Abroad: UK News

Justine Heritage ’14, Abroad Columnist

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Perhaps one of the strangest parts of studying at a school other than Dickinson is adjusting to classroom expectations. The different rules, the different grading systems and the different acceptable behaviors have all presented an interesting layer to my experience at the University of East Anglia thus far.

One of the most striking of these differences is that here at UEA, we are allowed and encouraged to address our professors by their first names. Actually, it turns out that most of my “professors” are not considered professors at all. As one of my lecturers put it when I called him professor, “Thanks for the promotion, but I’m just a tutor.”

It took me several weeks to comfortably address emails with only “Ben” or “Denzell,” and I have yet to successfully call my lecturers by name to their face. To me, this custom seems to violate the friendly but professional and pedagogic relationship that should exist between teacher and student. However, here, in a school with large classes that meet infrequently, perhaps it serves as an equalizer between the two parties.

Another interesting aspect of education at UEA is their cell phone policy, a policy which, as far as I can tell, does not exist. During lectures or seminars, students will unabashedly pull out their phones, sending text messages and performing web searches freely. As long as their activity doesn’t disturb the rest of the class, the lecturers don’t say a word.

Though it took me several class periods to become fully comfortable with whipping out my phone as my lecturer was explaining the complexities of computational geometry, this adjustment was one of the least difficult to make. It is quite refreshing to be freed from awkwardly attempting to send a text message under the desk while still managing to look engaged with what’s happening in the lecture.

However, more so than at Dickinson, failing to pay attention to lectures can make life a great deal harder. Since most classes only have two or three assignments the whole semester, work is concentrated at the end of the semester. For one of my classes, half of our grade is based on an assignment due in mid-April, and the other half on an exam that is only a few weeks later. Both are comprehensive evaluations that will essentially directly test our attentiveness during the lectures from the semester.

Attendance and participation, which are generally standard in upper-level classes at Dickinson, have no place here. What does have a place is self-motivation, self-teaching and self-control. Since beginning my studies at UEA, I have had to exercise these skills more than I ever have before. I don’t have anyone checking to make sure I’m going to class, I don’t have anyone who will talk me through class notes until I understand and I don’t have anyone to direct my wandering attention back to the lecture on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons.

While the differences I have mentioned may not be unique to UEA or to England, I think they do demonstrate an important part of the culture here. UEA students seem to be just as invested in their education and success as Dickinson students are, but their success is so much more contingent on how willing they are to be present and attentive. Somehow it makes me feel more adult, and that is something I think I can get used to.

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