It’s late November and in about a month it will be time to pack the limited contents of my little room into a suitcase and leave UIUC, probably forever.
During my semester abroad I’ve (happily) fulfilled all the cliches. I’ve had the chance to meet some incredible people, both Americans and other internationals. I’ve forged some friendships whose lifespans won’t end at the completion of the semester. We’ve laughed together, we’ve cried together, hopefully more times than the tears were a side effect of the laughter.
UIUC has high academic standings, standings that are matched by its social life. In 2015, UIUC was ranked the #1 party college in the US. This created a wonderful dynamic – a balance of challenging, rewarding work with the opportunity to go to a number of parties, gigs and events throughout the week. There are also big campus events like spirit day, homecoming and the weekly sports matches with game entertainment that is unrivalled by Australian sports.
Despite that, the study workload was considerably more than Adelaide and things like attendance and class participation are more heavily weighted. As an undergraduate though it seemed that expectation of quality of the work was slightly lower – or the grading system worked differently. I took four courses, two in each political science and creative writing.
I was impressed with how well both schools were taught, and at the same time how differently these subjects are taught at Adelaide. In creative writing classes we were expected to turn in much quantity of work, then the format of the class would follow a workshop style where everyone’s work would eventually be read by the class and discussed. I actually far preferred this peer to peer critically constructive style over the more teacher>student style at Adelaide. Also, professors set aside considerable class time providing practical knowledge on how to get published, how to get jobs in the field and talking about their experiences and the climate of the industry. In my editing subject, my professor formatted the class to imitate that of a professional editorial meeting. The result of our editorial meetings was the production of an online literary journal: Ninth Letter. Being an integral part of the production process of a highly regarded literary journal was a invaluable learning experience.
In political science lectures (regardless of their size) we were expected to participate by answering questions. In political science, small homework assignments were given frequently. Although they were not heavily weighted, often they would require a high quantity of work. At points I found UIUC’s political science syllabus to have slightly lower expectations for quality of assignments – and professors were more specific with exactly what they wanted. The professors also set time aside to detail their studies and I found it particularly interesting when one of my professors detailed her political field work she completed in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Krygzstan. Class sizes were generally much smaller than at Adelaide and it was expected to have a name basis, friendly relationship with your professors.
UIUC, like many American colleges, has an overwhelming amount of student organisations. I dipped my toes in a few that interested me, met some great friends and learnt a lot too.
The facilities at UIUC were impressive. Three swimming pools, slippery dips, tennis courts, two gyms, a rock climbing wall, a sauna and of course fantastic libraries and classrooms.
Another highlight of my stay was the opportunity to travel. I arrived in North America over a month before my program started and will spend almost another two months travelling after my program ends. That said, it is very possible to travel on weekends and thanksgiving break. I’ve spent many weekends in Chicago and the Midwest is an interesting region to explore with Nashville, St Louis and the Amish communities only a few hours away.
Soon I will have to say goodbye to the beautiful Illinois red brick buildings, the crunchy fall leaves and the infamous Illini squirrels. But for now, I’m off to do some more exploring.