Amid the Kodak moments and memories you’ll tell your kids about, there is a part to exchange that in a sense is at the very heart of it: studying abroad. Publicly this part is less talked about, because why mention what you’re studying over what European getaways you’ve got booked for Swotvac? For me, they’re Copenhagen, Lund, and the Canary Islands. It is also, however, a three part essay series about the responsibility of governments, banks and international capital flows for the Global Financial Crisis; 4000 words on corporate social responsibility and the human impact of global supply chains in the apparel sector; critiques about the role of caste in contemporary India; position defences regarding the Greek Debt Crisis; and explorations of the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on global affairs. I know, it sounds like a lot to me too.
It is important to remember that your time abroad is a learning opportunity, and that the benefits you’ll reap from it are a reflection upon your willingness to engage with it. That’s not to say that you should chain yourself to your desk, and accept nothing less than a first, which is a D or HD equivalent in Edinburgh. Instead, use your time abroad to expand your definition of learning, and try to fall back in love with it.
I booked my one-way ticket to Europe at a time when I was somewhat disillusioned with my degree; I was two and a half years into a five year degree, and everyday seemed to become more taxing on my desire to learn. I attended classes, maintained my GPA, but was doing it on autopilot. I was studying to achieve outcomes, not necessarily knowledge. Achieving a good grade on a paper wasn’t a cause for celebration of my understanding of a particular topic, but simply another means of finding myself in a job I didn’t even know I wanted.
Studying in Edinburgh has been my much needed parallax shift. I knew I had consigned myself to an intensive study program when I thought, “go big or go home” and applied for one of Adelaide’s most competitive exchange partners. I realized just how significant that commitment was when it was announced that the University of Edinburgh ranked in the Top 20 institutions worldwide in 2016. I finally began to understand what that meant when I entered my classes, where lecture sizes are capped at 20 people, tutorials at 10, and there’s over 100 pages of reading required for each class.
Initially this was a daunting experience, as there was no way I could hide in the back of the room, and I would have to do all of the work that was asked of me. As weeks went on though, this became much easier, aided by my newfound attitude. Rather than working to achieve outstanding grades, I decided to work to fall in love with learning again.
Rather than scoping out the literature for a predictable, yet highly scoring arguments, I’d read it critically. I’d chat to my friends over coffee about the ideas presented, and ‘dialogue’ about holes in their theses. Arguing against a celebrated scholar who has been published by dozens of reputable journals isn’t an easy thing, but it is definitely rewarding. This is especially true at Edinburgh, as I’m currently taking Honours level electives alongside dissertation students. Predictable arguments are no longer sufficient, and I have to learn to be dynamic in my conception and reception of ideas. Edinburgh University treat their students exceptionally well, by entrusting us to develop our own research interests, granting extensions if we merely ask for them, and bringing us guest lecturers from Oxford, UC Berkeley and Cambridge. In return, we are expected to be engaged, and complete our work with originality.
Your grades on exchange may differ from what they are at home, but your ability to enhance your understanding of learning is far more important. While abroad my inspiration for essays no longer comes from textbooks and articles, but from things I’ve experienced too. I recall conversations with my flat mates about the lingering impacts of Spanish Imperialism, and oil exploitation in the Niger Delta; I draw upon articles written by my peers in our weekly student newspaper. I constantly reevaluate my thoughts and feelings on particular issues, often with a good playlist and a good view. No longer is my university experience just about churning out mechanical papers and achieving high grades, but about drawing upon global experiences and perspectives to better myself as an academic and person.
Besides the countless moments while travelling where I found myself thinking “this is what they make movies about”, this is the most profound impact exchange will have upon me. I love knew knowledge, I love being brave in my writings and willing to challenge popular opinions, and I love genuinely celebrating my peers’ successes. When I return to Adelaide I’ll no longer be engrossed by a toxic environment brought about by constant competition between my peers and myself. I’ll be engrossed with sharing the experiences I’ve had, and working with positive students to learn from the experiences they’ve had.
It’s quite ironic that at a time where I said I’d let myself fall apart and embrace the non-graded pass system that I seemed to fall together. It appears there’s a lot to be said for thinking globally and acting locally. To all those considering a study abroad experience, I cannot recommend it enough. The choice is yours to decide what you’ll do with your time abroad, but you’ll probably find that it brings you back in touch with the things you enjoy studying the most.