We are reaching the beginning of the end with our time here in London.
Reflecting back on the semester, we all were faced with several challenges and needed to figure out ways to deal with them. In the beginning it was smaller things such as adjustment to daily life and a little bit of culture shock, but as time went on there were bigger things to face.
One of the biggest challenges here was living with 7 other very different people. Before this semester the most people I have ever lived with was 4 others and it was in my own home. When you live with this many other people who you have also never met before (aside from your roommate), a degree of flexibility is necessary. Four people sharing one bathroom, washing dishes AND putting them away, taking out the trash, what is and isn’t acceptable in the common space and when, level of nudity, where to take phone calls, when to use headphones, being considerate of other people’s schedules, not eating other people’s food/ borrowing other’s items. These are all things that come up and should be discussed before the semester even begins.
I dealt with living with 7 other people in the best way that I could, and it essentially came down to having patience. We all were raised differently and had different expectations and realities of what was acceptable in the living space. The best thing that CAPA did was having us set out guidelines the first night so we were all on the same page. If someone broke the “contract” we could refer back to it and say this is what we all agreed on. Advice from me on this topic is to spend as much time specifying what is and isn’t acceptable. It will save everyone a lot of passive aggressive energy in the long-run.
Another challenge was learning to understand that you are probably in the wrong most of the time. If you think you have the right of way crossing the street and you get honked at, you were probably wrong. If you order a drink and they don’t make it correctly, that is probably the way they make it here. Walking up the stairs on the right and someone bums into you, you should probably be walking on the left.
Dealing with this, again was patience and assuming that it wasn’t my place to argue. It was all about the learning curve of being here in my opinion, and will make me better off. It is important to be flexible when studying abroad and open to new ways of doing things, so my advice is to do that.
On top of living arrangements and assuming you’re in the wrong, the entire structure of the classes was a challenge. They grade very differently in the UK, giving essentially no feedback on your work. It was hard moving forward onto another project without knowing what you should change with your approach. It also takes a very long time to get grades back. I have some classes still where I don’t have a single grade in, and there is only 2 weeks left in the semester. Finally, there are so many group projects, some even with students in other countries such as Sydney, Australia. As much as I believe there is value in working with other people now in preparation for the future it is much better in theory than in practice. I was left once on this trip with over 50% of the project left to do 4 hours before the due date and 4 other group members thinking they had already contributed their “fair share”. I appreciate the idea of group projects, but in reality I get a degree at college for myself not for anyone else, and yet I do the majority of the work on group projects earning others a better grade. There is no other way to deal with this than to complete the work in my opinion. I could alert the teacher about other students but these are also students who I have multiple other classes with and as much as I would love to earn the grade I deserve and them the same, social constructs are also important in the real world.
My advice to other students is to just be prepared for the group work. Create a clear plan in the beginning for what everyone should be expected to complete and contribute, and hopefully the project will be executed fairly and equally. In college it is inevitable that some students will free-ride off of other students work ethic, but I’m thinking in the real world this will result in demerits and a good firing.
Finally, time management was a big challenge to be faced here. As easy as it is to think, hey I am in another country and within reach of so many amazing experiences”, we are here to learn in a classroom setting and work towards our degrees. My family came to visit for a week, and we wanted to travel to every neighboring country in Europe, but at the end of the day, we all had papers to write and exams to study for, and those came first.
My advice for other students is to remind yourself of this. It would be awful to ruin such an amazing experience with the possibility of losing an entire semester of credits and academic opportunities.
All of these challenges were difficult to face, some more than others, but I believe I learned a lot from them. I learned flexibility and patience, not just with other people’s living habits, but also myself and the learning curve in assimilating with another culture. I also learned a lot of things are better done earlier rather than later, like addressing acceptable habits in a living environment and setting up guidelines for a group project. All in all a very positive experience here in London, and looking forward to having a nice final two weeks!