Monday, March 03, 2014

Jacob H - London, England - Spring 2014

Expectations are Dumb. AKA, Go with the Flow. 

The following is bullet  list of commentary on the study abroad process and a few relevant passages pulled from the actual blog about my travels. 
  • Expect there to be problems with some Elmhurst office while you are away. I have been totally taken off of  ResLife's radar and am not getting emails about the room selection process for next year. If not for my friends currently at EC, I would have missed the sign-up deadlines. However, the worst problems have been with Student Accounts. After confusing my bill with another student's bill and then charging me double tuition and using a wonky exchange rate, they are finally in the process of getting me all the surplus scholarship that I need to fund my time here. Still, I only have been paid half of what they owe me and communication has been all but dropped. I have no doubt that it will all come through, but it is incredibly inefficient. 
  • Culture shock is real. Don't deny it, don't think you're immune. You aren't. I am in England--arguably the most similar culture to America and it is hitting harder than when I am in Africa. 
  • Direct enrolling is hard, plain and simple. I'd probably do it again (as opposed to program style) and admittedly I am not the most social person in the world but be prepared for an uphill battle to making friends in your 3 short months. Year-longers are a whole different beast. 
  • Don't expect for lecturers to acknowledge your foreigness. You are not going to have your hand held like at EC, many of the schools that accept study abroaders are large institutions. You won't be told when you have papers due, your wont be given a rubric or style sheet, you won't be given grader preferences. You'll just have to produce your best work. 
  • When looking for flights to your location, use Student Universe and STA Travel for the best student flights. If you are still displeased with prices, the best regular search engine I found is which seems to be better for longer flights and more remote locations (like Africa and SE Asia). 
  • Make lists, make goals, make budgets. Be happy.
And now for some relevant excerpts from my travel blog--Chronicles of a Gallivanting Interculturalist.

"The assessment scheme is totally foreign to me as well. Each class seems to require two essays (about 5 and 7 pages) and I may have an exam. Other than that, no activity counts for points but there really aren't that many other activities to do anyway so it's a mute point. The professors assign lots of  reading and then we discuss it in seminar. Attendance to seminar is compulsory."

"As I indicated in the last blog post, Queen Mary looks like what I think of when I think college. Weird Architecture? Check. Bold Colors? Check. Lots of crazy geometric designs to inspire creative thought? Absolutely."

"While the view is nice, the skylines of Europe really cannot compete with American cities. The buildings are simply not as tall (however it could be argued that they have more aesthetic value). For example, the tallest building in the European Union, The Shard, which is located in central London is still 150 metres shorter the Sears Tower (which is still the tallest building in the USA: deal with it New York). Honestly, London's skyline looks more like that of Detroit or St. Louis than New York even though it's population is equal to the latter."

"I am not sure if it is a cultural difference, a college policy, or both but it is difficult to find students with laptop computers taking notes in class. People here still overwhelmingly use pencil and paper and when they do pull out something more technologically savvy, it is usually a tablet with a plug-in keyboard. My laptop is not huge--but it's certainly not small (it had to be my sidekick at summer camp and in Africa you can bet it's durable) and I usually feel like I am hauling around a huge machine from the 90s."

"The campus security here is a bit overzealous with fire alarm testings..."

"I submitted my first paper last weekend on a topic we had not discussed in class and the professor didn't take time to go over expectations in class. It's not that I needed him to--I had a prompt and a very rough rubric, but it's just a cultural difference. The lecturers here truly are lecturers, not teachers. Said differently, it is their job to lecture, not to teach you anything."

To find more observational commentary and humour from this author or to simply learn more about London, South Africa, or Namibia, please visit the source blog, If you have any questions about traveling out of the country (especially to southern Africa) and find my opinion enlightening feel free to email me - just ask Alice for my e-mail address. 



Blogger Alex Kelly said...

What is the biggest culture shock you've encountered?

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, I am going to be studying abroad in London next fall at Queen Mary as well, so this was very helpful. I never really though about how it would be different educational wise such as with the lectures and when it comes to writing paper and stuff like that. It's good to know because now I can be a bit more prepared on what to expect. Also, the websites to find airline tickets was nice of you to share. One question I have is how are you doing financially wise, would you say that it's expensive over there?

- Joceline Roman

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jacob,

I am planning on studying in London this summer for 7 weeks! The airfare websites you posted were great. Those sites give a lot more reasonable prices than I've seen. I was wondering if you've taken any trains to other countries (how expensive? is it easy?) I plan to do a lot of traveling to other countries while I'm there.

- Valerie Delawder

11:00 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Guenther said...

Hi Jacob

I'm actually planning on studying at Oxford next semester. The closer I get to the trip the more nervous/excited I get. In your post you say culture shock is present, even in Britain. Is there any way for you to expand that?

9:53 AM  
Blogger Jacob Henry said...

So, I tried to answer your questions in one comment but Google insists on less than 4,300 characters per post. So now, it is broken up by question.

The Biggest Culture Shock: To Alex

Definitely the study part of study abroad. Semester 2 in the UK is 12 weeks long with a 6 week exam period at the end. Semester one, I believe, is only 12 weeks with very little extra time. Additionally, you will most likely be totally assessed on 2 medium length essays. As a writing tutor, I have very outspoken opinions about mismatched assigned length versus prompt. The prompts here are by far the worst I have ever seen in my entire experience of EC and two online community colleges. Additionally, while EC professors will generally take at least 15 minutes out of class to discuss essays, these lecturers won't even mention that the deadlines are approaching. You have to use their version of Blackboard to put it all together for yourself. I also find the amount of reading overwhelming. Being someone who learns by listening, I felt pretty helpless when the only way to learn here is to actually do the assigned reading. I had a paper due within 4 weeks of landing and no one said a word about it ever. I know that there are some who would like to imagine that study abroad has nothing to do with studies--and I am all for cultural engagement and foreign independence, however you really can't ignore the classes. It's hard to totally relax when the image of a graduate admission professional scowling at my mangled transcript is burnt into the back of my mind.

Also, courses are not designed to draw out your opinion. If you don't readily volunteer to the discussion, you may never speak in class. The teacher won't call on you--less than engaging.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Jacob Henry said...

Financials: Joceline

I am probably the absolute worst person to ask about finances. I am a meticulous budgeter in general and don't spend much money in the States. To add to my general stingyness, I am using the $21,00 in scholarships that I have to not only pay for my time in London but also completely fund a summer internship in South Africa (that I just bough plane tickets for, yay!). My regional specialty is Sub-saharn Africa, so it's definitely fair to say, that's where my mind and my money are at the moment. To give you a clearer picture of finances, here are some basic expenses to know:
QM Tuition and Room:$16,000-$17,000
Meal Plan (Totally optional and only good until March, food is questionable): $535
Budget Air one way ticket to mainland Europe: $50-90
Meal at a fast food restaurant: $6
Tube ticket to central London and back: $9
Yogurt Cup: $1
Train journey to the South Coast and back: $60
Cost of a pint at a bar (though I prefer cider because I'm a wimp): $6:00-8.50
Cost of a medium bottle of Malibu: $30

So, Joceline, I will let you make up your mind on expensive. I grew up in the cornfields south of Chicagoland and spend summers in developing countries, so I tend to think the city of Elmhurst is expensive.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Jacob Henry said...

Travelling Around Europe: Valerie

I have not taken trains to other countries but I imagine it is quite expensive. The trains here cost quite a bit more than Metra and Amtrak, but the product is also considerably higher. Trains are a great option to see Europe and there is the Eurorail for that exact purpose. RyanAir and EasyJet are budget airlines that offer cheap products and will normally get you somewhere near your destination. Usually budget jets don't fly into major airports so do a quick Kayak search to see if you can hop on Lufthansa, BA, Iberia, or KLM for a better price. might also be useful. people do typically make extended weekend trips to Barcelona, Budapest, Madrid, Venice, Amsterdam, and many other cities. You could also head over to Ireland or up north to Scotland (which may be independent by the time you get here...we shall see). You ask is it easy--Budget Jets are notoriously customer unfriendly but will get you there, the trains are incredibly easy. Europeans run circles around Americans in the mass transit sector. To get good estimates on prices , just do a few quick searches for dates in the summer--in general it is best to buy seems like the days of 'last minute deals' may be over.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Jacob Henry said...

And one more note on culture shock:

I find that working with the British people doesn't lead to shocking differences or major miscommunications as is does in some other countries I've visited. To avoid awkward cultural situations, understand that Americans generally talk louder than Britons and have incredibly annoying nasal voices. Whenever you are in a room or train car, take a reading of the other people and how much noise they are making before talking. Just be aware of your surroundings and get ready to pay crazy prices (the Pound is a killer currency: 1.66 at the time I'm posting this). Like I said above, the biggest culture shock came in the actual study part of study abroad.

Keep the questions coming, I would be totally willing to chat more about the UK, travel, or Africa (though I suspect no one is going there) #sadface


8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Jacob,
I have a question about the classes that you are taken. Did you know before hand all the classes that you were going to take or did you have to change you schedule when you actually got there?

-Elizabeth R.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi again,

I know that you have talked about the classes being more reading than lectured and that you pretty much do things on your own. But what classes did you take over there? Are there any that you would recommend to either take or stay away from?

-Joceline Roman

12:13 PM  
Blogger Jacob Henry said...

You kind of know which classes you will be taking ahead of time. You will send your top picks to the Study Abroad office and they will enroll you in what they can. I got all 4 classes I wanted but many other people did not. To get an idea of classes offered, got to Make sure you check 'Yes' to Associate, as that is what they call study abroaders.

I am currently taking American Lit, Shakespeare, Politics of the Developing World, and International Relations.

I do enjoy the American Lit--it is a unique chance to see quintessential American ideas unpacked by people who were not a product of our education system. Developing Worlds is okay too.

Stay away from Shakespeare--I know, how sad. As an English and Theatre minor and a designer for the Mill Theatre's Shakespeare show last year, I was utterly disappointed by the course-it's totally worthless and unorganized. It's also 300 people.


12:25 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Sounds like an amazing time. I have been to London before and had the best time of my life. everyone was so nice to me there and i got along great. i am studying in Ireland next fall and am very nervous in doing so. it will be an experience so i cant wait

9:12 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

sounds like a great time what was the thing that you were most worried about before leaving for your travels. London people are so nice i have been there once and had a great time

9:13 AM  
Blogger Jacob Henry said...

Tom, so good to hear from you.

I was worried about staying busy. Since I'm not in class as often as at EC and since I don't have a work visa, I was really worried about being bored. I think that has somewhat come true. I was able to volunteer with a youth centre one day a week and that really helped but it's nothing compared to the 25 hours a week I am employed in the States.

The only other thing I caution is: studying abroad is very different from going abroad or volunteering abroad. The classes are constantly a worry and stressor, luckily the semester ends early(today, actually.


9:30 AM  
Blogger Isabel Bullock said...

I am studying abroad next fall and I was wondering what the biggest difference in the teaching styles were?
Also I am a bit worried about the culture shock, what exactly did you go through?

5:18 PM  
Blogger Isabel Bullock said...

totally forgot to ask! How do you stay/get involved? What are the groups like, etc.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Jacob Henry said...


Regarding culture shock, kindly review the other comments to this post. Additionally for what it's worth, usually culture shock isn't something that happens and you go 'aha, that was culture shock' but rather a a gradual erosion of your norms.

The biggest difference in teaching styles in a nutshell:
1. Lectures aren't useful--all your content is in the reading

2. No one cares if you actually do you work. They aren't responsible for you.

3. You are expected to be an engaged learner--they won't engage you.

Staying involved is fairly difficult. Since you will be overseas in the fall, you will likely have even less time than us spring people to find connections. It took me about a month to finally get a volunteering opportunity secured and the clubs are not unfriendly but not supportive for someone who is only around for a semester. The student union and the career centre are both avail be for those interested in volunteering.

Let me know if you have any other questions.


6:28 PM  

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