Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Academic Culture Shock - Canada

Firstly I don't feel I am nearly qualified to be writing an article on culture shock in Canada as I come from Scotland and I almost every Canadian I've met had told me they are Scottish too. Most people have even asked if I was actually Canadian but I just watched far too much Sesame Street when I was younger.

The cultural differences between the Scotland and Canada has been minimal so far with only the issue of sales tax being a 'major' hindrance  However then I started classes here and the system is entirely different to  what I was used to back in the UK. In Dundee I was enrolled in four courses for the entire year, here I am enrolled in five for this semester alone. I am known as a "crammer" where I do all my revision in the weeks before exams. Canada is not very hospitable to crammers like me, there is no exam leave with only a weekend or so before your finals and they also throw in midterms halfway the term. This is not counting all the assessments of term papers and research papers.

The workload seems like a lot but these often just skim the surface and you have to take a combination to cover the same amount as you'd take at home. So don't panic too much. The course choice is also a lot more diverse, Canadians can take pretty much any combination of subjects no matter what their degree title. You are likely to get some flexibility when you are over here and you will probably get to take a nice easy first year elective along with your serious subjects.

The last things you want while on exchange is to be over-loaded with deadlines and stress but the silver-lining of these stress filled semesters is that they don't last long. Canadians don't have Easter holidays and so you will finish your exams mid-April usually giving you plenty time to explore the country. With countries like Canada, it is much more worthwhile to explore after the mini-ice age they call winter has ended. 

You will find yourself studying and revising as early as the first one or two weeks which I found completely alien to my routine back in Scotland, but this is probably bad habit but I know I am not the only one! However you will realise that you actually do learn things better. This is a combination of actually studying properly and the fact the teaching techniques are slightly different. My experience in lectures is that the teacher will sit and talk to you about something as if they are talking into a video camera - very little interaction with the class. Here the lecturers engage discussions and questions are encouraged this is because most of the exam material is actually lecture based - mainly because the prices of textbooks here is ridiculously high: it's cheaper to order them in from the UK and pay the delivery charges!

The silver lining of the inital shock of the workload is that in general the work is easier than you'll be used to. There will be things you might not have covered before but for the majority of things you might already know. This isn't to say don't work you can either work at a constant rate throughout the exchange or start off full throttle and calm near the end or the opposite. Another saving grace of the north American system is that the lecturers (they call them Professors over here) are much more approachable than most of those in the UK. They see themselves more like equals and will tend to talk to you for longer than necessary and not often about what you came in to ask.

Final exams back home tend to be the be-all-end-all of your grade with around 70% weighing on it. Here only 10% of your grade can be down to the final exam and don't be surprised if you've already passed the course before you sit it! The exam layout is different as well, rarely straying from multiple choice or short answer questions. So although you worked yourself to the bone at the beginning of term, the transition into the summer holidays is a lot easier!

This wasn't meant to scare anyone away from applying for exchanges, I think they should be compulsory! You will learn much more than what they teach in the classrooms and you will meet people from all over the world. They can be expensive but there is funding available for those who choose transatlantic rather than Erasmus you just have to look for it. There is no doubt you will come home with lifelong friends and life lessons where you will learn more from any class you attend!

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