Halfway there, almost.

My first semester of graduate school came to a close on Friday! I cannot believe how quickly that went! Even though, we are finished with lectures until late January, I do have two essays due on January 16th.

Mid-term essays were returned a few weeks ago and the feedback and marks I received left me feeling extremely optimistic about the rest of the program. When I received my marks, I texted my mom and she could not understand why I was happy about my grades. You see, anything above a 70 is a distinction (very good), above 60 is a merit (good), above 50 is a pass, and below 50 is a fail. So, when she saw a number in the 60s, she immediately assumed that my mark was the equivalent to a ‘D’ on the United States’ grading scale, which would have been barely passing. She was happy to hear I actually received a mark worthy of a merit on both essays — result!

So, for the weeks that we are in England over winter break, you’ll find me in the library working on my final essays. I thought I would hate having to do work over the holidays (such a change from the days of being an undergraduate in the US), but I’ve quite enjoyed hanging out in the peacefully empty library. I’m beginning to realize what it means to truly enjoy my studies.

It also finally feels real that I am working towards one of my life goals of getting my Masters degree. (Funny that it took nearly four months for that feeling to develop!)

I am a very content graduate student right now!

“It is STUDY abroad, after all.”

I have to explain that the title of this post stems from a presentation I gave multiple times throughout the school year in my past life as a study abroad adviser. I always stressed that even though there is so much fun to be had exploring their host country that the students were still there to study. Sometimes, it’s good to remind myself that, too.

So, yes, I am actually studying for my Masters degree. A degree that, if all goes as planned, will be completed in one year…handing in my dissertation in September and graduating in December. It’s crazy to think that it will be done so quickly!

I did want to write a little about the differences in the U.S. higher education system and the British system because it’s safe to say they are quite different. In fact, I went to a seminar the other day about study skills in the program and the Director of the MA programs for my school actually said something along the lines of, “If you wanted to be told what and how you think, you would have gone to the U.S. to study.” Harsh? Yes, but I tend to agree with him in some regards.

In my program here, I have two modules (or classes) this semester. Each of them last for 2 hours and I have them each once a week, so if you’re doing the math, I’m only in my modules a total of 4 hours a week. This leaves a lot of time for me to read outside of class, which is good because I have a lot of reading.

One of the things I was most concerned with when I decided to complete my postgraduate work in England was the dreaded reading list. Essentially, each week, we have a topic that we cover in our module and with that topic we are given a “recommended reading list.” This list could have anywhere from 3 to 30 works on it. No, you aren’t expected to read all of them. I was mostly concerned with figuring out which I should read and how I would determine that. I discussed this topic to death with the Brit, but mostly to a good friend of mine who did his Masters at London School of Economics. I seriously talked his ear off about it, so a big thank you to him for putting up with all of my questions about it! 🙂 I think I have a fairly good grasp of the reading now, which makes life easier.

However, the days I do not go into the university for modules are usually spent at home in our guest bedroom-turned-office (thank you, IKEA!). Seriously, my butt and that chair are awesome friends.

My awesome study space...thanks to the Brit! 🙂

I would say I spend a solid 15-20 hours a week reading outside of class. If I have to give a presentation in seminar (or I am completely confused), then I usually spend a bit more time reviewing material for the module and collecting my thoughts. However, with that extra time, I still do not guarantee that I’m completely sure that what I am presenting makes any sense as was the case with my first presentation two Mondays ago. No worries though…my partner and I were quite content with how we did, which counts for something, right?!

It does give me a sense of accomplishment to know that I am developing my own thoughts and ideas from what I am reading and not just buying into something because it is the opinion of the authors or the professor. After graduating from college in the U.S. and entering the ‘real world,’ I began to notice that I was somewhat timid to give my two cents on different topics and I feel it stemmed from the lack of independent thinking in some of my college courses. (Please note this was not the case with all of my courses.)

The other aspect that is a bit different is the idea of assessment. In the U.S., particularly in undergrad, we are used to being assessed on everything…class participation, quizzes, papers, mid-terms, finals, etc. Here, I will be assessed on a mid-term essay and a final essay, which are weighted differently depending on the module. No extra credit for class participation or doing well on a seminar presentation. We’ll see how I feel on the issue of assessment after I receive marks for my first essays due on November 7th!

Last night, I was telling the Brit about this blog post over our dinner of fajitas (how’s that for internationalization?!) and he said, “Well, an obvious one is you’re not 18 anymore.” He’s completely right. I’ve been out of college for quite some time with significant work experience under my belt. It was not an easy decision to give up a steady income and a good job to undertake more debt, but it was one I made because completing a postgraduate degree in a subject that really interests me has always been a goal of mine. Gone are my days of partying on school nights and cramming for exams. I feel extremely committed to this program and plan to make the most of it, which I’m not sure I can say about my undergrad days. Now, my studies are what are most important to me. Never before have I been so excited to learn and to read 10-page articles that can sometimes take me a few hours to read until I fully understand it. I do the reading so I can participate in class to contribute to the discussion and not to just earn some extra class participation points.

I’m only 3 weeks in, but I am excited to continue learning and develop my academic reading and writing skills to a new level. It’s fun to be a student again! (NERD ALERT!!)