One of the most grueling decisions I had to make after committing to studying abroad was what classes I was going to take. Unlike some of the people accompanying me on the trip, I had most of my generals complete and there were not many classes that fit into my major or minor. So, I thought to myself, “why not just take classes that seem easy?” And honestly, I believe this thought has led to my slight academic downfall.
I am told that the module system is changing a bit for next year, but as it stands now, modules last between three and four hours and are held once a week. Most of them are taught by either one or two instructors that alternate weeks, and each module has a small number of assessments that make up your final grade (most of my modules have two or three assessments). There are not any extra credit options or participation points, but attendance is required with a no more than three absences policy.
The lack of monitoring on reading and small number, if any tests, that you are required to take, along with the length of classes and the fact that you are in a beautiful country with many amazing places to see, means that it is quite hard to keep yourself motivated academically. I have witnessed this struggle to commit to school and homework in just about every member of the 2013-14 SIE group. School is not as high of a priority for us, as it was back at UMD, and I for one wish that I had done a few things differently to make it easier on myself to do better in my classes.
Before we left, everyone was telling me how much harder school was over here, and they were right, but none of them explained to me why it was harder. And that is what I want to talk to you about. It is harder because classes last three times longer than you are used to and it is hard to pay attention for that long. It is harder because you have very little material to base your grade off of. Three assignments is not very many and if you mess up one, you have little opportunity for redemption. It is harder, because while you speak English you are in a foreign country that has different academic expectations and ways of grading. It is harder because the distractions offered to you are so different from the ones you are used to back home. And in all reality, it is harder because you care less.
None of this however is meant to deter you or make you nervous. Everyone I know is doing relatively well in their modules. I simply want you to be prepared for what is to come and hope that you will listen to me when I tell you not to pick “easy” seeming classes. Take modules that sound interesting to you, genuinely, academically, interesting to you, so that when you have to sit there for three hours you are engaged. Don’t just take History in Film, because it seems like a breeze. Trust me it isn’t, if you are not prepared to take on the role of a historian and really engross yourself in the subject. Take classes you think will matter to you, that count towards your major if possible, and that you are invested in, so you can and are motivated to do well in them. I also recommend that you take the least number of credits that you can get by taking, while staying on track for graduation, so that you have time to sate your desire for distraction outside of class and homework.
This may all seem like pretty obvious advice, but me and many people who came before me have made the mistake of trying to take the easy way out, and we paid for it by spending three or more hours every week sitting through mind-numbingly boring classes and working on assignments that became ten times harder because we could not care less about them and the subject that they were on. Do not underestimate the weight of your assignments. The classes you take here do transfer back to UMD and affect your GPA, so do whatever possible to make sure that you won’t put school on the backburner and forget about it.