An American Abroad – The switch to British education requires adjustment

I now have two weeks of college under my belt at Sunderland University. Therein lies the first of many differences between American and European schooling: It’s not college. It’s “uni.”
The change from small and cozy Clarion University to spread-out Sunderland has been challenging. I no longer live in Givan Hall, where I was a five-minute walk away from any class. I reside at Clanny House, and the bus to St. Peter’s Campus is a 25-minute ride.
Clanny houses mainly first years and international students. The 14 buildings are full of seven-person flats. Each flat has a kitchen, two showers and three water closets. While some flats are separated by gender, many are mixed.
I live with four girls and two guys and find it fascinating because Clarion would never allow it.
Rules are more lax on drinking and disruptive noises at Clanny House. Every evening, I hear people shouting outside my window. People party every night, and it is not strange to see students walking around with open containers of alcohol. It is not against the law to have open containers in town, either.
I began to feel very American once I started classes last week. English students dress much differently than American ones. I have seen more dresses, skirts, tights and dress shoes and fewer sweatpants and tennis shoes. Most students carry satchels or large handbags. I have only caught sight of several backpacks, all belonging to guys. My faded canvas backpack might as well be a neon sign that blinks the word “American.”
Classes, or “modules,” at Sunderland are vastly different from Clarion’s. A full course load consists of three modules, and students only take modules within their major. They graduate in only three years because of this system. Modules come in three types: lectures, seminars and workshops. For example, my Media Law module has a lecture on Tuesday for two hours. On Wednesday, we have another hour-long lecture followed by an hour of seminar.
These classes differ in size. Lectures can include up to 100 students. Seminars and workshops work with smaller groups consisting of 15 to 25.
Module times range from one hour to four hours, depending on the course. My three-hour News Journalism workshop turned out to be quite the adjustment!
Courses are casual, yet structured. Students call professors by their first names, and professors are very conversational during their modules. However, the educational system here seems to relish PowerPoint. Every module is directed through a lengthy PowerPoint, and it gets tedious.
Students are required to learn through independent study. Online reading lists accompany every module, and students read and study without any additional direction from the professor. The bright side is every book can be found at the library. I have only needed to purchase one book.
The change from Clarion to Sunderland has been immense. It’s as though I am learning to live all over again. Change is frightening, and it can hinder you from opportunities. As many mistakes as I’ve made, I keep moving forward. I don’t want to miss out due to fear.
In the words of Alan Wilson Watts, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.”
Until next time, cheers!

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