If you’re studying at a university like I did, then you’re likely going to notice some differences between classes at Skidmore and the courses that you’re taking while you’re abroad. Depending on where you go and where you study, you may have a much easier time than you do when you’re on campus, or you may have a much more challenging and different experience. I studied at King’s College in London last fall because I wanted the opportunity to take a semester away from campus but I still wanted an academically rigorous experience, but I didn’t realize how different my classes would be until I actually got there. Here are some things about the British university system that were different from Skidmore:
- Your lectures are much bigger (and much more formal) but also much more optional!
My classes at King’s met twice a week; one class was a lecture and the other was a smaller seminar led by a TA. The lectures were an hour long, and there were usually around 50-100 people in the class. The instructor would come in and give a formal lecture, and it was almost unheard of for students to ask questions. The lectures were also not very well attended, likely because all of the lectures were recorded and put online for everyone to watch at their convenience, so there wasn’t much of an incentive to actually show up. I would recommend going anyways, because it adds structure to your day and if I didn’t go to the lecture then I often would forget to watch the lecture at all!
The seminars, on the other hand, were a lot more intimate and you were expected to show up consistently. Most of my seminars had between 5 and 12 people in them, and it was much easier to ask questions and engage with the material. The seminars felt like a typical class at Skidmore.
- All of your grades will be determined by only one or two assignments
Say goodbye to multiple papers, routine assignments, and participation grades—most of my classes had a single paper at the end of the semester that was worth 100% of the grade (and everything is due pretty much at the same time!). It was on me to keep up with the reading throughout the semester so I wasn’t drowning at work by the end, but this wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.
- You’ll have A LOT of free time; use it wisely!
Because you’re only in class for about 8 hours a week, it’s really easy to forget about the work you have to do, especially when you’re in one of the most exciting cities in the world. At the beginning of the semester I found myself forgetting about my class work while I explored the city, and found myself drowning in work later. Luckily, studying in London gives you the opportunity to get your work done while also exploring the city. I would spend a few hours studying in new places, and I would explore new areas of London on my study breaks. Plus, the King’s library is a cool enough place to explore on its own!
(King’s Strand campus was in a GOREGOUS part of London that was so much fun to explore in between classes; here is a picture of Somerset House (which is right next to the main building on the Strand campus) at night.)
(This is the Maughan Library at King’s; once when I was going in to study they were filming an episode of Downton Abbey outside!)
While it is always nice to be able to take a break from the academic rigors at Skidmore, if you go to London like I did, then it’s important to remember that taking advantage of the opportunity to learn in a way that you can’t while you’re back in the States is huge. My classes at King’s were incredible and keeping up with the material and engaging in my coursework was part of what made my experience abroad so fulfilling.