Studying abroad, I have learned not only about England as a culture, but also England as a school system. Participating in a completely different academic culture with alternate expectations and deadlines to the ones I am used to has been unexpectedly educational in itself.
I recognize as a short-term student that my experience is not the same as someone who pursues a full degree here. I am not an expert on the intricacies of the English school system. The following are just my reflections on what I personally have experienced. I felt like sharing with you one of the differences that I have found most interesting: there is no finals week.
That’s right. No slew of exams to plow through where textbook pages start to blur together and your paper cuts bleed black coffee. When the going gets tough you imagine the upcoming relief of packing your suitcase to have a break from classes to enjoy the holidays. Sound familiar?
Here in England there are no tests, not until the spring at the very end of term. Not even midterms or quizzes. There are very few homework assignments, and none of them are graded. In my classes, the only grade for the semester comes from writing an essay somewhere in the area of 2,000 – 3,000 words, depending on individual class requirements. For full-time students the essays aren’t due before break, but in January when classes resume. My dates are earlier so that I can have all of my work completed by the time I leave the country. Still, the idea of having the pressure of essay deadlines looming over you – essays that determine whether you pass or fail the class, would give break a whole different feel. I can’t imagine sitting around in your sweats happily watching Christmas movies with that pressure still hanging over you.
Students focus on one assignment for the whole semester, so they approach time constraints a very different way. I explained to a girl in my literature class that at home, professors mention a major essay or project is due two weeks in advance. Sometimes they expect you to be grown-ups, and only bring it up a few days before because everything is on the syllabus. She gave me a very anxious look and said, “Oh, no. I couldn’t do that.”
On the other hand, I have had totally opposite conversations with my friends from home. Usually we are sitting around watching funny cat videos and the dialogue goes something like this:
“Hey, don’t you have a six page paper due soon? You were talking about it last week.”
“Yeah. It’s due in eight hours.”
“But have you started it yet?”
“I mean, I have my sources…”
Polar opposites, right? Not only are assignments completely different, but the feel of campus right now is nothing like the stressful sleep deprivation of home. There is definite anticipation for the holidays in the air at the moment, but very little stress. Christmas is a big deal in England. It makes sense because without Thanksgiving, they jump right from Halloween straight into Christmas. By the time December hits, they’ve been itching for a whole extra month to turn on the holiday lights and decorate the trees.
I will not be here for the stressful time at this University. I imagine it springs up when everyone gets back in January and has to submit their essays, or at the very end of the year when they have to try to remember two full semesters of content for exams.
As an outsider, it feels very odd. I keep waiting for more assignments and expectations to pile on, but so far they haven't come. As a (slowly) recovering crazy academic, that makes me a little nervous. I worry that when I get back to the structure of my home university, to the expectations and pressure that I am used to, I will be less prepared. Still, I recognize that the value of this semester was never supposed to come from achieving a pile of perfect grades. I needed this time to learn about myself, and a completely new culture in ways that can't come out of a classroom.
Best of luck to my Americans struggling through studying right now! You can do it!