Because my last final exam was yesterday, I am officially done with my semester at the University of Edinburgh, and now seems like a good time to reflect on what it was like go to the university here. Though studying abroad offers countless opportunities to explore a new city and culture, it also necessarily involves actually studying and attending class. As one of the top ten universities in the world, Edinburgh is fairly academically rigorous, a fact that was slightly exacerbated by the differences in the academic system.
Providence College, my home university, is a small liberal arts school. I normally take five classes and have about three hours of class per day. Classes are small, professors are easily accessible, and I regularly have papers and exams.
The University of Edinburgh, in contrast, has over 20,000 students to PC’s 4,000. Though I only took three classes and had no more than two hours of class per day, the workload was about the same as it is back home. Most first and second year courses can have up to or over a hundred students, but since two of the classes I took were third year seminars, most of my classes were small. The biggest and most significant difference was the fact that most of your grade relies on one paper and one exam. For two of my classes, the final exam constituted 75% of my grade. Students are expected to supplement the few contact hours with time reading supplementary texts and exploring the topics related to the class that are most interesting to them personally.
I like this approach to education, but the transition can be difficult for many. Throughout the semester, the IFSA-Butler staff were readily available as a support system and to answer any questions and respond to any concerns. Though I never utilized their ‘office hours,’ it was really nice knowing they were there should I need them.
I (as far as I can tell – final grades won’t be released until July) managed to maintain decent grades and I don’t have any regrets, but if I were to come back for another semester, I would probably try to be better about managing my time. I admittedly spent a lot of the time I should’ve been studying or reading for class exploring Edinburgh or traveling inside and outside the UK. However, in many ways, because I was abroad and having new and valuable experiences, I was constantly learning, even if I neglected to do above the recommended number of secondary readings. Studying abroad is strange, because it does necessarily involve academic work and dedication, but the priority, or at least my priority, in coming to Edinburgh wasn’t to get perfect marks – it was to make the most of my limited time in Scotland.