I received a final copy of my transcript from Queen Mary this week, which prompted a bit of reflection of my academic time abroad. While it is very common for the emphasis on a semester abroad to be placed on travel, food and other priceless experiences, the time I spent in the classroom at QMUL was just as important, but in a much more subtle way.
I took four English courses during my time at QMUL, as I am an English major at my home University. Even before traveling to London, I was aware that the way academics were structured were very different there than what I was used to at Michigan.
What I feel the most beneficial aspect of the coursework in London was also the most difficult. Each course met for approximately two hours one time per week. Some of the courses were two hours of lecture; others were an hour lecture followed by an hour discussion. Either way, there was a significant amount of expectation by the professors for students to do the bulk of their readings outside of class. For my classes, I had about two large papers assigned for the entire semester, each essay taking up the majority of my semester grade for that particular course.
“Instead of worrying about finishing a weekly assignment or writing many small papers, the majority of my outside of class work was to read a great deal of a certain book.”
In theory, this setup was perfect for studying abroad. Instead of worrying about finishing a weekly assignment or writing many small papers, the majority of my outside of class work was to read a great deal of a certain book. However, with the amount of traveling I was able to do, compared to the cadence of activity I was engaged in while abroad — always running off to do things in London, the UK, or Europe — made it difficult to practice self discipline.
“Being able to actively participate in my courses and engage with my fellow classmates made the entire experience of being a student in London so much more authentic.”
Because no one was collecting homework assignments or checking over my shoulder to ensure I submitted essays, I originally found it more difficult to actually sit down and do my readings or prepare for class. However, once I forced myself to actually begin the process of studying on my own, I found that I was able to get so much more out of my classes. Being able to actively participate in my courses and engage with my fellow classmates made the entire experience of being a student in London so much more authentic.
Thus, for those students who are considering going abroad or about to leave for a semester away from home, I encourage you to actually embody the role of student during your time in London. Take your readings to a park and write your essays in new coffee shops — I promise, you won’t regret it!