Academic Cultural Shock

Studying abroad is probably one of the most exciting stages in a college student’s life, if they are lucky enough to have the opportunity.  While the concept of Study Abroad is very fairy-tale esque, the early weeks are quite tumultuous.   There is a complete change of surroundings and cultures; everyone starts their journey from scratch.

In my junior year I had the opportunity of attending The London School of Economics (LSE) for the one-year General Course. LSE was a total change of settings for me; the academic system was completely different from that at Clark. And let’s not even compare Worcester and London, poles apart.

In this blog I will concentrate on the academic aspect of my year abroad. Through my 2 years at Clark I got accustomed to the ways of Liberal Arts education. Unlike my high school where my grade was calculated through one exam at the end of the year, at Clark there is a special emphasis on pushing students outside their comfort zones and making them try lines of study they haven’t been exposed to before.

In the UK higher education system, both the semester and the trimester academic systems are really popular. Universities in the UK,  including LSE, concentrate on the depth of a subject as opposed to a holistic, breadth based approach like American institutions.

One major difference I experienced when I switched between the two systems was the lack of support or spoon-feeding available to me at LSE as opposed to what was accessible at Clark. UK institutions try to make the students more independent, which I observed could affect a student in both positive and negative ways. While the majority of the responsibility for my education was on my shoulders, I found it really inconvenient when it came to the availability and approach-ability of professors. The rapport between students and professors at LSE was way more professional and formal than that at Clark, where due to small class sizes and the closer-knit community, resources are more readily available to students.

In most courses I took at LSE, the final grade was dependent on one final exam and most classes didn’t have any assignments that counted towards students’ grade. There was no participation grade as well. As a result of which, most students missed the discussion sessions. As a General Course student I had to complete all the formative/non-graded assignments and take part in class discussions to obtain a good class grade, but this rule didn’t apply to the regular students. I actually preferred that system to the regular one as it motivated me to study more and be consistent with my coursework.

LSE focuses a lot on networking and pushes students with choosing their professional path very early on. While a lot of people were all for this competitive, job-based environment, I also met a lot of people who had a lot of aspirations other than getting a job and having a corporate job. Many of them had to keep their wishes aside and were pressured to follow the herd-mentality.

On a brighter note, I feel this experience was a great eye-opener for me, and I got the advantage of having the best of both worlds. London and the UK have a lot to offer academically and culturally; there is so much to do and explore and only so much time.  I encourage anyone who has a thirst to be more competitive and face the real world to definitely try and study abroad in the UK. While LSE is known for its amazing networking and driven environment, there are plenty of programs that are a little more laid-back and have a shorter duration as well.

Everyone should try and go to one of the many workshops the Study Abroad office conducts all throughout the year, or just pop-in the LEEP Center and make an appointment with one of the ladies working at there. They are extremely helpful and are definitely the best people to discuss your Study Abroad future with!


(Cover photo taken by the author) 


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