Challenging Courses Abroad

Hejhej! Today, I had two scientific reports and a poster design for a poster presentation due in the one course I am currently taking. In honor of celebrating these large projects getting finished, I thought it was time that I dedicated a solid amount of fun writing to the class. This period, I am taking an intense course called Applied Ecotoxicology. It is a full-time 15 credit hour course (out of the total 30 ECTS I take during the semester), which is an equivalent of 12 DU credits. While I took the same level of studying last semester, taking two courses at a time that are each 50% is somehow substantially less work that one 100% class. I think that professors know that they own you during the 100% run courses, so they can take up all of your time knowing you don’t have other coursework that will clash. It may have also felt substantially more time consuming because, as I found out during the second week of the course, the class is designed for masters students. The biology department coordinator had actually recommended that I take this course instead of another course I had signed up for next period (which I am still going to do because I couldn’t find anything else to get into) based on the previous classes I’d taken, and the website made it seem like both bachelors and masters students were welcome to join the class. While this was true, I am the only student out of the 15 in the class who is not currently pursuing my masters. Majority of the students are actually in the environmental engineering program despite the course being offered in the biology department. One of the girls who I have gotten closest to in the class, Eir, is the only student at LU pursuing a masters in Ecotoxicology, and this is one of the required classes in her course sequence. 

I am actually really grateful to this class, even though I complain about the amount of work and higher level of expectations and pressure then I experienced last semester. Not only is the class geared towards a higher knowledge base, which pushes me academically, it is also set up to help the students gain skills for both their masters thesis and future careers within the environmental field. This has included various seminars discussing beneficial academic skills (such as how to design posters for conferences and how to create a great elevator pitch for scientific research), two group projects focused on teaching students both how to think as a real researcher and how to write in a thesis, and multiple study visits around Skåne to companies and groups where ecotoxicology is used in everyday work. I may have felt very inadequate and embarrassed by my lower knowledge/academic level during certain moments in the course, but I know that it has expanded my abilities as a student and prepared me for pursuing my masters degree back home. 

This course was also great beyond the academics. I spent most of the day every day of the week with the 14 other students in the class. I finally broke through the ‘exchange student’ barrier I found while taking other courses because in this class, I am not just an exchange student. I am just as real and as permanent as the rest of the students. And even though the course is taught in English, all but four students in the class are Swedish. Even though the Swedes are still very hard to get to know, I had lunch most days with some of them and even made a genuine friend. I know that sounds silly to read, but it is a big accomplishment to make a friend with a Swede in my class. Almost every other Swede I have befriended has some sort of international connection (whether that is being half-Swedish, first generation, or having spent a substantial amount of time abroad), making them more open to befriending international students. Making a friend in this class was a totally different ballgame.

The class isn’t quite finished, but we are now entering the wrap-up phase. Both of our group projects were due today. One of the projects was conducting an Environmental Risk Assessment for the pharmaceutical fluoxetine entering the effluent of Källby waste water treatment plant (located just south of Lund). My other group project was also dealing with fluoxetine and specifically its impact on Crustaceans. This was just a literature search, but was still very difficult. My partner and I chose to examine the research looking into behavioral endpoints for fluoxetine ecotoxilogical studies, as these endpoints tend to better reflect environmentally relevant concentrations of pharmaceuticals than ones using traditional endpoints (such as mortality or growth). We submitted the report today as well, then have a seminar about presentation techniques tomorrow before spending Monday and Tuesday preparing a 30 minute presentation for our findings. 

I feel as though this course has allowed me to grow a lot as a student in a very different environment than I am used to. It was also a low-stress environment due to both the Swedish belief in work-life balance (I only had to study two weekends this whole period and we had coffee breaks every hour of class) and because I don’t technically need the course to transfer back to DU. I was nervous going into the course, but coming out of it, I have no regrets. It has enabled me to get a real student experience in Sweden and feel like I am still gaining academic skills while I am abroad. On top of this, it has allowed me meet new people and create an actual schedule during my time here. Taking a real student course is definitely going to be one of my top recommendations for students studying abroad. Okej, I am done writing today and am going to go enjoy being done with these stressful projects. Hejdå!


Taking Care of Business

Finals are upon us at the University of Glasgow. Even though the University of Glasgow is on a semester school system we only have classes for nine to ten weeks like the University of Denver’s quarter system. However, the semester extends into December due to two weeks of “reading/study weeks” before finals. The actual classes could end in week 9, 10, or 11 depending on the subject and professor. Some of my classes left the last week or two open in case they were absent for a week and had to cancel a class. The last week would then be a makeup class for the missed material. However, if no classes are missed, the seminars (in-person classes) would end early. I believe I mentioned in my first couple posts that grades are decided with only a couple assignments. There are no weekly quizzes or participation/attendance grades. It is purely your performance on a few major assignments. It’s nerve-racking for many and coming from a school system where my grades in the past have relied heavily on the small assignments and participation grades, it was difficult to adjust. Halfway through the semester when we were submitting our midterm papers, I thought about how at that point in the quarter at DU I would have already had a couple major projects, papers, or tests. Probably a quiz or two on weekly readings, as well as participation grades throughout. Thus, finals week is stressful. Not stressful because we know the pressure, it is stressful because we know we should be more stressed than we are.  I am used to wanting good grades on my finals but also knowing that the smaller assignments will boost and cushion my grade if I end up not doing well on final assignments. I know that my finals are worth 40, 50, and 100 percent of my grade out here but I find that I am having to remind myself of that every time I want to take a break from studying or I put off writing my papers. In my classes, other students expressed their stress, frustration, and worry about finals and midterms. They seemed flustered and asked each other so many questions. It seemed like everything that came out of their mouth started with a “What if…” and ended with a “I’m just worried.” I remember sitting silently observing their stress, asking myself if I should feel more nervous or worried. I remember sitting, trying desperately to think of a question about the assignment or something I didn’t understand about the instructions, but I always drew a blank because the assignment seemed fairly simple to me. I was worried that because I was a foreigner I was going to be blindsided and the assignments would be extremely difficult and painful to finish. But, everything is going smoothly. I am sure that if I had gone to school in the UK for a long time I would put more worry into the daunting finals, but I have been socialized to not put too much weight into finals because they only make up about 20 percent of your grade and it is still possible to get a good grade in the class overall without perfecting the final. I should be stressed, but I’m not. 

Blog Post Nine
University of Glasgow

Finals in Glasgow are not too difficult in the first place. In High School and college finals consisted of presentations, timed/closed-note exams, extensive research papers, and still the typical small assignment course load like quizzes and participation. In Glasgow, finals weeks consists of no in-person classes. All of my public policy and law finals are online and you have a week to work on them. Let me explain:

• Making Public Policy: This class was once a week for two hours. I wrote a 2500 word policy brief for the midterm which we were given information on in the first class. The final is five questions but you only have to answer two of them. The questions are released a week before the final is due and each question must be answered in 750 words or less. Just two short essays decide 50% of your grade.

• Education for Citizenship (Public Policy): This class had three assignments: a midterm paper of 2500 words, a reflective learning log that bullet pointed how the student prepped for the class and participated with a 500 brief reflection of how their learning will help them in the future, as well as a 750 word final paper. For the papers, the professor would send out a list of four topic questions and the student would pick one for their essays. Each paper was worth 40% of the final grade and the learning log made up 20% of the final grade.

• Law of Contract: The law class was different from all the other classes. It had a midterm that was not worth a grade. It was basically a trial run of the final. The final will consist of a problem question with multiple parts and it is worth 100% of my grade. It is timed and I will have two hours to complete it which is very reasonable. 

The assignments are broad and students have a lot of flexibility in how they structure their answers, but we are still given rubrics and the graders tend to be less harsh from what I have seen so far. I have heard rumors about exams having a different format before Co-vid but no one really knows because everyone in my classes are the same year as me and have never attended college not in the era of Co-vid. This is an interesting concept in itself for 3rd year students but also for international 3rd year students because it makes you think how my experience differs from study abroad students in 2019 and before. My finals conclude on December 16th and then after a brief trip to London I will return home on the 22nd of December. My time in Glasgow is coming to a close, but I am just focusing on finals at the moment and learning to live in the now.