By Ros Harwood, (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)
Semester 1 and exams are all finished! Such a relief, but also a scary thought that I am halfway through my exchange year. It is going so fast!
Seems a good time to reflect on my academic experiences here at Queen’s. On my first impression, I did not think that the academic side was that different to Manchester’s, but as time went on, I realised that actually the academic life was very different, but not necessarily for the worst.
Lectures in general are the same, slightly dependent on the actual course I was taking. I get the impression that lectures are just used to cover the very basics of the content that is assigned to that week and extra reading is used to consolidate the content. This meant that full attention from other students was sometimes lacking, as they were instead online shopping or something. Also, this shocked me the first time; at the end of the ‘class’, as they call it, the lecturer or ‘prof’, as they call it, will reach the final slide and immediately everyone starts packing up and leaving while the prof is still talking. Personally, I thought that was a bit rude and would not have been acceptable in my lectures in the U.K. In seminars and tutorials, people put in a lot more effort as every class I am taking has attendance and participation marks as a percentage of the final mark. I also found seminars sparked some very interesting and intense discussions, which made them very inspiring.
Assessment and workload are quite different to the U.K. The courses here are all split up in terms of assessment. Weekly quizzes, readings and extra online lessons had to be completed each week and all formed a percentage of assessment. The assessment styles are varied from coursework to group presentations and projects. For my business course, I completed an online business simulation in a group. The assessment is completed gradually throughout the term, and therefore this puts less pressure on the percentage that the final exam counts for. This might make you think that workload is a lot higher than it is in Manchester, and this is true, but there is a general consensus that the content we are learning is much easier than would have been studied at a second or third year level in Manchester. As long as you keep on top of the work and make sure the weekly assignments and prep is part of your weekly routine, it works out fine.
One big difference is that every degree course and module is that a midterm examination is often a significant part of the assessment. The midterms were not always done sitting in the classroom like a test; I had one that was an online, open-book midterm. Some midterms did not actually happen in the midterm, sometimes in Week 10 or 11. The finals exam period falls straight after term ends, instead of after the Christmas break, and they also were a variety of styles, some written, some ‘take home exams’ where the question is released and you are given a due date. The variety in assessments can make it much more interesting to complete. I have found my modules very interesting, and if your course allows you to, I would definitely recommend to any student going on exchange to take a variety of courses that are not necessarily within your discipline. Geography gave me a lot of flexibility, so as well as taking some Geography/Environmental Science courses, I took Psychology and Business introductory courses which have inspired to explore different career options.
I have had such a good time already in my first semester and would definitely recommend an exchange to anyone who is considering it. It is not all about the studying, it gives you the opportunity to meet so many people from around the world, travel to places you never have, and I have particularly enjoyed it here in Canada as it is a beautiful country, but also being on the East Coast of Canada gives you access to East Coast of the USA. As all the clichés say, it is definitely a life-changing experience and a valuable opportunity, I have already made so many memories. A definite recommendation is to make sure you are going somewhere that you are interested in visiting as well as the academic study, and that you have the finances to be able to visit!
Having New York round the corner is very exciting (well twelve hours is close in North America terms). I went on the first weekend of the semester, travelling overnight on the Megabus, when luckily my housemate from Manchester was visiting at the same time.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend in October we had four days, so we went to explore Boston, Harvard University and made a trip to Niagara Falls on the way home. I have always wanted to visit it so I am glad I finally have! We had a Thanksgiving meal watching the lights on the Falls at dusk (the photo doesn’t really do it justice).
Homecoming weekend was also a highlight, it is a massive tradition at Queen’s and was full of parades, a American football game and street parties. Lots of alumni came back from last year’s alumni to people who graduated in 1950s! The whole place was bleeding that tricolour (red, blue and yellow colours of the University)!
In November, we headed up north to Quebec City, where it was a lot colder and at night it was -7 degrees!! It is very French in comparison to Ontario, and was very cute and Christmassy with lights and ice skating and our first snow in Canada! Definitely worth a visit.
The last couple of weeks have brought a lot more snow, and it has been very exciting but also only a taster of what is to come in the winter months. At the moment I am enjoying the snow, but maybe won’t be when it is -20 degrees! Snow means skiing though I guess, and I will be spending the Christmas/New Year break with a few days in Toronto before flying out to Banff, Alberta for ten days skiing with my family coming over from England.