Monday, September 5, 2011

"I Forgot About the Study Part Of Study Abroad" (Start of Classes)

August 2011

Having been accustomed to going back to Uni waaaay after my younger sister goes back to school, having to go to classes whilst still in the month of August and feeling like I was on holiday was a shock to the system. A massive shock. I really wanted someone to come up to me and say ‘Aw, you’re English and you’re not used to starting this early in the year. Have the next few weeks off’. As it happened, no one did. Starting classes bought the new pressure of finding rooms and buildings and panicking when the name of the class wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. One class I wanted to take in Social Geography looked at racial discrimination in cities through time in literature. I dropped that one pretty quickly. 

The American system of University (or college as they call it) education is very different from that of the UK. Firstly, the work load is insane. And I’m doing the bare minimum of credits possible. The way it works here is lots of little assignments every week, plus reading, plus extra work. Nothing like of the UK system of a slightly larger project every few weeks meaning you can chill out for a bit then work manically at the end. Here you have to stay on top or struggle to keep up. Which I found out the hard way on the first two weeks. Reflected in the work balance is the marking scheme. To get an A (i.e. 1st) you have to get 80-90%. Yeah, my reaction was one of horror too. However, in my opinion with lots of little bits of marked work it may be easier to pick up more marks along the way than in the UK where so much is based on the exams at the end of the semester. Check back for more insight into that one when I get some (probably terrible) marks back! There is also this incredibly bizarre system of “extra marks” here, where you can get bonus marks for either turning up to extra classes or watching a video or something like that. These marks can be up to 30% on top of the maximum grade, giving a potential score of 130 out of 100. HOW DOES THAT WORK?!!! The attitudes towards work here is quite interesting to note also. In my opinion, in the UK its dangerous to be labelled as the keen student who’s always putting their hand up in lectures or helping the lecturer out. You don’t want to be labelled as a ‘keeno’. However, the States this is encouraged with a percentage of the final grade given for classes participation. This leads to some (f***ing annoying) students constantly being like ‘can I do this, can I do that’ towards the lecturers. Ugh, grow up and take your tongue out of their arse! However, I guess the logic behind it is to encourage class discussion etc which is a good thing, and with generally much smaller class sizes it means the lecturers can get to know their students much better on a personal level. However, this was (and still is) incredibly hard to get used to, leading to me being very British abroad and going ‘for f*** sake sit down and shut up’ towards people. 

I do like the US system in some ways in that you don't have to pick what degree you do (known as Majoring here) until 2nd year. To me that makes a lot more sense as people can try out different modules in 1st and 2nd years and then decide. Furthermore, there is a much greater flexibility in module options, with many students taking modules that may have no relation to their major at all. Its also interesting to note that in order to graduate from UNC (I'm not sure about other institutions), students have to fulfill certain requirements, such as taking a maths module or history module at some point in their 4 year programme. I like that system a lot and think it should be implemented in the UK to give UK students more choice about the modules they may want to do at Uni. However, to balance out, I hate the way students have to buy books for their course. It is compulsory to buy books for the modules you take, and the number of books  can be as high as 10 or 12 PER MODULE. Yes, 10 or 12. At up to $200 a book. Yep, you read right again. It's mental. And that's for one semester too. It was a serious blow to my budget as I was hoping to try and get around it by using the library, but found it wasn't feasible to do that. I would like to apologise to the people in the book store for my grumpy-ness whilst buying the books. I was seriously pissed off about having to pay $135 for one book. And it only has like 100 pages.

Needless to say, the work load has produced some very negative attitudes among the English with mutterings (probably majority from me) of disbelief at what we had to do whilst at UNC. Yeah, I know, I forgot about the ‘study’ party of ‘study abroad’…

Not working. Obviously!

The week also entailed me having some very late nights and early mornings, which increased the shock to my body. We were invited to a 21st birthday by Emma, who we met whilst at the Frat party the week before. A number of Emma’s housemates had spent a semester abroad the year before, and were keen to get to know us and welcome us to the States and help us out. Weirdly enough I met Lexi and Ryan who were at Manchester Uni. the previous semester, so it was cool chatting to them about their experiences there. After the party we went to a place called East End in Franklin Street (no, not East Enders as I originally heard and got a little freaked out by the image of East Londoners walking around inside). The place was cool, with country music playing and games of beer pong happening on special tables at the back. A beer was only a quarter (roughly 20p) which was awesome. Until I tasted the beer. Then it wasn’t so awesome. Needless to say I now hate Bud Light. Its vile. Fiona naively went off to dance by herself and had to be rescued from a big black guy by John. Provided much amusement for me when I heard!

The week also saw the first UNC EASE event happen. EASE is an group set up for internationals whilst at UNC to meet others and have socials and sports teams together. It was good meeting new people again, as well as see some others I hadn’t seen since Orientation. Pat came too, and afterwards we went for a drink at R&R Grille (yes, with an ‘e’) with some other internationals from Ireland, Australia, France and England. A mate of Pat’s, Andrew, came and joined us, hilariously drunk and proceeded to try and chat up the girls with his journalistic skills (he writes a column for the Daily Tar Heel), and as he left he wrote his number on a napkin and shoved in Camille’s bag without her noticing (think she still hasn’t found it!). Hilarious for the guys around the table, the girls weren’t too sure how to react! I also hooked up with Pat on the Thursday and went for a few drinks with him, bumping into a couple  of guys I had met before and meeting some new ones. Went to a place called ‘Top of the Hill’ (commonly referred to as ‘Toppo’), which I thoroughly recommend people go to (just to put some touristy bits into the blog!).

Anyways, Saturday was a welcome chill out day I’m telling you!

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