woman named Sophie, 

What a wonderful woman she was! 

The size of a trophy,

 As lively as a rogue bee,

 And she lived in the land called Oz.

– dave bev

(an Undiscovered Poet)

There are two myths that need to be dispelled about university students. The first one is that ‘students don’t do any work, university is just one big party’. Sure enough, this is true for a minority, but even they have experienced long shifts in the library with a much-appreciated coffee. Lecture halls are usually filled, even for the morning sessions. And some students even participate in extra-curricular studies such as the poetry above (specially written for you all by an International House ‘housie’).

When abroad, the second myth that you will find working against you, as an international student, is that ‘exchange kids don’t need to work hard – they only have to pass’. This is only sometimes true. When studying abroad, your grades could count as part of your final degree mark or you may just need to pass, and this depends on: your university, your faculty and your degree programme. For me, as a one-semester abroad Zoologist, my grades in Australia will be the first grades that go towards my degree. Scary stuff.

Therefore, to secure a future looking at cuddly (and not-so-cuddly) animals, I must work hard whilst enjoying my time here in Australia. So, what is studying here like? What are the differences between England and Australia?

The following are differences:

  • UoM (University of Manchester) starts at 9am: a sensible, well-thought out time. UQ (University of Queensland) begins at 8am.
  • Labcoats are not compulsory in every lab practical at UQ.
  • Multi-coloured, funky labcoats are allowed at UQ.
  • Laboratories here have a Mac computer at every single desk (It feels like you’re working at the Genius Bar at Apple).
  • Students wear flip-flops around campus at UQ (or ‘thongs’ as they call them, which leads to many confusing and awkward moments).
  • There are more places to buy coffee at UQ.
  • There are lots and lots and lots more areas to work outside at UQ, as well as nicer weather for it, too.
  • Essays and assignments seem to be shorter and less frequent at UQ.
  • UQ has mid-semester exams. My final exams at UoM in my 1st Year were worth 85-95% of my course grades; here they are worth a maximum 50%. Which, believe me, makes a welcome change.
  • Exams can be scheduled for Saturdays at UQ.
  • Exams, at least mid-semesters, can take place at UQ in lecture halls with one lecturer watching 300+ students.
  • Handing in an assignment includes a bar code and deposit slot.
  • Each course had 3 lectures a week at UQ, as opposed to 2 a week at UoM (though this is different for every course).

The following are similarities:

  • Attendance at lectures is laid-back, but tutorials are a must.
  • Lab practicals are mostly 3 hours long.
  • The library is nearly always full, except between 10pm-9am and weekends.
  • Lecturers allow you to address them by their first name.
  • Students take a lot of naps.
  • Students sometimes even take a nap during lectures.
  • Lecture slides and recordings are posted on an online Blackboard site.
  • Questions throughout lectures are encouraged.
  • Both universities use Turn-it-in software to assess plagiarism.
  • Students prefer to study in packs.

If planning a semester abroad, the main thing for you to remember to do is thoroughly research your courses. If you don’t want a lot of lab hours, or you want courses with essay assignments instead of exams, these can both be avoided by making sure you read the course descriptions. Also, I would highly recommend studying courses that you can only study when abroad, but this goes without saying.

To conclude this semi-intellectual post, I enjoy studying abroad.

And, trust me, you will, too.

ImageMy desk covered in mid-sem revision. Oh, the joys (worth it though).