Monday, March 11, 2013

Grace B. - London, England - Spring 2013

Hey everyone!
My name is Grace, and I’m studying at Queen Mary, University of London, through the direct enrollment program. I got here January 3rd and I leave June 8th. I’m living on campus, in a flat with 7 other students. I love it so far, and I can’t imagine having done it any other way. I really feel like direct enrollment is a great choice if you want to get the full experience studying in the UK.
First of all, I’ll tell you about my first impressions and expectations. When I first arrived, I was nervous, as you all will definitely be. I dreaded the first couple weeks, which I knew would be hectic – settling in and making sure I did everything I needed to do. I also dreaded not knowing anyone, and I was nervous about making friends on my own. I really thought that as an American, I would have to prove to people that I wasn’t an idiot and I was informed about the rest of the world. It turns out I was right to be worried about some stuff, but making friends wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Living in a flat, it’s impossible not to become close with your flatmates. Maybe I got exceptionally lucky with the flat I was placed in, but we bonded quickly and easily – of course, the lowered drinking age and a few flat parties in the first week helped a bit!
As far as I’m aware, nobody thought I was a dumb American. I will say that if you are very conservative, or you think America is the greatest country in the world, you probably shouldn’t go out of your way to voice your opinions to your English peers. Most people I’ve met joke about American politics a lot and despise Mitt Romney. They’ll also be the first to admit that England’s government isn’t so great either. It’s nothing personal, so don’t make it personal. Be willing to take a joke or you’ll never survive. Also, they know a lot about American culture - how could they avoid it if they tried? - so acquaint yourself with theirs, if you haven’t already.
Two of my flatmates are international students, also here just for the semester - one from the US, one from Australia. We became somewhat of a team when it comes to travelling and seeing London. Because none of us really knew anyone, we planned day trips together. It worked out well, because we got to know each other while we learned our way around London and the transportation system. In addition, the rest of the flat had already been at Queen Mary for a semester (only first-year students can live on campus) so they were still somewhat new to things, but familiar enough to be able to help us out and answer questions about the academics.
Speaking of which, I do wish I’d prepared more for the academic system in the UK, so I’ll give you some advice if you’re looking into any study abroad program where you’ll be taking classes with other UK students. In the UK, students go to university for three years, during which they only study whatever it is they’re studying. So, English students will only take modules (courses) in that field, and the modules are more specific and focused. For example, some of the lit courses center on the analysis of a single play or book.
There are no gen-ed requirements, so if you’re like me, and you’re choosing courses that will knock out the rest of your AoK requirements, be prepared. Even the first-year level courses with no prerequisites are still made for students majoring in that subject. This means that most of the students in class with you are going to be more knowledgeable about the course material, and it might make you feel like an idiot. On the whole, the students here participate more and are better at articulating their opinions. And one more thing: the teachers aren’t going to spell things out and make sure everyone understands everything – you need to ask questions if you’re confused!
That brings me to the hardest bit of adjustment for me, by far - the schoolwork. All of my classes are graded on either: one exam, one or two big assignments/papers, or a combination of the two. It’s been hard adjusting to WEEKS of having absolutely nothing – no busy work, tests, nothing -and then a paper worth 50% of your total grade is due. I would recommend keeping up with the preparations you’re expected to be doing as you enjoy the free time you’re given, or you might find yourself scrambling to finish a three-thousand word report at the last minute. Don’t expect your teachers to remind you about these things every week. There’s much more independent study & reading involved in these classes, and you may not be graded on it but it might help a lot in the long run when you have to do research later.
The coolest thing about my experience with direct enrollment at Queen Mary has been the freedom. Although, yes, I probably would have benefitted from being in a program and having a more familiar style of education, I’ve loved the feeling of being independent. I’m sure it’s awesome to have pre-planned travel trips offered by your program, but there’s something so much more gratifying about planning a week-long jaunt in Europe with two new friends on your own and having it all somehow work out. We decided out of the blue to go to Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam during reading week (a week-long break in mid-February) and it’s probably been the coolest experience I’ve had since I’ve been here. We met up with another EC abroad student in Paris, my friend Ashley, and she showed us around Paris and helped with translation.
If you can make it work, take an opportunity to travel around Europe. It’s wonderful and it’s good practice if you plan it on your own!

Even if you can’t afford to travel to Europe, there’s so much to see in London alone. From the vintage clothes shops in Brick Lane, to the endless Camden market stalls selling everything you could possibly imagine, to the touristy attractions like the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, and Abbey Road (to me, these are just to tick off the list)… make sure you go out and explore. The Tube is very easy to navigate and not too expensive as long as you invest in an Oyster card. Do some research, ask some locals, explore and soon you’ll find your new favorite neighborhood, restaurant, bookshop, pub, etc. The best part about travelling for a semester or a year is you have so much time – you can see so much more than the major attractions. You can get a feel for what it’s like to live there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Grace! It's awesome that you're having such an awesome time in London. I really found the part where you talk about the grading of the courses - being comprised of only two or so major assignments - interesting. It is the part of studying abroad I'm fearing the most. However, seeing as though you seem to be adjusting well to it, maybe I shouldn't be so freaked out about it after all. I hope that you keep enjoying your semester in London!
-Anthony Z - CPP 250

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Grace!

It is great to hear that you are happy with your choice to do a direct enrollment program! I applied to a direct enrollment program in Ireland and it sounds quite similar to yours in that the courses are focused only on one or two major projects and such. It's slightly intimidating! Its hard to imagine having such a large portion of your grade relying on only a few assignments.

It's also reassuring that you had similar concerns as I do (with the not knowing anyone and such), but that it has worked out quite well for you. It sounds so incredible to be able to plan a weekend trip with two new friends you met in a a completely foreign place. That type of independent experience must be very rewarding.

-Hillary S.- CPP 250

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Grace!

It sounds like you're having a great time! We miss you back here, but can't wait to hear all about your adventures.
Thanks for the tip on the classes. I'll keep that system in mind when registering for classes that I'm going to need to take.
I'm glad you're making friends and having adventures! I can't wait! You'll have to tell me where your favorite places were when you get back.

Jenna S. Cpp 250

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Katie T said...

Hi Grace!
I feel like I havent said two words to you since the end of last semester!
I'm so glad I'm taking the CPP class so I get to see this blog entry you did, it actually answered a lot of questions that have been floating around my brain about studying abroad. I'm so glad you're having such a good time in England. That's where Jenna's going, you know. Not Queen Mary's I don't think, but somewhere in London. The 3000 word essays sound pretty daunting, but the amount of free time probably makes up for it. When it comes to taking those gen ed/AOK classes, I just want to make sure, you CAN take ones that aren't necessarily part of your major, right? I just can't wait 'till I get over there in a few months! Hit me up on facebook giiiirl, I wanna know everything :)
Katie T- CPP 250

12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anthony - Thanks! I wouldn't freak out about it. Just don't let yourself get too complacent about school in the midst of all the excitement!

Hillary - Awesome, I think you'll really enjoy your time in Ireland.
It is very rewarding, so go for it if you get the chance!

Jenna - Didn't know you were going to London, exciting! I will for sure tell you all about it, whether you want me to or not. :)

Katie - Hey, dude. It has been a while! I had no idea you were studying abroad (or did I and just forget?)!
At my school at least, you can take ones that aren't part of your major, but many have prerequisites. In orientation they advised us not to take any upper-level courses unless we had prior knowledge in the subject. Which is good advice because all of mine are first-year level and they're challenging enough! But obviously depending on your program it might be an entirely different situation.

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tentatively I will be studying abroad in Londonderry, Northern Ireland through ISEP this coming Fall. I was wondering if you had two tips for me regarding selecting courses in another country.

Megan S. CPP-250

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Grace,
I am Michael Newton I am going to QMUL (direct enrollment) in the fall for about three months. I am very excited about going and cant wait to explore the streets of London and visit all the cool things the city has to offer. I am glad you are having fun and I cant wait to go to Europe and travel everywhere. I really found it interesting where you talk about the grading at QMUL, hopefully its not too hard!!! Thank you for blogging !
Michael Newton

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Grace!

Because you went through the ordeal of picking classes, did you find it easy? Also, do you possibly have any tips (preferably two :) ) for anyone who will be going through the same thing?

-Anthony Z - CPP 250

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Katie again. I'm just gonna direct all the questions we have to ask people who are currently studying abroad to you. Better than asking a stranger anyway. Got any tips for how to pick classes? I'm worried about mine not transferring and the possibility of not getting the classes I need (unfortunately, the school I chose doesn't have very many psych classes to choose from, which I kinda need.)
Hope England isn't as cold as it is here
Katie T., CPP 250

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's Katie once again.
Last question, I swear.
Have you experienced any culture shock yet?
Ok thats the last one until.... Probably April. Not really sure. Do you guys have spring break over there?
Katie T., CPP 250

11:59 PM  
Anonymous Grace B. said...

Megan S., Katie, Anthony - I'm not sure what your program's classes are going to be like, but in general I would say:

1. Make sure you're relatively familiar with the subject matter.

2. Take into account the level (year 1, 2, etc.) of the classes you're considering and how they're assessed (exams/coursework?)

In my case, we were allowed two weeks to add or drop courses, so you might have some leeway.

Anthony - Well, personally, I had some trouble picking my classes, because my school doesn't have a lot of courses that could count towards my major (Speech Pathology) and I couldn't afford to take electives. So I had to search for courses that could fulfill the few AoKs & tags that I had left.

But obviously, if you have a more "normal" major and more options it should be pretty easy, haha.

Mike - Awesome! You'll love QMUL.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Grace B. said...

Katie -
If you read my answer ^ to Anthony's question, you can see I was kind of in a similar situation with my school not having a lot of classes for my major.

I'd say try to knock out your gen ed requirements if it's hard to find psych classes there.

What I did was: Speech Pathology has a requirement for 2 "Special topics" courses (you choose from a list). They're on a variety of different subjects, so I was able to get a Linguistics course approved for that requirement.

So if you really can't find any Psych courses, you could still try to find some related ones that might fit for one of the specific major requirements, and then talk to your advisor or someone in the Psych dept. about them.
(Sorry this was so long ahh)

As for culture shock, perhaps somewhat in the beginning, but having been pretty familiar with UK culture, not much!

Aaaand yes, we get spring break, but even more awesome. Classes ended a week ago, so we get April off before exam period in May!

10:33 AM  

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