By Anna McAlpine [Visiting Student, Study Abroad Blogger]
The idea of studying abroad on Erasmus conjures up many different images and ideas in people’s minds. When you first apply, if you are anything like me, your mind can instantly be ensnared by the prospects of the new friends you will meet, the experiences you will gain in a new city and the new hobbies you will discover at your host university. This is all relevant of course but it is also worthwhile remembering that you are going to study at this university – not just take a little exciting holiday. It is important to understand the academic environment at Trinity and research it to make sure that it is suitable to your way of learning. Whilst studying abroad I believe that you have to be totally comfortable with adapting to new situations and ways of receiving teaching – flexibility will be crucial to your success.
Coming from the U.K. I did not think that the university system here at Trinity would be that different from what I was used to back home… I was proven quite drastically wrong. Yes the set up was the same – it’s still a course in English Literature – hand in a couple of essays and maybe do an exam. By looking at the module guides online it all looked like the standard affair that I was used to. What the online modules guides cannot convey is the way in which these modules, which were masquerading as bedfellows of my subjects back home, would be taught to me.
One of the factors that I guess must contribute to the great thinkers and writers that this university has produced, is the vast amount of independent learning that one has to do. This emphasis on self-teaching and independent research permeates every area of academic life (at least in the English Department that is). I have taken all Sophister modules whilst at Trinity as I am in my penultimate year of my degree – this meant that for each module I had two hours of teaching per module each week. These two hours by in large take the form of a workshop seminar – they are heavily discussion based so be prepared to speak up! Class sizes seem to average around fifteen students so you have to be prepared for class and have done the reading for that week as there really is no where to hide!
Given the fact you only have two contact hours per class each week it means that a lot of independent study is required. It also means that this independent study must be motivated by what you are most interested in reading more about. The professors that I have encountered have all been more than happy to recommend reading if you ask for it – but the key is to have the motivation to seek out advice when you need it and do a lot of leg work on your own.
For the first time in my life I have also had to make up my own essay questions, which has both positive and negative aspects. I believe the idea behind it is that you should be taking control of your own learning and whatever you have researched more fully in your own time should be allowed to shine through in your assignments. Once you get your head around this concept and knuckle down to prepare your assignments, it can actually be quite an enjoyable way to approach coursework. At Trinity you really are the master of your own learning and you will succeed or fail solely down to your willingness to take charge. You must also learn to schedule and plan ahead of time – it is important to make sure to factor in extra time when handing in forms and getting your study abroad letters signed as there are different processes for each task at Trinity.
I am currently coming to the end of my academic life at Trinity and going through arguably the most stressful part – the exam diet. As I wrangle with my texts I have been learning since I arrived it has allowed me to look back and appreciate the academic journey I have been on. I can now appreciate that whilst it was challenging at times, this system has allowed me to gain confidence in my own abilities to research and think for myself – it is probably one of the most important lessons that Trinity has taught me.