OPINION: Here’s what it’s like to study at a British university

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The Victoria Building at the University of Liverpool on Aug. 30, 2013. As a member of the Russell Group, Liverpool is one of the most prestigious universities in England. (Courtesy photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Three and a half years ago, I came to Kansas State for the comfort. The town seemed homey, the campus felt familiar and the people were nice. Throughout the semesters, I fell into a routine that more or less reflected my already established study habits, spending mornings at my desk and afternoons at Hale Library.

As an incoming freshman, I dragged my parents to the study abroad session at orientation. By the time junior year came around, I still hadn’t shaken the idea of spending a semester in another country.

So, I took a bit of a step — about 11 million steps, 4,235 miles away — out of my purple, limestone comfort zone and decided to go on exchange to Liverpool, England in the spring of 2018.

Now that I have been back for roughly an entire semester, I’ve stopped calling bathrooms “the toilet” and to-go food “take away,” and I can look back at the whirlwind of my experience, ahem, “studying” abroad.

I’m kidding, I did study — a lot.

Choosing a university across the pond

The university I chose was the University of Liverpool, founded in 1881. It’s a member of the Russell Group, which is a group of the 24 leading universities in the United Kingdom — essentially, the British Ivy League — including the likes of Cambridge and Oxford. Liverpool is the original “red brick” university thanks to the Victoria Building on campus.

Liverpool Uni received its royal charter in 1903, with 27 percent of the university’s research rated as world-leading and 54 percent rated as internationally excellent, according to the Russell Group’s website.

After combing through U.K.-based student forums, I was convinced that my school experience was going to be extremely different than what I was used to.

Here’s how my semester at Liverpool compared to K-State.

I asked a professor to give more homework

One of the nicest, albeit strangest, shifts from an American college to an English university was the way the idea of education is constructed.

At K-State, I’ve had a good handful of group projects, team-based learning or partner work in class. At Liverpool, the notion of private study was much more popular — even all of the workspaces at the library were singular, but more on the library later.

Each day, I was in class for two hours and I would only have each class once a week, apart from my digital media module that had a lecture and a seminar. That meant the rest of my time there was supposed to be spent in the library reading theory and expanding on the information my professors introduced in class. Oops.

I just couldn’t get myself to sit down and read books (yes, multiple books) about the theory of food in medieval French paintings. I would much rather have a few homework assignments here and there throughout the semester instead of my grade riding on only the final exam. When I asked my professor for more homework, I sealed my fate as “the American.”

The library was like finals week at Hale, 24/7

As much as I love Hale (and boy am I missing it in my final semester at K-State), I am ashamed to say I have never checked out a physical book there. That changed quickly as I prepared myself for the written exams at Liverpool.

As I mentioned earlier, the library, much like the university, promoted private study. Each desk was for one person only. To this day, I do not know if there were any tables that could sit more than one person in that library.

Not to mention that English students take their studies extremely seriously. That meant that the library was constantly packed.

If I wanted to get a seat without walking laps around every single floor, I would have to get to the library early in the morning or very late at night. Some of my friends wouldn’t even go to the library until 11 p.m. or midnight so they could get a seat.

I missed Hale a lot during that time, and now, oh the irony.

Also, I will always be grateful for the Dewey Decimal Point System. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

The exams were like the ACT but worse

Final exams are stressful, but final exams that are the only factor in your final grade for an entire course are torture.

Within the three-week exam period, there were no classes to allow for adequate study time. It was maddening.

By the time my first exam rolled around, I was more than ready to get it over with, but I was a bit freaked out.

My professors had warned me of the do’s and don’ts of exams. No water bottles, lest I printed the answers on the inside of the label. If you bring anything into the room, it goes in a clear, plastic bag underneath your chair. If your phone, watch or any technological device makes a noise or even vibrates, you’re kicked out and receive a zero.

I walked in with nothing but my ID and a pen.

Proctors gave the students a number that correlated with the desk we were to sit at. Everyone was quiet, minus the nervous fidgeting.

After we were all seated, the proctor passed out blue books and a white sheet with the prompt on it, face down.

And then the countdown began.

Once he said, “Begin,” the full-time students on either side of me hurriedly flipped the prompt over, ripped open the cover of their blue book and began to write.

How did they even read the prompt yet?! I immediately had flashbacks to my AP English exam and the ACT and other high school stresses that I had conveniently blocked from my memory. I’m pretty sure I still have a callous on my pinky from writing so much, so quickly.

It was madness, but I made it. Maybe not with first marks in all my classes, but hey.

Suffice it to say, I am so happy to be back in the land of Scantron bubbles and online quizzes. Hale Library, I’ll be waiting for you.

Madison Obermeyer is a copy editor for the Collegian and a senior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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