Learning – Kyran Penny

It’s easy to forget sometimes that I am here to study. The social side to university is always great fun no matter where you are and I know that when this year is over, most of my fondest memories will be of the times outside the classroom. However, one of the main reasons why I chose to spend a year abroad, was to see how foreign universities worked and how they taught my beloved subject: history.

Being in my third year of university, I have gotten used to churning out long, detailed essays pretty frequently throughout the year, focusing on modern American or European history. Second year was tough, but incredibly rewarding and I came to Sweden with the expectation that, although the stress levels will not be of the same degree as last year, it will be equally as enriching. Little did I realise how laid back everything is here.


First of all, I take my modules sequentially rather than a number of them at the same time. For instance, at Queen Mary right now I would be taking four (or so) modules on different subjects for twelve weeks straight. At Uppsala, I am taking one module for five weeks and completing exams at the end of that period before starting a brand new module for the next five weeks. When I was applying for modules, this aspect really threw me, as I had to organise my schedule myself, looking at the weeks some modules were on and others weren’t in order to fit them in and avoid overlapping. All this before even setting foot on Swedish soil. It made Queen Mary look like primary school.

Secondly, there are no lectures! No seminars either! There are, however two hour classes which double up as lectures and seminars, so my preliminary excitement over the possibility of a brand new way of teaching was somewhat dashed. Despite this, it is interesting to see how it differs from Queen Mary. The whole session is a bit like a large discussion over topics which relate to both the lecture and the preparatory readings for that class. Therefore, the bigger picture and the more specific aspects of history are covered all at once, allowing us to look at the relationship between the two- something which of course takes place at Queen Mary, it’s just in a very different environment here in Sweden. In all honesty, I prefer the structure of lectures followed by seminars rather than a merger of the two, but this is part and parcel of studying abroad.


Lastly, each class consists of people from all over the world. Although at Queen Mary we always have some international students in our lectures and seminars, this is a whole new level- almost every student are on an exchange. Many of these students are also not history students, rather they tend to be humanities students trying to get enough credits for the semester. The dynamics of classes are therefore slightly uneven, but it is always interesting to hear the many different viewpoints, on national and academic levels. Because of this, the professors are usually very curious about national attitudes towards certain subjects and issues- especially towards Americans about politics it seems…

Obviously, this is coming from the viewpoint of a history student, so it may not be representative of the experiences of a physics or maths student at Uppsala for example. Having said all this, I have only been here for six weeks, so I expect some curveballs along the way both in and out of the classroom.

For those who are resuming or beginning their studies back at Queen Mary, here’s wishing you a productive and successful year!


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