Independent Study in Scotland

I’ve been having the time of my life so far in my semester in Glasgow. There’s been no shortage of new friends, new experiences and exploration.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

It’s been a whirlwind of fun, but ah, yes … I am indeed on a study abroad program. For the most part, I’ve always taken academia quite seriously thanks to an upbringing that emphasized the importance of education and  acquiring of knowledge.

I knew I’d probably have a harder time concentrating on studying and working hard once I got over here, but I promised myself and my mother that slacking off was not an option — what’s the point of spending over a thousand dollars on a literal plane ticket to failure?

For the UCEAP and Study Abroad orientations I attended, both in Irvine and in Scotland, quite a lot of emphasis was made on the differences between the university systems in the United Kingdom versus how we do things back at home. In a nutshell, it was said that the work done by UK university students is highly intensive and specialized. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous.

Now that I’m here, I can’t quite say which system is harder or more complicated than the other. It is without a doubt, however, that the two differ vastly. One of the most surprising differences for me was the breakdown of the grade. At home, my grades for my English classes were broken up fairly proportionally between homework, major essays, quizzes, participation, and the midterm and final.

Here in Scotland, in one of my classes, I don’t have any quizzes or an exam, but my 3000-word essay is worth 70 percent of my grade. Talk about intimidating. Though the university runs on a semester system, there’s a large amount of free time outside of lectures and seminars that is meant for students to use wisely in terms of research and independent study.

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

Courtesy of Shannon Ho

While my upper-division class only meets once a week for lectures, you are expected to attend the two-hour seminar fully prepared with knowledge acquired from outside sources. This is quite a change for me from the jam-packed quarter system, where I was churning out four-page essays every other week while studying for a weekly quiz or preparing for a group presentation and being mindful of the dreaded week-five midterm.

It was hard for me to adjust to the mindset of independent study — I found myself sitting in my room browsing through JSTOR articles, anxious that I wasn’t doing enough or doing way too much. Maybe it’s a bad thing that I’m used to being stressed out and perpetually busy, but there’s a certain comfort for me in being told what to do and by what time.

But I certainly have come to appreciate the responsibility of looking things up for myself. It’s nice to have the time to slowly peruse the library and brush up on the subjects you’re passionate about. As with any other university on Earth (God willing), the staff here are gracious and more than happy to help with whatever questions I have about assignments or material in general — always a nice bit of relief for a student in a foreign country.

But of course, when it comes to college students and their workload, there are some things that never change. I’ve met plenty of students both international and from the United Kingdom who give in so easily to procrastination, the sweet temptress.

A student who shares my kitchen lamented over the all-nighter he pulled for the sake of a 2000 word essay he should have started weeks ago, and my friend skipped two days of lecture in order to finish her three assignments. The structural differences in academics are one of the many challenges one faces when studying abroad, but adapting to the flow is a part of discovering your own capabilities. As the adage goes, play hard and work hard — everything will be okay.