Wait… this isn’t vacation?
My junior year officially took off on September 12, but I don’t feel like a third-year student at all. Spending a semester abroad means that I have to get used to a whole new accent, a whole new country, and, of course, a whole new way of schooling. I’ve found after completing my first couple weeks of classes that “uni” is a lot different than “college.”
For one thing, the classes are much, much larger. Hope College prides itself on being a small liberal arts school, but I never really realized just how much emphasis should be put on small. My largest class at Hope probably had 70 students in it, and I don’t even think that uni students would consider it a typical “lecture.” The Hope professor was always calling on students to answer questions as he went through the day’s presented information. My professors at Aberdeen, on the other hand, don’t talk to students in class. I mean, they say they’re willing to help in any way, but it’s hard to interact with your professor during class when you’re one of 200 or 300 kids in your lecture hall. One of my friends even said that her lecture has 650 students in it! I will be honest, though, that American students who attend large state schools like the University of Michigan probably wouldn’t find Aberdeen’s lectures different at all. However, when comparing it to Hope, it’s like night and day.
Aberdeen does allow for some discussion-based classes, though. Each lecture has a “tutorial” to go along with it. These essentially break down a class into small Hope-sized groups. So far tutorials have looked a little different for each course. My Linguistics tutorial allows students to go over assigned worksheets and practice transcribing speech. My Religion tutorial gives me the opportunity to ask my professor questions about the Bible, and my English tutor helps students try and decipher what the heck Shakespeare is trying to say in plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You have to be more prepared for your tutorials than your lectures because tutors will call on you and expect discussion. However, there still is a little sense that it’s not the same as Hope. Students here seem to be a little less likely to speak up in these classes than Americans. I try to talk a bit; however, I fear looking like a Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Hermione. I guess for now I’ll just have to hope that students will become a little more vocal as the semester goes on.
The biggest change I’ve had to get used to at uni, however, is the independence, especially when it comes to classes. At Hope, quizzes and homework are a daily occurrence. At Aberdeen, this isn’t the case. I’m assigned work, but the professor doesn’t make sure you’ve completed it. For example, I’m assigned a new play to read in my Encounters with Shakespeare English class every week. However, we don’t have weekly reading quizzes or reflection papers due. It’s just expected that you’ll be responsible enough to read the play on your own. This was a weird realization for me. I kind of thought at first, “Wait… Could I just not really read my books and be fine? I mean, they’re not for a grade.” However, I’ve come to find that not only does doing the work on my own help me understand my lectures, but it also makes me feel like I’m taking control of my education. I’m not reading a new Shakespearean play every week because I need to get a good grade on a quiz or compose a somewhat decent reflection paper. I’m reading them because I want to learn. Therefore, this newfound independence is both scary and liberating. I just need to make sure my internal motivation doesn’t decrease as the term continues.
So is there a better schooling system? I don’t know yet. I guess I’ll have an answer to that question when I come back from uni, but for now, I’m enjoying myself and Scotland. I mean, I can finally understand the Scottish accent better, allowing me to follow along in lectures just fine (Praise the Lordy!), so I guess right now I should be thankful for that and sign off on this post. I have a Shakespearean play to read.