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By glaveym

By the time May has rolled around in DC, the last of the cherry blossoms have fallen and students are hard at work studying for finals. In Maastricht, we do things a little bit differently. Semesters are broken up into three "periods," with six periods total for the academic year. For those of you who are math inclined, yes, this means six rounds of finals versus the conventional two. I cannot lie, this is a daunting, although not unsurmountable, academic endeavor. However, this is something I have really come to appreciate about the Dutch system. In these periods, we only take two classes versus five. We spend significantly more time learning the material and content, and the class-based discussions truly make a difference in my retention of the curriculum. This has its trade offs, as having taken four finals at this point, and two to go, and all the stress that comes along with that, has definitely made me miss the semester, two final system. Many of these finals consist of take-home exams, something I wasn't expecting coming from GW. The professors trust you with the knowledge and resources available outside the exam room, and from that, the standards of excellence are significantly heightened. By allowing for take-home exams and papers, the professors certainly expect a very high level of work to be turned in. All of the hard work isn't for nothing, however, as UCM allows for a class-free "reflection week" following finals, meant to allow students to decompress, travel, or enjoy Maastricht without academic obligations. Many choose to do service-learning trips during this time, or find community volunteering opportunities during this break. After reflection week, it's right back to starting new classes with new subject matter, obligations, people, and teachers. The rotation almost makes it feel like every seven to eight weeks is a new experience, with new opportunities to explore an academic subject, meet new people, befriend a professor. I can't say I'll be too sad when I say goodbye to the period system, having finals twice a year seems just find to 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 maxikaplan

My first week of studying for finals has commenced, and I can safely say that it was not all that bad. Yes, studying is time consuming and nobody wants to do it, but it feels good to get those parts of my brain going again after no quizzes and tests for nearly 9 months. Did I spend most of my time inside this past week, doing nothing but working? Yes, but it was good practice for what's to come, and I rewarded myself by taking this weekend off, which was incredibly helpful.

On Sunday was the London marathon, which I did not participate in, but I did go to the Paul Smith museum that day, and that was equally as fun as running 26.2 miles. Paul Smith is a well known fashion designer from London whose work also spreads to car designs, snowboard designs, etc., and this museum was wonderful. Paul had taken everything that was lying around in his office and put it into this museum for display—a brave move, but I am happy he did it because it was one of my favorite museums I have ever been to. The weather outside was 65 and sunny with not a cloud in the sky, and you can’t ask for anything much better than that in London. Saturday was nearly the same, and both days I spent eating well and enjoying the weather. Thankfully it does not cost anything to breathe in London, although it might soon.

As my time abroad is slowly coming to an end (I just booked my flight home for May 31st), I am getting quite excited for things that I have been deprived of for some time now, like $1 pizza from New York, and cheap food in general. Of course I miss my family too, but it is the little things that you forget about while you’re gone that seem so sweet when you are reminded of them. And I am sure of the fact that a few months from now I will be writing in my journal of how much I miss the little things in London. The grass is always greener on the other side I suppose, so you have to enjoy these things while you have them. With that, I now have to go enjoy my homemade dinner that is waiting for me. Ciao!

By kathleenmccarthy1

In the past few weeks, NUIG has been feeling more and more like GW. Even though this does have a bit to do with how comfortable I’ve become here, it has more to do with everyone freaking out about all of their assignments. There seemed to be an idea back home that when you go on study abroad you go on a vacation and there is no real schoolwork and you have loads of free time on your hands. This hasn’t been the case at all for me! I’ve pulled as many all-nighters, bought as many coffees and had as many breakdowns as I would have back at GW, except over here there is way more uncertainty because so many things are different! Back in the US, it is pretty hard to misinterpret what a professor wants to the extent that you completely fail an assignment and fearing that would just be completely irrational. But here, what you think you need to do and what you actually need to do may be completely different. Because I am studying business, or commerce as they call it in Ireland, I have been fortunate enough to be in multiple group projects. These have been beneficial because they give me a number of people that I can ask about academic things like how much professors expect of us and what they what us to emphasize in our assignments. Even though group projects can be inconvenient, my group projects have really been a great resource for me. They’ve also allowed me to understand more about Ireland and Irish culture by forcing me to spend time with people I’ve been randomly assigned to. Without being out into these groups, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable just approaching Irish students and asking them about academics and things like that. Being around these kids has shown me just how much anxiety they are experiencing over exams and all the assignments they find themselves with now that the semester is drawing to a close. Before I came to Ireland, I never really thought that the other kids would get this worked up at finals and before big projects were due like the kids at GW, but they certainly do! Thankfully, I have gotten used to dealing with finals-era anxiety and the occasional meltdown from my first two years at college. Among the things that I’ve become a lot better at since coming to NUIG though is hunting for a seat in the library. Unlike GW, NUIG doesn’t really have student space outside of the library, which isn’t very big for the volume of students that it serves. To my complete shock, I’ve actually been managing to get to the library early in the morning so that I can get my hands on one of those coveted seats. This often takes a great deal of effort, but it’s worth it, especially since no one ever gets up once they’ve planted themselves at a seat in the library. I just hope I can keep up my winning streak with library spots all the way through finals season. I guess we will soon find out!


Frantic over Finals! #GWU #GWAbroad