By: Cole Bowerman
Travelling halfway across the world and starting at a new university in a foreign country can be equal parts exciting and terrifying. No amount of preparation can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster I like to call ‘your first week abroad’. Once you get settled into your accommodation and unpack all of your things, the study aspect of your ‘study abroad’ begins to become increasingly relevant. It can be extremely daunting to be thrown into a new learning environment, where the style of teaching, methods of assessment, and academic support systems vastly differ from home. Every country and even every university seems to have a different take on the concept of ‘study’ and understanding your host university’s definition is the key to success!
From my own experience in the United Kingdom, the British conception of ‘study’ is very self-directed. For each of my ‘modules’ (what we would call a course), I had a maximum of two contact hours a week. When I first printed my timetable to realize I had 3 to 4 lecture-free days a week my mind was thinking of the endless travel opportunities I would have without missing any lectures! Unfortunately, my travel dreams were crushed when I looked at the pile of thick textbooks I was expected to read by the end of the year… Sure, I could have taken a textbook with me and read on the beach, or in front of some grandiose monument, but when you plan to travel budget European airlines without a checked bag, it becomes an issue of deciding between the book or a change of clothes. Luckily for everyone I travelled with, I always chose the change of clothes…
Another big difference, across universities, is in the methods of assessment. Durham University seemed to be partial to the 100% exam. There is nothing more stressful than slacking off for the entire year only to realize in April that you actually need to know everything for an exam that can make or break your entire mark. At that moment you start to realize that those optional ‘formative’ assessments that had no impact on your grade would have actually been useful feedback for the exam. Your best bet, for success in a new university, is to talk to upper-year students who have gone through it before and follow their advice.
Of course, studying at a new university isn’t all about books and lectures; it is also about exploring a new campus and making new friends! In my (slightly biased) opinion, Durham was one of the most beautiful places to live and study. I could sit in the library and look out the window to see the most beautiful views of the cathedral and river or be running to class and hear the oars of rowers cut through the calm waters of the River Wear. After a few weeks, you will find your new favourite study spot, the fastest way to get to all of your lecture halls, make some new friends and finally settle in. Studying in a new university is so much more than just ‘studying’, so embrace all the smaller aspects of life in your new host university, and use the differences between McMaster and your host university to your advantage in whatever way you can! Even the 100% exams.
Cole Bowerman is a student in the Psychology, Neuroscience and Behavior program, Faculty of Science at McMaster University. He studied abroad for a full year at Durham University, England.