People choose where they study abroad for many different reasons, but one of the threads that links everyone together is their desire to study in another country. There are many ways a person learns while studying abroad, but in the classroom is an important one. When I studied abroad at University College London in London, England, I had to balance a heavy academic load with exploring a new city, living on my own, and meeting new friends. Here are some tips on how to navigate academics while abroad based on my personal experience in London to ensure that when you leave you will have studied abroad!
1. Understand Your School’s Grading System
Many countries have completely different grading systems than what you may be used to at your home university. The IFSA-Butler staff in London did a great job of explaining the differences between the British grading system and the American grading system when we arrived, but it is important that you spend time understanding the rules on your own so that you do not end up in a position with an F on your transcript. Read over your school’s lateness, attendance, and participation policies. Spend time navigating the different online systems your school uses before your paper is due. Understand what is expected of you before you even start class to prevent any miscommunications that you cannot fix!
2. Find a Good Study Space
A study space is a lot harder to find in a busy city like London than it is at my home university. The university libraries are a lot smaller and can be a long commute from your flat. I couldn’t leave my stuff and run back to my room if I forgot a book or my laptop charger! Although I liked my flat, it could be a very distracting space, which wasn’t the best when I was trying to write a paper. Instead, I had to find other places where I could study. Cafés are great places to sit down for a while with some drinks and study snacks. Chains like Starbucks, Costa Coffee, and Café Nerro all have areas for studying (and free wifi!). Boutique cafes like Timberyard also have spaces conducive to working. Spend time exploring the cafés and spaces around your neighborhood early on in your time abroad so that you are not scrambling to find a spot days before your big term paper is due.
3. Do the Reading
With so many things to do when you are studying abroad, you may find your course reading falls to the wayside. Although it is important to take advantage of all the opportunities offered when you are abroad, it is also important to ensure that you keep up with the reading. It is easy to fall behind on weekly readings, but if you skip them you will have a lot of unnecessary work and stress during midterms and finals that you could have prevented. Most grades from classes at British universities are based on two pieces of work such as tests and essays, which makes it incredibly important to not scramble at the last second trying to catch up on 300 pages of reading. Set aside time each week to do your readings so that you stay up to date with everything!
While studying abroad, you will be exposed to people from many different cultures who will challenge your arguments and thought processes, which enables you to learn a lot.
4. Participate in Class
As an anthropology major, I believe to truly experience another culture one needs to participate in that culture. Because many universities do not have a participation grade, students may forgo participating. But to get the most of a study abroad experience, I suggest participating in interactive seminars to challenge yourself. Some of my favorite moments abroad came from actively participating in my seminar. Now in my classes back at home I tend to refer back to a lot of the discussions we had in my classes abroad. While studying abroad, you will be exposed to people from many different cultures who will challenge your arguments and thought processes, which enables you to learn a lot. The professors who you study abroad with can also be great people for job recommendations, so it is important that they know who you are and see your best work!
5. Use the City as Your Classroom
London has so many wonderful (and free!) museums and exhibits filled with history where you can apply what you learned in the classroom to the real world. When else will you have a chance to study the Magna Carta and then go see it after class? It was a lot easier to understand my British politics and history classes after I went to tour Parliament. Take advantage of what your city and your university has to offer. At large universities there will also always be free unique lectures at your disposal. You only have so much time here, so make it count!
Maggie Gibson is an Anthropology student at Trinity College and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London in England in 2015.