Thursday, January 8, 2015

Thoughts From a Confused International Student

I would like to preface today's blog post by saying that I absolutely love Canterbury (pronounced Canterbrie), which I now have engrained in my mind after hanging out with some locals who, in good humor, always yelled "Like the cheese, like the cheese!" at my mispronunciation. However, the international students being thrown into the British Studies Program are all beginning to realize that there are some flaws in the system. Here are some collective thoughts from me and my peers:

1. Overall, there has been a general lack of guidance.

Upon arriving in Canterbury, the international students slowly met and began asking each other about their thoughts/expectations for the term. Something that none of us could agree on was when our lectures actually began. We knew that we had two days of orientation on January 5th and January 6th, but we some people did not think we started class until the following Monday on January 12th. Jara and I had absolutely no idea, so we just went with it and were looking forward to a few days of break before classes started. When orientation began on Monday, though, we were informed that classes would begin for us on Wednesday. This was new information to us, so we quickly had to mentally prepare ourselves for class. We also find it problematic that orientation (on Monday and Tuesday) took place when all other students were actually beginning lectures, forcing us to miss the first two days of class.

2. Why are the Americans grouped together?

During our orientation, we had the opportunity to mingle with the Erasmus students (Erasmus is the European study abroad program) and the South Korean students on exchange, but we were then separated from them and I have not seen one single European or South Korean exchange student since orientation. This is because, for the most part, the Americans were put into student housing with other Americans. My flatmates are Jara, a girl from Arkansas State University, and a girl from Illinois State University. Fortunately, I am extremely grateful for the flatmates I have, and we get along well. However, it does not create an environment conducive to any kind of cultural immersion. The international students have been kept extremely distant from the rest of the CCCU students--even the two classes I have had thus far consist of students from the American Midwest who are in the British Exchange Program. This creates an added challenge for us to make friends, or even feel immersed in a different culture. At times, it is almost like I never really left home at all.

3. Why doesn't the program last the entire length of the term?

At CCCU, classes last for the whole year. It is understandable that the British Exchange Program only lasts one semester because that time period is more appealing to a larger number of students than having to commit to 10 months abroad. This program is unique, though, because it is only 3 months, and we leave CCCU before the classes are even over. Students will still attend the classes we were in until May, long after most of us are back home waiting for our friends to get out of school, or starting summer jobs to pay off the debt we are all about to get ourselves into. The structure of the program also creates more academic obstacles for international students because the grades we get here affect our GPA at our home institution--which, in turn, affects scholarships. We are joining classes for a minimal amount of time, and graded on a completely foreign and incompatible system to the United States. I say that the grading system is incompatible to the US because here most students receive "marks" between 50% and 70% which is completely acceptable. What is considered excellent work in the UK, a 70%, is average in America--or below adequate depending on what grades are needed to maintain a certain GPA required for scholarships.

With all of this said, I understand that there is not going to be a perfect study abroad experience. When there are varying grading systems and term lengths between different countries it is going to be challenging to have a flawless program and effortless transition. I also have met some wonderful local CCCU students on my own time, which is the main source of cultural immersion I am experiencing. At the end of the day (which is about 4:30 in the afternoon here), and even with all of the confusion, I am extremely happy to be in Canterbury and excited for the many experiences I am going to have in the next few months.
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