The “Study” in “Study Abroad”
“Don’ you worry, Harry. You’ll learn fast enough. Everyone starts at the beginning at Hogwarts, you’ll be just fine. Just be yerself.” –Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
When my IFSA-Butler group first passed the main campus of Queen’s University Belfast, the bus was full of gasps and and one awed phrase repeated from nearly every mouth: “It looks just like Hogwarts.” And it does.
Though QUB is not a school for magic–or, at least not in the departments I’ve worked with–sometimes I feel as out of place as though someone has asked me to wave a wand and levitate a feather. Even very simple things, like what you call your professors, are different here. In the case of teachers, it is not acceptable to just refer to all of them as ‘professor’, but instead you must know who is a “Professor”, who is a “Doctor”, who is simply “sir” or “ma’am”, etc. When referring to them in the third person, I’ve simply taken to calling them “instructors”, but I’m not sure if even that is proper. At my home school most of the professors were upset if you didn’t call them by their first name, so this has been a bit of an adjustment.
And then there’s the instruction. The lectures are pretty much what I’m familiar with–someone standing at the front of the room, often with a PowerPoint behind them, talking for an hour. The lectures are often coupled with a tutorial or seminar, which are still fairly new to me. Typically led by a PhD candidate, the seminar/tutorial is a session in which the students have a chance to ask questions, or sometimes demonstrate their knowledge in a presentation to the group. All in all, there is significantly less class time then back home; I have two weekdays with no class at all.
As far as homework, there is reading. And more reading. And then a bit more reading. It’s not homework in the sense that you turn it in for a grade, but instead provides context for the lectures and discussion content for the tutorial/seminar. Some of the classes come with pretty hefty reading lists. For example, in my Irish Studies class there are around five required books–yes, entire books–per week, and a suggested reading list of about fifty additional. Fortunately, students are not expected to buy all of these books, but instead check them out from the library. As such, I have spent quite a good deal of time in this building…
…the McClay Library.
What has been the most different, though, is the assessment. Whereas back home we’d have tests and/or essays spread throughout the semester, here my classes have an essay due the last week of class and a final exam. This leaves no way to gauge one’s performance in a class and puts all of the proverbial eggs into one basket. It also means that without quizzes, tests, or essays until the end, there is significantly less immediate incentive to read the required five books a week.
I’m made even more nervous by the fact that a 65 out of 100 will correlate to an “A” back home–is the grading that tough? Of course, I won’t know until August when I receive my transcript, so all the advice I could give at this point is to work hard, learn fast, and “be yerself”. Hopefully, Hagrid is right.