LAST FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL: CLASSES BEGIN IN GLASGOW
My final first day of school. And it’s in another country? That certainly wasn’t in the outline I made for my future when I came to the University at Albany in the fall of 2014. Come to think of it, everything I’ve accomplished since wasn’t really in the plans either.
I am on track to graduate in the spring semester—one full academic year earlier than all of my friends. I overloaded on credits in my first two years and also have ones from high school that transferred. Once I return to UAlbany in the spring, it will likely be for the last time.
But for now, I’m at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and a week ago I attended my first class. We started four weeks later than UAlbany and our semester ends earlier too, so I’m not complaining.
I thought when I walked in to my first class, The Age of Empire in the 20th Century, that I would be terrified. “I’m an outsider,” I thought to myself. “We will at some point discuss how the United States has become the most dominant country in the world and then everyone will resent me for it.”
But when I actually took my seat in the classroom—a room very similar to the standard American college classroom with rows of desks, a projector and a whiteboard—I knew I had nothing to fear because I’ve been doing this for years. I’ve actually ended up not taking that class because it didn’t have enough room, but now I’ve got my schedule worked out and I’m officially ready for the semester. I am taking three upper-level history courses that will meet two or three times per week for lectures or seminars, a smaller classroom setting where students offer their thoughts on the lecture material and readings assigned for that week. Every class is one hour long, although they usually start five minutes late and end five minutes early to account for students making it to class on time. At UAlbany there are 10 minutes in between classes for commuting time. At Glasgow, no gap exists, hence the late start/early ending.
The first week of class is more intense in the U.K. In the U.S., “Syllabus Week” is exactly how it sounds—professor outlines his/her expectation and provides all of the due dates for the semester before ending class early. There is no point in diving into the material on the first day and overburdening the students while they deal with the adjustments to the college atmosphere. Because Freshers’ Week (refer to last week’s article for further explanation) already happened, teachers at Glasgow don’t find it necessary to waste any more precious time. After quickly reviewing the course expectations, all of my professors delved into the material without much warning.
Lecture procedure is essentially the same. Professor pulls up PowerPoint presentation, uses notes outlining his/her own finding and addresses the class while students furiously write down way more information than they actually need. The teacher occasionally stops to ask for the students’ input on the current topic. One person raises his/her hand. Same ol’, same ol’.
I now know I had absolutely nothing to worry about. I found all of my classes and arrived on time without any worries. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be the case for the rest of the semester. For some odd reason, classes are in different places…every week. I’ll have one course in a building on University Ave. and then that same course the following week located on a different street. Thanks to Google Calendar I have my class schedule synced to my iPhone, but it’s inevitable that I will arrive at the wrong place at least one time this semester.
The structure of the courses is different than schools in the U.S., and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. In a class at UAlbany I receive grades from an exam or essay every few weeks, in addition to attendance and participation grades. The mid-term and final exams generally account for more points of the overall grade than any of the other tests or essays.
Over here? The final exam is basically your entire grade. In two of my classes the final is worth 70 percent of my final grade. There are hardly, if any, assignments in between to earn points back after performing poorly on an exam or essay. The good thing is, however, that all I have to do is earn a C in the class and I pass. My GPA at UAlbany will be completely unaffected by my grades here, so I can afford to mess up on the finals a wee bit. But knowing my personality, I won’t slack off and will try to earn the highest marks I can.
It’s a more independent learning style over here. If you go to class or don’t go to class, participate or don’t participate, the professors don’t care. Nobody will call you out. They’re not going to help you unless you take time out of your day to seek them out. For my history courses you have to do the readings to be prepared for class. If you don’t, you won’t get scolded and you won’t lose points. You will just look like a clueless idiot in front of your peers. It’s all on you to make the right choices and find the right balance between studying, socializing, sleeping, playing sports, etc.
I am really interested to see how this style plays out for me at Uni Glasgow. In my opinion, teachers hold your hands too much in the U.S. We are told in middle school, “You can get away with this now, but you won’t in high school.” We are told in our senior year of high school, “I’ll let it slide this time, but this won’t fly when you get to college.” To be completely honest, professors still give second chances or let students make up work or earn extra credit when they shouldn’t be afforded the opportunity. That kind of second-chance learning culture makes students think it’s O.K. to take shortcuts. That’s not the proper way to approach college, the final stepping stone to the real adult world. Professors don’t hold students to high enough standards. You have to be held accountable for your decisions. It’s not just like that at UAlbany, but after conversations with American friends here and at home, it’s the same way at other universities. I’m excited for my fate to be in my hands because I know I’m capable of making the right choices to ensure success in and out of the classroom.