Indiana University Overseas Study

Archive for the ‘Classes’ Category

Academic Life, Social Life, and Beyond

Philip Jiao - Canterbury, England

Before I came to University of Kent, I heard two versions of explanations about the British academic system. Kent students at IU told me that college life is much more relaxing in Britain, especially for students in the subjects of Humanities—there’s no homework on a daily basis, but just one or two papers at the end of terms. There’s more time to do non-school work and to socialize. However, my academic advisor told me that students studying abroad in Britain usually get lower grades. He suggested that I should spend more time on school work and study harder if I want to maintain a good GPA. After spending two months at U of Kent and getting more used to the academic environment, I realized that both my friends and my advisor were quite correct. The British university system is not simply easier or harder than universities in the U.S. They have different teaching and learning concepts.

As Humanities students in Britain, we are expected to study on our own and the American concept of “homework” is not an element of university-level education. Still, there is coursework, assignments, and essays in our modules (courses). The amount depends on the professor’s preference, but they are not assigned as frequently as in American universities. For instance, as a History and Political Science student, I have five three-thousand-word essays for my three modules and three exams in the summer term. There’s nothing to turn in on a daily or weekly basis. There are reading lists and suggested materials; some of them are required/core readings, and some are suggested readings. The stage of modules decides the amount of reading and the amount of work. I get a reading list of forty pages on my stage-six module, but far less on my stage-four module.

There’s not only less homework, but also fewer lectures. Instead of having two lectures per course like in IU, I have one lecture and one seminar per module at U of Kent, and that make me only have class on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. The lectures at the University are always recorded and students can re-watch the lecture online. Lecture attendance is not required, but seminar attendance is counted as a part of participation grade. There are pros and cons of the British education system, just like any other. The vast amount of free time gives students the opportunity to participate in social events and to do non-academic activities. The light amount of homework and oversight helps students to build self-responsibility and make them feel trusted. However, the lack of pressure can also cause time mismanagement, and many students might end up doing nothing. The balance between freedom and learning efficiency is truly a dilemma in British universities: should university students—who are eighteen-years old (or above) and able to purchase alcohol and tobacco, to vote and to marry—have the freedom to be in charge of their time in university? I don’t really know the answer…

I tried and I am still trying my very best to not waste the free time I get in Britain. I try to use the free time to travel and see as much as I can because I know my time at here is reaching its end soon. I made many friends through the Catholic Society (Cathsoc) at the University. We traveled to Paris and Oxford in the past months and had great times together. I had the most wonderful and memorable experiences in Paris—where we lived in the guesthouse of the Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre provided by the Benedictine Sisters and shared their lifestyle and devotion.

philip and friends

My Cathsoc friends Joe, John, Jamie, and I in Paris

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Manchester to see a friend and the city. It was also a game day for Manchester United and the train line between London and Manchester was full of loud soccer fans with red shirts and beer bottles.

Philip and painting

Work by Ford M. Brown is a painting that very much sums up the central spirit of the Victorian values—the pursuit of wealth through hard works.

Paying visits to the numerous playhouses in London is something that I always wanted to do. But I didn’t have the chance and time to watch a play until last weekend. The Book of Mormon is a hilarious yet meaningful play with great music. It is one of the musicals that you would like to watch for a second time.

stage before show

The background of the stage. Play is about to begin in ten minutes!

The next month is packed with essays from all of my modules, and I will have less time to travel in a long distance. I hope that I will continue to study hard and do my best on essays.

Philip Jiao

We’re Halfway There!

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

I have officially been in Europe for 3 weeks. I’ve finished an entire course, took a few weekend trips around the country, and even stayed in Stockholm, Sweden for a few days. I’ve eaten great food, terrible food, and had some interesting experiences while watching Danes drink in the streets at Distortion, one of the largest music festivals in Europe that spills socialization into the streets during the longest summer days. I’ll be honest in saying this post is as much for me as it is for my readers: whether you’ve enjoyed reading about my experiences or not, it has been an excellent way for me to keep my thoughts straight through my adventures. So, This is going to be a small weekly review, from arrival to the start of my second session. (more…)

Sachsenhausen: Past and Present

Sarah Monnier - Berlin, Germany

I am three weeks into my course looking at what is remembered and what is forgotten in Berlin’s history. In our short time here we have gone on numerous excursions as a class to visit sites that reflect this theme.

In our second week we had our longest and most intimidating journey, a visit to a concentration camp. This past semester I took a class on the history of the Holocaust as part of my history degree, so I knew the logistics of what happened. I knew that Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp just outside of Berlin. I knew it held prisoners for a variety of qualities categorized as criminal offenses by the Third Reich, from political beliefs and sexual orientation to being Jewish, Sinti, or Roma. I just didn’t know what to expect when seeing the camp in person.

Guard tower

The main guard tower for Sachsenhausen is at the center of a spoke-like arrangement of barracks. Built in 1936, the camp was meant to serve as the ideal model for later camps to follow.

To get to the camp we took an hour-long ride on the S-Bahn followed by a 10-minute bus ride through a picturesque town. Upon arrival we were met with a large map of the camp emphasizing the enormity of Sachsenhausen.

The camp was meant to be the ideal model for all camps that would follow. Our guide explained the semi-circular set up of the camp. One main guard tower above the entrance was able to control the entire camp with one machine gun because the barracks fanned out like bicycle spokes from its base. A curved track paved with uneven stones separated the barracks from the tower. Prisoners were forced to carry weights while testing shoes for the German army, trekking back and forth across the track until collapsing from exhaustion.

guard tower and fenceline

The outer perimeter of the camp is bordered by a combination of barbed wire, electric fences and a cement wall. The “neutral zone” served as a death strip, for anyone who crossed its threshold or was forced to cross into it was shot immediately.

Throughout the visit we were faced with the cruelty and suffering that was commonplace at the camp, from torture devices, gallows, and crowded bunks, to the crematorium. Some of us felt numb and uneasy, whispering to each other as we navigated the camp on our own.

In contrast to the raw leftovers of history we witnessed, were the intrusions of the current day. There were hundreds of other visitors to the camp that day, many with handheld, brick-like walkie-talkies that explained the history of the camp in whatever language was needed. There were some who snapped selfies in front of the gates near the sign that read “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – work sets you free. The experience left me feeling disconnected from what that site was.

labor camp entrance

The entrance to many labor camps of the Third Reich bore the same slogan “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” – works sets you free. The saying was increasingly insidious, as most prisoners would be “freed” only through death after exhaustion from forced labor.

Our visit to Sachsenhausen served as another example of how Germany handles its darkest period in history. During the war, the scenic town was still where it is today, right next to the camp. German civilians could not have ignored the enormous structure located down the street from their own homes. They would have witnessed the new prisoners arriving at the local train station and seen the smoke stacks as no one made a return trip. Similarly, the camp remains as prominent as it was as a reminder and warning to all of us today. If we allow ourselves to forget, then we are enabling the conditions of fear and hate that emboldened the Third Reich to take hold once more.

Sarah Monnier - exploring the history and memory of Berlin

Bloomington Meets Berlin

Sarah Monnier - Berlin, Germany

When I was preparing to study abroad there were a lot of warnings about culture shock and homesickness; and of course when my mom was driving away, leaving me at the airport, I was shaken up. That nervous feeling did not leave me until I met the other Indiana University students in Berlin. Since then I have been too busy exploring to be bothered by weird instances of cultural confusion, like the Kontrolleurs on the trains. The Kontrolleurs spend their days in plainclothes slipping onto trains and flashing their badges before requiring everyone to show their validated ticket. Being caught without the correct ticket will get you kicked off and earn you a pricey fine.

While I’m on the subject of public transportation, I think Bloomington could take some pointers from Berlin; they have it down to a beautiful, eco-friendly network of trams, trains and buses. To get to class I can take a tram from the hotel we are staying in on a five-minute ride to the Oranienburger Straße stop which is at most a two-minute walk from our classroom at IES. The trams are particularly nice because they have their own lane to operate in and only stop when requested, making for quicker commutes. To get virtually anywhere in the city, we can also take the U-Bahn, the underground train or the S-Bahn, the above-ground train. I prefer the S-Bahn because you can see the city as you travel. A tip to those riding public transportation, Germans are not fond of noisy, over-talkative groups so save your breath and keep it down. Also, don’t be alarmed if you feel like people are staring at you — I’ve gathered that they are just an observant bunch and don’t mean anything by it.

Sarah and friend eating döners.

My treasure hunt partner, Greer Brown and I enjoyed the task of finding the best döner in Berlin. Döner is becoming one of the most popular foods in the city, behind currywurst.

On our first day of class our professor paired us off and assigned us each a treasure hunt to find different sites or things around the city. Mine took me from the first place the Berlin Wall opened to the best döner kebab stand to a fancy mall overlooking the zoo. I felt like I was back at Freshman Orientation learning my way around campus and finding places to hang out or study. An early favorite of mine is the Teirgarten; a huge park perfect for jogging, sunbathing, reading, or just watching the other visitors, usually with their impressively obedient dogs in tow. When you are close to the outside perimeter of the park and can see the Brandenburg Gate, it feels just like any small, green space in any city; but when you are deep within it wildflowers, weeping willow trees and countless statues surround you. If you’re lucky and find yourself near the statues for Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn, you’ll hear chimes — solidifying the feeling that you are in some kind of fairytale.

Sarah posing with Ampelmann

While on our way to the Reichstag, we discovered a giant statue of the Ampelmännchen, the crossing guard symbol of East Germany. Affectionately called Ampelmann, it is one of the few symbols left over from the communist German Democratic Republic.

After finishing our scavenger hunt we reunited with our class to tour the Reichstag, the home of Germany’s parliament. Touring the Reichstag gave an interesting insight into the theme of our class. The exterior of the building has historic grandeur while the inside is pristinely modern. There are few reminders of the mysterious fire that destroyed part of the building in 1933 after Hitler came to power.

Our tour guide led us through the enormous glass doors and began to explain the dusty, charcoal graffiti found on the walls. At the end of World War II after taking Berlin, Soviet soldiers descended on the Reichstag and left their mark on the walls. She explained that it was decided that it would be preserved to serve as a constant reminder of Germany’s history.

German graffiti on wall

This may not look like much but there are numerous walls in the Reichstag covered in it. The graffiti was filtered by the Russian and German governments when the decision was made to preserve it, first removing any pieces that were explicitly violent to the people of Germany.

We continued on our tour to an interior balcony overlooking a wall-sized window facing the east. Our guide pointed out the bullet holes left in the ceiling from the Battle of Berlin and then focused on the slightly darker line on the pavement outside. She explained the Berlin Wall used to run directly behind the Reichstag separating it from what used to be East Germany. She laughed as businessmen walked along the line, unaware that a group of tourists were observing, perhaps oblivious to what they were walking on. After one week here, these are the kind of ironic contrasts we are starting to get used to.

Sarah Monnier - exploring the history and memory of Berlin

Welcome to Florence!

Dominique Saviano - Florence, Italy

Being abroad for only a few weeks has already been a life changing experience. I have now been in Florence, Italy for exactly two weeks and have already accomplished more than I could have even imagined. This trip has been a whirlwind of chaos, excitement, and nerves and I could not be any happier. Leaving the day after the end of the semester was something that was very stressful, from trying to move out of my dorm and back into my family’s home, to packing up my stuff to live in a foreign country, on top of studying for finals is something that I would never have imagined accomplishing, but I did.

I left for Florence on Saturday, May 7 and arrived Sunday morning into Rome from Chicago and then proceeded to take a train from Rome to Florence. Arriving at the hotel on my own was intimidating, but once I got there, everyone was friendly and welcoming. My program is set in Florence for six weeks and there are about thirty people participating. Together, we all stay in a hotel which is on the top floor of a building that has amazing views of the center of Florence.

view of duomo

This is the beautiful view of the duomo from the rooftop of our hotel!

(more…)

Adventures AND Academics

Rachel Larsen - Copenhagen

Let’s be real: everyone who studies abroad is so excited about the place they will be visiting and the people they will meet, not necessarily focusing on the courses being taught. As obvious as it might seem that STUDY abroad has quite a bit of work associated with it, it seems like some of the students who are studying around me are baffled by the expectation to complete work at such an exciting time. Along with studying during your adventures, students have all of these amazing plans that they know will absolutely work out 100% of the time and will be perfect and be life changing…

I think it’s time to set some realistic expectations for what you might experience while studying abroad. (more…)

New Insights

paddack_holly.jpg

Warning: most of this blog is me nerding out about how neat Planet Earth is.

A few weeks ago at a market in Sydney, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with a vendor at one of the booths about the Great Barrier Reef and the implications of climate change on humanity. We talked about the threats that our ecosystems are facing, and just how big of a role these reefs and oceans play in Australia’s economy and in the world.

Thinking about that conversation afterwards, it was one that I would never think of having back in Indiana. Being born and raised in landlocked Indiana, I never spent time around the ocean. It was never a major focus in any of my classes, let alone being talked about around the dinner table or at random markets. Yet, it’s such a common thing for Australians to talk about conserving their oceans and reefs and the threats among them.

For that reason, living next to an ocean and a place with such incredible wildlife has completely expanded my horizons of thinking about water, Earth, and everything that’s inhabiting it. In Indiana, I’ve studied aspects of biology that are equally important, but different nonetheless (IU, I still love and appreciate you!).

Over Easter, I took a trip to see the Great Barrier Reef first hand after I had been hearing all of this talk about it, and it turned out to be the most remarkable experience I’ve ever been blessed to have. I had never been snorkeling, let along scuba diving, and doing so blew me out of the water (quite literally). I felt like I was put in a scene straight out of Finding Nemo—bright corals, giant clams, schools of fish around my head, and even a shark that swam beneath me. While the reef in itself left me speechless, I also saw part of the reef that looked like it hadn’t fared so well. I saw fields of white, bleached coral in the distance, completely vacant of life that had once inhabited it. In these moments, it was easy to see the implications of climate change and how devastating it truly can be. Once I had seen something so lifeless that once had so much beauty, it was impossible for me to not feel passionate about the conservation of it.

snorkeling

Once in a lifetime experience at the Great Barrier Reef.

The great thing about this experience and passion has been that I keep learning more and more about it in my classes. Something about the Great Barrier Reef gets brought up just about every other class because of how intertwined it is with all of biology. I’ve been able to study the biodiversity of molluscs in class, and the next week actually measure this diversity on the beach for ourselves. We’ve gone out on a boat to collect samples of plankton in the ocean to study them even further. Definitely different experiences than biology labs in Indiana!

Australia beach

Studying mollusc diversity on this beach

So, a piece of advice for prospective study abroad students: go somewhere that will actually be beneficial to your major in ways that your home university cannot. I know studying abroad usually appeals because it seems like you’re going on a 6 month vacation (and you’re not completely wrong), but it is also an opportunity to completely reignite your passions or discover passions that you never knew you had. I have always been passionate about wildlife and the environment (a big reason why I’m studying biology), but being here has struck a different chord in me. It’s a new aspect that I would have never gotten in Indiana, as much as I love and miss it. As students, it is so necessary to keep learning through experiences and exploring, not only from textbooks and lecture slides. While that may not mean visiting the Great Barrier Reef for everyone, it could also mean going to see a landmark or exploring a new city. We live in an incredible world!

cliffs overlooking the ocean

Exploring the coasts of Australia

Hollay Paddack - exploring the ecological diversity in Australia

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