Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Ugh. Just Ugh" (American Midterms)

October 2011

The past few weeks have also been fairly hectic in terms of relative workload. I had two midterms (admittedly not as bad as some of the others), which were quite stressful as it’s a concept I have never experienced in Manchester. These exams can count to 15% of the overall grade, so it’s quite important to do well! Luckily in my Spanish I got 84% (VERY happy or ‘muy feliz’ as I should say!) and I haven’t had my GIS one back yet.

The process of taking exams here has been an interesting one. As said in previous posts, being in college at UNC is very similar in nature to being in secondary school, in the sense that attendance is marked and grades rewarded reflect your attendance record. This is particularly hard for me when I have come from a system where the emphasis is very much on one own learning, and attendance is encourage but not required at all, and now I am sitting in a classroom listening attently for my name to be called to ensure I’m marked in and my grade doesn’t suffer. I would say I’ve turned into a proper neek from this, but in reality for some classes I’ve been marked as absent, and so not turning up now isn’t going make much difference to my grade, and so I may as well stay in bed to be honest! Another thing that has really shocked me here is the lack of anonymous marking of work and exams. My name has to be written on everything. And I hate it. I really feel it’s unprofessional and not conducive to helping promote individual thought at all, because I feel nervous putting things down in case the professor calls me up on it. On a more worrying level, it sort prevents people from complaining about professors and staff, simply for the worry that their grade will suffer as a consequence. Which I feel is terrible.  I would say I wouldn’t put my name on the paper and just my student number, but sometimes you get awarded a mark for writing your name on the paper, so I may as well maximise my chances of scoring ok-ish! 

Going hand in hand with this concept of being back in secondary school is the way of talking to professors. At Manchester, I am now very used to talking to my lecturers and tutors on first name terms and fairly informally. However, here at UNC the professor expects to be talked to formally, similar to a school teacher by a pupil. Now, here I understand this may be simply a Manchester Geography department phenomena, with the staff being a lot more laid back (for example only names are on the doors in the geography department, no titles of letters), where as in other departments at Manchester the title etc of the professor is on the door with no first name. Here at UNC this seems to be more the case, with lecturers being referred to as “Professsor Smith”, and always held in some sort of reverence (again, I emphasise this is simply from what I’ve seen), which has been quite hard for me to adjust to. I guess personally I prefer the Manchester system as in my opinion is fosters more familiarity between lecturers and students, which is better for a working/learning environment. However, this could be indicative of the fact that (in general) the geography department is quite a young one. Or simply the fact that geographers are a lot more chilled out about these things!

Anyways, as I have said in previous posts, the amount of work is much greater here than in Manchester in terms of quantity, but to an extent of a lesser level in quality. By that I mean I feel that here the work is a lot easier in content that back home, for example is a geography class I used to take (Natural Resources – since been dropped) we were looking at concepts I learnt at a AS level standard (high school for you Americans) and I was sat in a degree class with people who didn’t have any clue about these various concepts being discussed. I guess in argument, the system at UNC with pre-requisites across different academic departments and across different years means that in-depth concepts and theories cannot be taught, simply as the class has to be at a level that someone who may be majoring in Sociology can understand, and is only doing the class to fulfil their geography requisite to graduate. Furthermore, the style of teaching is a lot different with much smaller classes (which is definitely good!), but this means there is no hiding from the lecturer, and so you have to do the work before hand or else you look like a right muppet! And yes I have been in that position a fair few times now… Blagging habits die hard though! Talking of blagging, it’s also SO easy to cheat in tests (not that I’ve don’t it I hasten to add). The tests are given out in class time, and so everyone sits next to each other and so you can potentially read the persons script next to yours easily. And at times the lecturer will leave the room. Madness I tell you!

Fall break is this week however, and so a whole two (yes two!) days are awarded to us poor souls to rest our weary heads and collect our thoughts. For two days. Bloody bollocks if you ask me… Ah well, to Washington, DC!

Ariel view of (part of) the UNC campus

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