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By kennatim

When it comes to coursework at Dublin City University, the phrase “different from GW” is definitely an understatement. Final exams are pretty comparable to GW here, with normal planning but a focus on the individual: expecting outside research and inaccessible professors. The strangest part of exams to me is that many of them are taken in the basketball gym.

If you are lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it) like I am, you have no exams. Instead, you suffer though a host of 3,000 word essays all due in the same two-week period. Although being a native speaker of English definitely puts me at an advantage over my foreign peers, jumping into third-level Irish classes in the Spring semester gives you no indication of the correct way to format, cite, write, research, and just about do anything the Irish way. And with the inaccessibility of professors, you are left guessing and praying that you get a passing grade.

The most difficult thing to get used to is the grading. 70 out of 100 is a very good grade, and 60 is decent. But you can also apparently get up to 100. This boggles my mind. If 70 is so good, what does it take to get a 100? These are the types of questions I will not miss upon my return to the states.

With some easier classes and some more difficult classes, there have been challenges in how independent the learning comparably can be. But by far, the biggest challenge has been getting accustomed to being, thinking, and acting like an Irish student in producing your work. I have approached this by spending a ton of time researching, writing, fact-checking, and doing just about everything I can think of, spending entire days in the DCU library. Now my time will be spent patiently awaiting my results, due out in the early summer. Pray for me.

By Shannon McKeown

            After having the amazing opportunity to travel to new places throughout Europe during my spring break, I’m now entering the period that all students dread, regardless of what continent you’re on: finals. Tackling finals in a new country, let alone in a new university with a different academic culture than your own, can be a difficult process. Finals period can be one of the most difficult parts of being abroad. As an abroad student, it’s easy to be distracted by everything happening around you. Of course you’d rather check out a cool new place and spend time with your new friends that you’ll be forced to say goodbye to soon. Therefore, I want to discuss the challenges of a finals period when you’re abroad, as well as how I’m currently overcoming them.

I’m studying a the British university of Queen’s University in Belfast. I’m sure you’ve heard how British academic culture is different from American academic culture. The rumors are true. The biggest difference I’ve notice between academic culture at GW and academic culture at Queen’s is the pacing and a greater sense of independence at Queen’s. At GW, it’s typical to have a mid-term exam, at least one paper, and a final exam, if not other assignments scattered throughout the semester. At Queen’s, there’s less assigned work for you to actually hand in, especially in the beginning of the semester. For example, I’m taking one course that requires only a final exam in the form of a 5,000 word paper. However, this one paper will be worth my entire mark. Therefore, there are pros and cons to this system. On the one hand, it may seem like you have a lot less work to do. However, in reality, your professors are expecting you to be working on this one assignment throughout the semester. Like I said, there’s more independence. They won’t be checking up on you or the progress you’re making, but if you aren’t doing any work until the end, it’ll show in you overall grade. That being said, it’s also a less stressful finals period if you are careful not to cram everything at the end. Unlike GW, we have more than a few reading days to prepare for exams. Rather, we have at least a couple weeks, if not more, depending on your exam schedule. Furthermore, each class is worth more credit here, so while I have to tackle five finals at home, I only have to worry about three here.

Therefore, there’s a lot of aspects of British academic culture that, in my opinion, makes for a less stressful finals period. However, the fact that I’m an abroad student makes it more difficult. It’s hard to not become distracted by all of the opportunities and events that seem more fun than spending the last month of your abroad semester in the library. In order to overcome this struggle, I’ve decided that the best approach to finals while you’re abroad is simply balance. You shouldn’t be in the library as much as you might be at GW. Let’s face it- in five years, you’d rather accept a grade that might be a little below your average than miss out on an opportunity that you might never get a chance to partake in at home. That being said, the biggest key to remaining unstressed is planning ahead. Here in Belfast, many students have adopted a ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude. This is a good rule to follow while abroad. Really, it comes down to using you’re study time wisely. When it is time to study, and when you have any spare time, put good use to it. Work hard in the library, rather than waste the time on Netflix or procrastinating. That way when that once and a lifetime opportunity comes along, or even a fun night out with your friends, you can enjoy your time and your abroad semester to the fullest, while also knowing that you’ve got a good grip on your academics.

By kennatim

The academic culture here at Dublin City University is remarkably different than at GW. What the difference boils down to is an emphasis on independence. Long texts are simply assigned at the beginning of the semester for reading over the course. There is not much class time during the week and when there is, classes are often near empty. There are no pop quizzes, no assigned readings, minimal presentations, and very infrequent class discussion.

I can handle all of that, but my least favorite new academic component is that the professors here are much less approachable than at home. Fortunately, our staff here at my program, CIEE have been wonderful at bridging that gap.

What the entire semester comes down to is that final paper or final exam. That gives me the chills just writing it. But it seems Irish students are less competitive when it comes to grades. That must be why they can actually withstand eight semesters of waiting for four months to see if you actually understand the material or not. The system has its pros: helping students to become independent, allowing them to explore parts of a subject they might be interested in rather than making certain sections compulsory, and really drawing a line between the go-getters and the slackers. I personally enjoy my American experience, with a more in-depth, hands-on approach. The classes I have done the best in include very active professors and courses that involve frequent quizzing and testing to keep you on your toes. I never thought I would say that I wish I had more tests and quizzes, but they say studying in Europe is all about finding your true self, so here we stand.

While I cannot say I have really enjoyed the differences between Irish and American college education, I have chalked it up as a “cultural learning experience.” It will definitely help me in my approach to unconventional learning in the future. And it has definitely led me to truly appreciate how lucky I am to attend such an amazing university with a system I am so familiar with.

By anuhyabobba

The hostel I stayed in during my stay at Puerto Iguazu had the following Paulo Coelho quote painted on the wall near the entrance -- a quote that has struck with me since:

“When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends upon them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. At the same time, since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them, and you feel happy to be alive.”

My time in Buenos Aires has been marked by a tremendous growth in terms of how I see myself. The first month, before Buenos Aires became a place I see as a type of home, it was a period of time where I was absolutely lost. Over the first two years of university, I have fostered a sense of comfort in how I defined myself, who my friends were, and what I wanted to be. But, the three weeks from when I arrived in Buenos Aires acted as a blank slate. Beforehand, I saw myself as shy, as a person who cannot hold a conversation and also as a person who is dependent on company. I love company, but study abroad is one of the first times where I did activities on my own accord and independently without associating any type of negativity with acting alone. Study abroad allowed me to find comfort in me. Living by myself and without a housemate made me figure out this big city largely on my own. Granted that coming in without knowing Spanish made the process all the more difficult, but four months in, I speak confidently and walking the city streets is not as daunting as it once was.

The most important notion study abroad has helped me come to terms with was how to adapt to my environment without losing a sense of self. I think it can become easy to mold yourself around surrounding circumstances, but I sometimes completely omit my own self, my own likes and dislikes from this process. Like Paulo Coelho said, traveling and living abroad has been this type of rebirth. I did not necessarily lose the person I was before, but I simply built on it greatly to become a better version of myself. I have learned how to reach peace with where I am location wise while also developing on the person I already was. It can be a hard balance to come to, but by being abroad, it was a balance I had to work toward daily.

I am two weeks from the end of my program, and I look back smiling because I am all too grateful for what I have learned in these past few months.

By Hannah Radner

Having finished two weeks of classes at LSE, I feel I am finally somewhat qualified to write on the subject of academics here. In these last few weeks I have seen elements that both distinguish LSE from GW and make it similar. Because I love lists, here's a new one of my observations:

1. I have only finished two weeks of classes! This is my first observation. The first week, starting on October 6, was all lectures, which are optional and open to the public. My classes (discussion sections) started last week, and many classes for quantitative courses do not start until this week. The 'shopping period' for courses officially ends on October 31, meaning if I was really indecisive I could potentially not know which courses I was taking until the term is nearly half over. Thankfully I am not in that position, and I probably wouldn't recommend LSE to anyone who ever anticipated doing this because...

2. ...We hit the ground running. Not unlike GWU, most of my lectures dove right into the course material, and I've already had my first in-class presentation. Professors tell us when our papers are due throughout the year. Our reading lists are online and we are expected to check them regularly, though never explicitly told what is due next week. This is probably because we have the ability to pick and choose what to read beyond the 3-4 core class readings we have each week, which brings me to my next observation...

3. ...Study is highly independent. We have so much choice in what we read so that everyone can bring something to the discussion; professors want us to read about specific subjects that interest us within the scope of the course so we are more likely to do our best work. As we all know, it's easier to do work when you like what you're doing. As study abroad students, we can take just about any class we want. Regular students must take courses within their specific programme and follow a core track, and have very little wiggle room or opportunity for electives, which they call options. The only proof we show that we've done the reading comes in the form of our participation in class discussions, essays, and come summer term, exams, which determine 100% of our final grade, which is why...

4. ...I will not cram for exams this year. I cannot lie, I do most of my studying in the week leading up to my exams at GWU, and not much sooner. While professors in the US say it doesn't work, our courses only last for the duration of one term, we are doing constant written work to keep us up-to-date, and we have several quizzes and/or tests and/or essays in the course of a term. When push comes to shove, it's often easy to cram and do well at home because we know more than we think come exam time. Here, it is all on us to revise and study throughout the year so we don't fall behind. In summer term, starting at the end of April, there is one final hurrah of holing up in the library and doing nothing else for a few weeks before exams begin. This time, when professors tell us not to cram, I will not only hear them but I will listen because I am secretly terrified.

5. Having a social life is not optional if you want to remain sane. Daylight is the time to read and study, while dusk till dawn is when people frequent pubs, clubs (LSE has one of each in its student center), films, theatre, sport, etc. The possibilities are endless. Study dates and rendez-vous are also acceptable, as one can often find groups of friends studying together in the library. Misery loves company! (Disclaimer: I don't mean school is miserable, just reading like 400 pages at a time can be a downer sometimes. You know what I mean.)

If anyone needs me, I'll be in the library studying for the exams I have in seven months.

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Playing chess by the Seine

It still feels unreal, but I am solidly, on Parisian ground.

My visa came two days later than what was expected so I booked the next available flight and hopped on the plane. Talk about reckless, eh? I am staying with a friend at the moment while trying to find housing for myself, which made me kind of regret not taking GW's offer on housing. (A little advice reference for future GW students)

It feels very weird to be in Paris again. I have never expected myself to be living in a European country for a period of time that requires a long-stay visa. I walk on the streets and wonder how just two days ago, I was at home in China. And how 46 days ago, I was in Peru. And three months ago, I was in DC. I don't know why but the way waiters first address me in French and then switching to English after seeing me struggling with my order really annoys me. I think I was more frustrated at myself that two years of not speaking French had made me felt less confident. But the discomfort quickly faded away after I conversed in French with someone and he complimented my french. (Maybe to him, me speaking French is like the equivalent of a monkey speaking English, simply astounding and unexpected that he felt the need to "wow" in encouragement.)

My friend and I explored the center of Paris in the past two days. I tried to get my bank account and phone set up but since I arrived on saturday, nothing was open. Sciences Po mentioned how there are some banks that have partnerships with them that will give you 80 euros or something. I'll blog about it next week when I have everything set up.

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Badminton on the Seine

Today we were walking on Quai d'Orsay along the Seine and we had a lot of fun. Along the riverbank, there was this street that was full of entertainment including photo galleries and chalk wall and tepees to chill in. We settled down for a game of chess, which was for free. There were games like backgammon and uno and other board games around us as well, which we thought was a very nice idea for a family outing. Next to the free board games there was free badminton playing. It was the weirdest sport I have ever played haha. We used a squash racket to hit a shuttlecock that had a bottom similar to a tennis ball. I thought, me with my Asian heritage plus being the president for club badminton, I'd be able to show off my crazy badminton skills but no. Low and behold, it was windy and I almost smashed a Russian girl in the face and her dad did not look to pleased. We quickly slithered away after that.

We walked along Champs-Elysee after that and saw this impressive golden gate. We stopped and realized it was the entrance to Abercrombie and Fitch. Fanciest place I've been in Paris yet. For a moment I thought I was walking in the gardens of Versailles, if not for the strong cologne that always infuses the air around Abercrombie and Fitch within a five mile radius.


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Already smelling the cologne...
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Abercrombie & Fitch, Parisian style


The welcome program starts tomorrow. Apparently the French has a really different system than the States and the welcome program is mainly about teaching the methodologies that are going to be used for French studies. I’m excited, yet a bit scared, because I heard it’s quite hard, the French wanting to be precise and elegant and everything, but we will see. This time next week, I’d be able to tell you more about the educational difference between France and the United States. Until then!




By anishag22

My trip to Paris to visit my best friend last weekend was absolutely amazing. We ate the most incredible food (Nutella crepes? Check. Three course fondue? Check.) and visited all the major sites like Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Locks of Love Bridge.

As soon as I got back from Paris, I set to work on my two major essays due this coming week. I decided to start with my politics essay about the EU because it seemed the most threatening. As I realized that this assignment is a legitimate research paper, I started to get stressed. It’s understandable - I’ve never had anything graded in this country before.

At GW, I know what to expect and how much effort I need to put in to get my desired grade on the assignment. Obviously I have written essays of this level of difficulty before, but I just don’t know how my work will be assessed. I went to my professor’s office hours and explained my apprehension, and she was extremely helpful. She told me not to worry too much about it and to just keep my arguments clear and back them up with evidence. I’m sticking to that plan, and hopefully it will pay off.

Ironically, my fear of being assessed in another country is broadening my perspective on the international academic system.  My classes here at the University of Bristol have been intellectually stimulating and relevant to my studies back home. I’m so glad I took the European Union class because I’ve been able to get an insider’s perspective to how the UK views the EU. I never quite understood the extent of Euroskepticism that exists in this country before coming here. The academic challenges I’ve faced in Bristol thus far have undoubtedly been worth it – I’m learning more and expanding my worldview one day at a time!

Until next time –

Xx, Anisha