The Start of School and All the Differences I Noticed

The start of a new semester is always filled with logistics: What books do you need? How are the classes taught? Do you have any friends in them? Where are they?

Going into this semester abroad, I knew a few things:

  1. I couldn’t change classes because I needed the specific credit they would count for at my home university. (Yay, graduation!)
  2. Olivia, my friend from my home university, was in one of my classes, and one of the friends I made while abroad was in another, leaving me with a single class where I wouldn’t know anyone.
  3. If none of these classes offered a break during the three hour sessions, I would hate it. (I have done that before, and promised myself I wouldn’t do it again. But here I am, taking multiple.)
  4. I will try to use a planner, or some form of keeping track of things, and ultimately fail. It happens every single semester.

The First Week

The first day of school outfit I chose. Gotta look cute!

Fortunately, I didn’t get lost finding the building for my first class, though as usual, I did triple-check to make sure I was in the right room. I have never not been in the right room, but habits are habits. I had made sure to pack a notebook along with my laptop just in case I wasn’t able to use my laptop for notes. Thankfully, I was able to use my laptop in class: my handwriting is a mess, so any notes I would’ve taken by hand wouldn’t have been any good.

A screenshot of my notes for my first class.

I wasn’t as lucky for my second class. Let me tell you–the buildings at the University of Roehampton are a maze. You can go in a door to a building, go up a staircase, and be in a different building because of the way they are connected to each other. (For example, if you are looking for Howard and are going through the door by Digby Diner, take the wooden stairs. Don’t take the blue stairs. Those take you to Newman.) Trying to find my second class wasn’t the first time I had gotten turned around due to weird layouts: me and a bunch of other students had gotten a bit lost trying to find the room the course welcome was being held in during orientation. This time, I managed to find the classroom without getting too turned around. (I did manage to take an entirely different set of stairs back down after class, but ended up just around the corner from where I entered the building.)

Since my third and final class was in the same building as my second class, I didn’t have much trouble finding it. I knew what staircase to use, and there were signs pointing to each classroom on the staircase.

Okay so….What’s the difference between universities in the United States and Britain?

Even before I arrived at the University of Roehampton, I noticed a difference in classes and the way education was structured in the United States and in Britain.

Classes Offered
The first thing I noticed was the number of classes offered each term. As part of the application process, I had to pick what classes I wanted to take while abroad. At Chapman, my home university, I had a lot of classes to choose from, all talking about different topics, and offered at different times. However, here at Roehampton, the course list offered for each area of study was small. There were about 18 classes for Creative Writing and English at Roehampton, as opposed to around 50 at Chapman. Perhaps that is because I was looking at the study abroad catalog, but still, not a lot of options.

While I’m sure the smaller course list isn’t unusual for local students who grew up in this education system and don’t know anything else, it came as a surprise to me. I was fortunate enough to have found classes that sounded interesting and that would fulfill the requirements I need to graduate.

Class Schedules
One of the smallest differences I noticed was how late we found out our schedules for the term. This was also one of the ones that annoyed me (and my friends and parents!) the most. I wanted to know what classes I had so I could confirm that I had gotten into the classes I needed to so that I could graduate in the spring. In case it wasn’t obvious, a big concern for me throughout this entire process was making sure I would graduate on time. At Chapman, we create our own schedule by picking and choosing our classes, and know what we are taking months in advance. For the spring semester, we enroll in classes in November, with the course catalog available starting mid-October.

Here, however, I only found out what classes I had a week before I got on the plane–and I had to go looking for it. I found it in the academic profile portion of the student portal, and the only information it gave me was my classes and what level they were. There was no mention of a time or place they were being held, meaning I would need to wait for more information. This information was released the week before classes started, which is much, much later than I am used to.

My class schedule for the term.

Class Frequency and Length
I can’t quite make up my mind on whether or not I’m a fan of this difference. While there are some three-hour long classes offered at Chapman, many of them are split into two or three days. Despite being more frequent, this structure allows me to keep myself engaged with the content. After three weeks of classes (two weeks if you don’t count the week I skipped due to being sick. Don’t get sick, it sucks!), I know that my classes give breaks halfway, which allows me to re-focus. This was my initial worry when I figured out that the classes were once a week for the most part, but at least three hours long. I had taken a three-hour, once a week class my first year at Chapman and told myself I wouldn’t do it again because it was too long–and boring if I am being honest–and wasn’t looking forward to three of them. Knowing what I do now, I do like having the break between classes, though I do wish it was at the beginning or end of the week to extend my weekend instead of essentially giving me a second one. However, the classes do still feel long, especially if I’m not as engaged with the content for that week.

Number of Assignments
There’s not a lot of assignments in my classes here, and I’ve heard people talking about how the universities in the United States give their students more assignments than schools here in Britain do. Since many of my classes back home were workshop-based, especially in the past year, the amount of free time I have outside of class due to not having required homework is familiar to me. However, for the classes that did have assignments, it was often more than one. Two, at the very least. Knowing my entire grade depends on one assignment in two of my classes here at Roehampton is a bit terrifying, even if they’re both essays, which I’m used to.

Grades have always been important to me: I don’t like not doing well on assignments in class, and back home, I was always able to make up for an assignment that wasn’t the best with my other assignments. Here, I don’t have that opportunity. So while I’m confident in my essay writing skills, I don’t like how much added pressure there is on each assignment, especially when I don’t know how the teacher grades.

Majors, Course Maps, and Length of Study
Something I didn’t know was how rigid, at least the first year is at university here in Britain. At least, here at Roehampton. During an orientation meeting, meant to introduce first-years to the tutors and courses, they went over the courses that they would be taking. This struck me as odd: even as first semester, first-year students at Chapman, we were able to explore our options. At Chapman, a student could remain undecided for the first year and still be able to graduate on time, in four years, once they chose their specific major. Here, it seems that you choose what to study for three years, and then a course map is set out for you, with only a little room for flexibility. It does take away the stress of choosing classes and making sure requirements are filled, but it requires you to choose an area of study much earlier. Also, you only study at university for three years instead of four, which might contribute to the more rigid scheduling.

Looking Forward

Even if the prospect of a single assignment deciding my grade terrifies me, I’m excited for my classes, which is always a nice feeling. The mid-week break should hopefully allow me to both relax and study for my classes, and free up my weekends for more fun activities with friends. All in all, I’m ready for what this term has in store for me.

Maria Haggart is a student at Chapman University and an ISA Featured Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA in London, UK.

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