I've now been to all of my classes for the semester at least once. I am enrolled in three modules (courses) this semester: Interpreting Social and Cultural Phenomena, European Art and Architecture in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, and Introduction to Modern Latin America. I think I will enjoy all of them very much and all of my professors seem wonderful.
Many of the buildings themselves where I take classes are stunning. it's unbelievable to think that I go to class in a museum or a quad more than twice as old as America.
I tend to enjoy the way courses are taught here at St Andrews, but it is quite different than my experience at Holy Cross. I'll list some of these differences for you, but it's important to remember that St Andrews teaches much differently than many other universities in the UK, especially those in England, which are often taught on a three year track. It is also key to keep in mind that I am coming from the perspective of an American liberal arts student as opposed to one at a university so that discrepancy alone is reason for some of the differences. Anyway, I suppose I'll have a go at a few of the differences:
- Courses are usually referred to as modules.
- Instead of having letter grades, the grading system here is based on a 20 point scale.
- People here don't generally use the terms freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior, and rather refer to each year by their number in progression as I will in this post.
- First and second year modules are taught in lecture halls and are not broken down into sections. Therefore, all people enrolled in that module are being taught at the same time leading to very large classes. However, the class is then broken down into tutorial groups which meet outside the lecture and provide for more individual attention and discussion.
- First and second year modules are also taught not by the same professor or lecturer all semester but by many different ones depending on the topic that day.
- Third and fourth year modules are referred to as Honors level modules and tend to be taught in smaller groups. At least in the social anthropology department, my experience is that they've been around twenty-five to thirty students.
- As a third or fourth year student you can either go to class a ton or very little depending on what you study. Generally if you are in the sciences you will attend class very often but not have as much work outside of class and if you are in the arts you'll meet much less frequently and have a greater amount of work outside of class time. I, for instance, was in class a total of six hours per week last semester, more this semester because I'm in some lower level modules.
- The library tends to be used much more here in the sense that many students do not own all of their books and will borrow them from the library in order to read them. This is particularly the case if it's not a major book for the course.
- Learning at St Andrews tends to be much more intrinsically motivated. In America there is a tendency to be told everything that you are expected to do by the professor and you fulfill those tasks to the highest of your ability to earn a good grade. Here there are many more additional and optional readings on top of the compulsory ones that students take advantage of. This makes for a wonderful environment in which people genuinely want to learn.
- People come to uni in Scotland in order to specialize in something. There is no such thing as a liberal arts college in Scotland and students apply into a specific field of study which they begin in their first semester. This isn't to say that they don't take classes in any other department, but it is certainly a more targeted form of study with less variety.
So here I've told you at least a little bit about learning at St Andrews and I hope it's been helpful. Most importantly though, remember that the studying part of study abroad is, of course, very important but also a lot of fun. Just learning in a different style and in a different environment will likely teach you as much as what is in your textbooks and I promise that while it may not seem as exciting as taking a weekend trip to Paris or Prague (which you should of course do as well) just going to class in a different country is absolutely wonderful so look forward to it!