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Exchange to the University of Birmingham – by Johnny Kong

Semester 1, 2014 I went to the University of Birmingham for a 6-month exchange program. The reason why I chose Birmingham was because it is the second largest city in England and the University has a very good ranking and reputation. Further, I chose Britain was because I grew up in colonial Hong Kong and I always wanted to study in Britain as I studied and was influenced so much from it.

At first during my exchange, it was very difficult. The University of Birmingham did not really do much helping you to mix with the local students. The introductory lecture for all the exchange students were rather useless and disorganised. However, I managed to know some people in the lecture and they become my friends for a lifetime.

In Birmingham, they learn and teach differently. For me, I took law and finance modules (subjects) over there. For finance, they have a 2 hour lecture per week per module. They don’t usually use PowerPoint even if they do the PowerPoint is quite brief and simple. The Professors usually stand in front of the blackboard and talk for 2 hours. It can get extremely confusing and hard to follow. They tend to be more theory base and more traditional which mean no cheat sheet in the exams, no good study notes for you. They follow strictly on self-motivating self-learning in Birmingham. You have access to a lot of materials and documents if you want to know more. Unlike in Adelaide, many of their modules do not have tutorial/seminar class or they have two one-hour tutorials/seminars for the semester. You are therefore expected to figure out how to apply the theories you learn in the lectures by yourself. Trust me, it can get extremely difficult. For law, you can just chill. In the exam, they focus on one or two lectures worth of material and some modules you can choose 3 out of 5. PLUS, as an exchange student, you do one less question in the exam than your fellow British students.

In Britain, there are a lot of different University holiday and they do have a very long mid-semester break. The structure of a semester is like this; 12 full-on non-stop academic weeks, 4 weeks mid-semester break, around 4 weeks of Summer/Winter term (which has no class and nothing new to teach, literally it is a holiday), 4 weeks exam period, then summer/winter break.

For me, Birmingham is quite boring since I don’t really club and go to party. If you are a party animal, this can be the right place for you as there is party everyday. The city’s architectures are not that appealing but since Birmingham is located in central England, it is very convenient to travel to some other cities in England. They have direct train to many English cities and major Scottish and Welsh cities. I went to so many cities in Britain for 6 months and I loved it.

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