Thursday, 30 June 2016

Returning Home

          I had a 3:30 pm flight the next day, it was 9 pm and I was ready to leave. Don't get me wrong, going to London to study abroad was an amazing experience that I won't ever regret. I got the chance to see and experience different classes and teaching. I had the chance to travel to some amazing places both as a fan (of Harry Potter, of Shakespeare...etc) and see some world famous sights like the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye. I got the chance to be immersed in a culture that was different and similar to my own in so many ways, where its 'take-away' not 'to-go' and where it's common to go to the pub after class. I got to travel with friends and go to a karaoke bar. I got the chance to live and laugh. It was fun, but it also made me appreciate and realize so many things in my life. I had never realized how lucky I was to have a constant source of income throughout my college life. I never realized how lucky I was to have supermarkets that sold 50 different kinds of cereal, over the counter medication, toiletries and half-a-million other things or to live in an agricultural state. I couldn't even find a replacement for Midol! (Women know why that one hurts the most!) After 6 months of only seeing my friends and family on Skype, I missed hugging my sisters and watching TV episodes with my roommate. It almost felt like London was a dream and I was ready to get back to reality.
          My flight was scheduled to leave on Saturday, and I realized the dilemma I faced on Friday. I had two suitcases, but had three suitcases worth of stuff. I had to leave my kitchen stuff (which I was going to do anyway), my bedding, some of my clothing and even a lot of toiletries. Then, as I went to do one last load of laundry, I saw that the elevator was out of order! I was on the 4th floor, Daniel was on the 7th floor and Andrew was on the 6th floor! We also each had one very large and heavy suitcase. I'm had to get Andrew to help me bring my large suitcase down, because I couldn't carry it. Then we realized that the coach/bus we usually take straight from the university to the airport couldn't pick us up that day, so we had to take our luggage through the Tube...with all of its stairs. Luckily, we only had to change lines once and a passerby was nice enough to help me with my heavy suitcase when I had to go up stairs. It took us an hour and a half to get to the airport. Then I parted ways with the guys since they had a different flight than I did. I got through security and went over to my gate. I already had one cross-Atlantic flight under my belt, so I knew to bring minimal stuff in my carry-on and to make use of the many movies, games, and other amenities on the flight. As I was waiting at my gate, I was struck by the oddest annoyance, I couldn't find an outlet anywhere. Any airport in the US has a billion-and-a-half outlets everywhere, in the walls, the seats, even the columns sometimes. As I stood there, frustrated, with my computer dead, I thought to myself, I won't face this issue for a long time. I thought to myself, it's going to be a long time before I go to an airport that doesn't have a McDonalds or a Starbucks every five gates. I'm never going to be asked to pay for anything in pounds again and have to convert to US dollars first to keep track of how much I spent. I got on the plane and as I looked out the window, I felt like I was watching looking at a screen. I was so amped up to see my family and be home that I barely slept the entire flight, and I kept watching movies and then checking my clock to see how much time I still needed to waste.
          When I landed, I looked out the window and saw skyscrapers and lights instead of green land and grey skies. I passed through customs and retrieved my luggage and then I went outside to meet my family. Immediately I was hit by the small missile that was my youngest sister. My mom and dad hugged me, we got in the car and it felt like no time had passed. We went out to eat, and immediately I was shocked at how noisy everyone was. We sat down to eat, and I thought to myself, have prices gone down? Little things kept feeling weird, but I felt home. I was so glad to regale my family with stories of traveling, of mishaps and jokes but I was really just glad to be home. I was happy to be able to hug my sister, laugh with my dad without a computer screen between us and steal a french fry off my mom's plate. London was an amazing whirlwind of excitement and traveling and adventure, but sometimes...there's just no place like home.

Finals & Exam Week

          Exams usually give everyone a bit of anxiety. They are a test of memorization, skill, and often reflect a large portion of our grade. However, the UK school system takes this to a whole new level. While Harvey Mudd usually relies on a midterm, a final and homework assignments or papers, Queen Mary classes relied solely on exams, papers and labs. One of my tech classes had a final that counted for 70% of my overall grade, which I personally don't agree with. I don't see how one exam can reflect your learning and understanding to any significant level, especially if it relies heavily on memorization. Google is such a widely used resource that large levels of memorization aren't useful anymore, rather understanding concepts and ideas is better. Also, in general exams that reflect a large portion of our grade tend to make us all very nervous and we end up being more likely to forget something.
          That being said, Harvey Mudd does a great job of using the Honor Code to allow us to have take-home exams so that we can be in the comfort of our own room or open-book exams for classes where it's either impossible or just unrealistic to memorize the information for the class. I was entirely used to this kind of environment, so I was completely unprepared for exams at Queen Mary. 
          Both of my exams were to take place in a large exam room (obviously at different times) where multiple different exams were being administered. I was given the date of my exam in April and was assigned a seat number. The class websites made practice exams available and I spent several days studying with my fellow HMC students and other study abroad students. I arrived to the exam room and was immediately struck by all the posters that stated that if any academic material was found in the building with my name on it, I would face serious consequences regarding my exam. I was astounded, what if I was reviewing before the exam and recycled the sheet when I entered the building? It seemed very severe, but I thought that maybe they were being serious because there were so many more students than Harvey Mudd and there was no Honor Code. However, when we entered the exam room, we entered a whole other kind of environment. We were instructed to leave our bags and jackets at the front of the class and there was a moderator at the front of the room (that comfortably sat over 300 spaced chairs and desks) who was instructing via a microphone that we were now under official exam conditions and that we were not allowed to speak. At one point, the moderator spotted some people talking and started yelling, even though they had just entered the room and hadn't heard his instructions. When we were seated, we were asked to rip any labels off of our water bottles and throw them away then place the water bottle under our desk. At this point, I was starting to wonder how severe these exam conditions were going to get...Then we were asked to take everything out of our pockets and place them in the plastic baggie on our desk, seal it, and place it under our chair. We were also told to take off the cover to our calculators and place them in the baggie as well. There were also projections of clocks everywhere to add to our already high anxiety. During all this, the moderator had an attitude I can only describe as aggressive, he acted as if we had already all been caught cheating and had two strikes against us. It made for a very nerve-wracking experience that left me feeling as if I would get kicked out for leaving tissues on the desk. Assistants even walked around during the exams and checked the back of our calculators! I had never felt so mistrusted. 
          In the end, while I felt that I had done well on my exams, I can't wait to go back to the Mudd environment. The College gives us such trust and respect that I now appreciate so much more knowing the rarity of it. Though my experience most likely doesn't characterize all exam conditions abroad in the UK or even London, I hope that it does at least show the amount of freedom HMC gives us during exams.