…..what a combo.
Despite the initial response the title may invoke, what I’ll pen this afternoon is hardly as shocking as it may appear. Can’t resist a good alliteration, particularly when it ties together some rather sporadic observations.
“Do you study?”
It’s a valid question that- amidst photos that frequently appear on *social* media- I’m often faced with as student abroad. In light of travel excursions and the excitement of a new culture, it’s easy to presume that exchange students have the good fortune of an extended vacation.
This is false; it is also true. Academic culture while abroad presents a contradiction of grand proportions….let me break it down for yah, no filter.
The University of Sussex, Brighton is ranked in the top 200 universities in the world (#140, to be exact). In addition to your typical lectures, I regularly attend small group seminars which challenge students to employ critical thinking through engaging in open dialogue. Unlike the United States, where everything is graded and measured, the majority of the tasks I complete (multiple weekly readings, group presentations, exercises, etc….) do not play a role in my final grade. They are solely for the sake of greater understanding of the topic. In all, 30% of my grade consists of a midterm paper, and 70% consists of a final research paper.
You see, the English cultivate an academic culture that puts great emphasis on comprehension and understanding. This is not to say the American education system doesn’t, however, Sussex takes a different approach. The required reading text is often dense and in depth, while the seminar conversation is relatable and candid (last week, we spent an hour discussing the relationship between wine preference and class hierarchy. Nothing gets me going quite like a good debate of Merlot VS. Chardonnay. ) Together, the two elements make for what I would consider to be an efficient and beneficial system. The closest comparison I can draw to this academic teaching style is the “reading” portion of the ACT exam. However, even this is a stretch.
“A, B, C, or D” are not options. There is no “true or false.” No “50/50” chance.
You either get it….or you don’t.
This can make for a lighter academic experience OR it can evoke added pressure, depending on the situation and the courses an exchange student enrolls in. Personally, I chose to enroll in 3rd year courses alongside those my age.
With 27,000 students total on campus at my American university and hundreds of study abroad program partnerships established, our credit transfer process is efficient…. but not exactly streamlined. Should an exchange student desire a year long academic vacation, I’d imagine it wouldn’t be a difficult stunt to pull off. In retrospect, I could have easily held off on a few 1000 level freshmen gen-ed credits and preserved the subjects for my time abroad. But alas, that would take planning that my decisions don’t always include.
In the Spring, my British classmates will complete their undergraduate degrees. The University of Sussex employs a 3 year system (as opposed to America’s 4 year system). But, unlike my peers, I’ve not had two years of education and training in the British style. Therefore, my position has made for an exciting, and occasionally overwhelming, game of “catch up.” My head is still above water, though. It keeps me on my toes 😉
“Do you own a gun?”
I get this question quite frequently while in the UK, and rightfully so. Now, before my FOX news fans out there engage in a pointless political Facebook debate that I do not seek to ignite, let me put a disclaimer on this section: I only aim to observe, not to further a political agenda. After all, it takes a whole lot more than a blog post to create change, anyway.
America’s gun violence rates are common knowledge across the pond. I confidently arrived in the UK with some general understanding of the country’s political atmosphere and it’s social issues. But, little did I know, the knowledge we have on them is nothing in comparison to the knowledge they have on us.
Therefore, I speak objectively when I say that America is universally recognized as one of the only developed countries in the world that lacks common sense gun laws. Most Brits can recite, some to the exact percentage, our country’s statistics surrounding gun violence. They are hyper-aware of a conflict that, as President Barack Obama put it, “…we have become numb to…” as a nation.
I’d argue that I’ve been prompted to discuss our nation’s gun laws and gun-violence rates more in the last two months abroad than I have in the last year in the United States. This is hardly a matter I can break down simply; after all, the conflict surrounding this topic is complicated, deeply rooted in political division, and interconnected to a number of social issues in America.
However, I will say this: in my experience, the English aren’t particularly concerned with what it means to preserve 2nd Amendment rights. Or when deer hunting season begins. Or the Democratic party. Or the Republican party. Or any political party, for that matter. People are dying, and generally they want to know why America hasn’t done more to address the matter. As a student abroad, by default you become somewhat of a “spokesperson” of sorts for your culture….personally, I’ve yet to find a way to eloquently respond to these inquiries.
I wish I had more answers to these questions….I wish I had better answers these questions.
Through these conversations I’ve come to find that European media outlets tend to dramatize American gun culture, while American media outlets tend to dumb the crisis down.
In all, media is still driven by the consumer; in England and America alike.
If our information sources “met in the middle” and produced unbiased facts, perhaps we could achieve greater understanding of one and other as a global community. But unfortunately, sensationalism still sells.
*no pun intended*
But never fear folks, my final words are completely G-Rated.
You see, nearly everywhere I go in Brighton, I’m greeted by the likes of hand-holding couples.
On the bus. On the train. On the streets. On my way to class…….even while caught in the middle of a typical English torrential downpour, you can catch these guys furiously clutching each other’s hands with a commitment like you’ve never seen.
However, it’s subtle. The PDA I frequently pass doesn’t display a forced body language that says “look world, she is mine, let me show her off”…..rather, the actions say: “she is here, she is present, and I cannot help but show her I love her.”
Living here has shown me that you do not have to be in love in order to feel the love around you.
It’s easy to put the emotion in a box and associate it solely with our own personal romantic pursuits. It’s easy to get caught up in our personal lives and forget that the world around us is brimming with love that we can enjoy and appreciate in more than just one way.
It’s easy to forget how universal love really is.
In simple, subtle ways the English will remind you. From couples cuddling on park benches, to street art that illustrates two men affectionately kissing, to everyday activity, simply being present in this country will leave your heart full.
There is a romantic atmosphere in England that I deeply admire. While living here, I’ve had the opportunity to fully embrace my independence- entirely liberated, content, and fulfilled by the joys that accompany being single in your 20’s- while still appreciating and celebrating the hearts that surround me.
So, S/O to the couples furiously holding hands in the rain….keep on keepin on (and maybe invest in an umbrella)