I dedicated my last post to thoroughly proving how London and UCL’s diversity have granted me culture shock immunity. A month in, I am prepared to admit that there are things specific to London and the British education system that have required a substantial amount of adjustment.
The most dramatic adjustment has been academically, as the university environment here at UCL is drastically different to the liberal arts education that I have grown to know and love at Whitman. I pride myself on the liberal arts education I receive which exposes me to a variety of subjects outside my major granting me a more holistic understanding of the world. While that is all very well, my professors here would most likely roll their eyes at the “value of a liberal arts education” spiel we all know and love. The British academic system is much more limited in the breadth of knowledge that is pursued, and goes much deeper into your chosen degree beginning in your first year of university. During our orientation, we met with our department head who warned us that even though we are third year students, if we come from the “American System” we are most likely “not prepared” to take a third year module (aka course) at UCL. I was not ecstatic about this claim, as many of the classes I was intent on taking in coming here are third year modules, and my stubborn self decided to ignore this completely. The validity of his claim and the outcomes of my stubbornness are still pending, I’ll report back in six months.
Unknowingly, this feature of depth is what drew me to UCL, when I saw the specific biology classes that they offered, which went far beyond the scope of Whitman’s biology class selection. However, as I am still a liberal arts student, with distribution credits that I have yet to fulfill, I came to UCL expecting to take at least two classes outside my major. I found this much more difficult than I had expected. One reason for the difficulty I faced in taking classes outside of the biology department was due to the extra hoops I had to jump through to take classes in another department. The process involved talking to my tutor (aka advisor) within the biology department, talking to the lecturer of the class I wanted to take, emailing the European Studies department, getting rejected from said class, and finally having to go to the office of the European Studies department to figure out which classes I wouldn’t be rejected from and how I could go about enrolling in one. A month into school, and I still haven’t been officially approved for my non-major class. The other barrier, was my own excitement, as I began to choose biology classes like a kid in a candy store, and having selected three that I just had to take, I literally couldn’t bare to part with a single one of them. So here I am, at the end of my module selection with three upper level biology classes, and (hopefully) a European Studies course about literature and film in London. I’m pretty sure neither one of my advisors (Whitman or UCL) are entirely thrilled about this.
A few other things I have had to adjust to during my time here:
My keys are actually important here. In Walla Walla, we left the door to our house unlocked, and most of my housemates didn’t even have a copy of the house key. I could walk into my friend’s houses unannounced and sit on their couch waiting for them to come home. Now, to get into my room I must swipe into the main courtyard, then swipe into my building, unlock the door to my flat, and finally unlock my room door. That’s four extra levels of security than I’m used to. Along the same lines, I can’t just leave my laptop in the library and walk off for an hour knowing it will still be there when I return.
Walking and travel time. I have to leave my room a full 30 minutes before my classes start, while at Whitman I could leave 5 minutes before any class and still arrive on time. Although accounting for the extra time is a bit of a hassle, I do love the lifestyle in which my own two feet can get me anywhere. Of course, where my feet can’t take me, the tube can.Thankfully, the tube is pretty easy to navigate. That being said, I have managed to get horribly lost many many times. On one occasion I arrived to an event over an hour late because I managed to not only take the wrong tube line but I also took it in the wrong direction very very far out. I get most homesick for the Wallas when I’m lost in the depths of the city surrounded by identical looking buildings and twisting streets. Google Maps and Citymapper have simultaneously become my best friends and worst enemies.
The pound. Everything here costs just as much as you would expect something to cost if it was in dollars. But then I have to stop and remind myself, it’s not dollars, its pounds. The pound is just a little bit steeper, making it easy to trick yourself into thinking things are cheaper than they really are.
Where is campus? Turns out the campus is any building with a UCL sign on it within a 2 mile radius of the main UCL building. Google maps has become my best friend and worst enemy (when it sends me to the other Gordon Square, which happens to be a mile from the one I’m supposed to go to).
And finally… the way they write the date here (day.month.year). Really hoping I don’t miss any important deadlines or exams because of this.