I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you do in fact have to attend classes, study, and take exams. Tragically, it’s not all fun and games, and though a lot of exchange students are pass/fail we UofG students are not among this blessed group. On the one hand, you’ll want to throttle your friends when they go on about how they don’t care, and none of this matters because pass/fail, but on the other hand if you get good grades, they all transfer back yaaayyy.
First, a quick word on workload and the American education system. Americans are big on participation, so most of your classes will probably feel more like tutorials than lectures. You get graded on this participation, though it will occasionally take the form of reading quizzes and questions in the larger classes. The workload feels a lot heavier because there is more continuous assessment, i.e. constant reading, essays, presentations, etc. Plus, as UofG students we have to take 5 courses while the usual course load is 4. It was a pretty big adjustment for me at first because at UofG I’m used to slacking off for most of the semester, then buckling down to write my essays, then slacking off again, then buckling down to study for exams. Pretty much alternating periods of laziness and heightened stress. The work’s a lot more spread out, and consistent in the U.S. This takes some getting used to but the benefit is that more assignments means they’re less heavily weighted which takes a lot of the pressure off. If you screw up one essay it won’t have that big an impact on your final grade and you can always make it up later.
At first I was skeptical of this more interactive education system (I guess I’m a cynic). I felt like I was back in school being coddled, but ultimately I found it to be a great experience. At Glasgow a lot of the learning is independent, which is an equally valid system, but it’s easy to become disengaged and apathetic. I just felt a lot more engaged and interested in what I was learning at UNC. It sounds trite but my passion and curiosity were kind of reawakened. I think the environment also has an impact: students there are really driven (understandable considering how much pressure and competition for opportunities there is), and really care about doing well (not say that UK students don’t but there’s definitely a different culture surrounding university in the US). That kind of attitude rubs off. Plus you interact with your fellow students more, and are more involved with your professors. When your professor knows you by name, and cares about how you’re doing in their class you end up feeling more invested in that class. The comparative literature department in particular, was really fantastic. It’s the oldest in the country so I suppose it helps that they’ve had a long time to get established. The professors were really dedicated and there was a huge variety of courses to choose from.
If you’re concerned about exams, don’t be! The whole more distributed weighting thing I was talking about applies to them too. Plus you’ll usually have midterms and finals, meaning an individual exam will likely be worth max 20%. All of this is very dependent on your professor. They can pretty much just yolo it when it comes to assignments and exams, which is how I ended up with 5 take-home finals first semester. Yeah, those are a thing. You’ll find that exams at UNC lack the officialness of UofG exams. They’re usually just in your regular classroom, with your professor as moderator. Not much moderating actually goes on and your professor might just leave the room like “I’m just gonna pop out for a bit, you guys all good?”. This is probably sounding too good to be true, well it is. There is a downside: you have to buy your own exam booklets. I know… can you believe the audacity, as if college isn’t enough of a rip-off in America. To be fair they only cost 60 cents or so but it’s the principle of the thing. Capitalist pigs… Anyway, they’re called blue books and you can buy them in the student stores. You’ll need them for most exams unless your professor tells you otherwise so don’t be the amateur who shows up to an exam without a blue book.
Libraries: there are 3 main ones at UNC. Which one you study at says a lot about you, are you a Davis person or a UL person? Or, one of those controversial Wilson folks…Davis is the main library with about 10 or 12 floors, I can’t recall exactly, but it’s my personal favourite. It stays open until 2am and has the vast majority of the books. Then you’ve got the Undergraduate Library which is squatter and uglier (in my opinion) but stays open 24/7, so if you’re pulling an all-nighter it’s the place to be. Wilson is probably the prettiest of the libraries, with the classic marble pillars and massive doors. It’s mostly just historical collections in there, and I haven’t studied in there so that’s about all I can tell you. Maybe it’s that a lot of people on campus have roommates, but American students will legit camp out at the library. Like, they’ll show up in their pyjamas, take a nap, and then marathon Grey’s Anatomy for 5 hours. In Glasgow, when I stayed in the library until closing there were max 2 people on my floor but at UNC you can be in the UL at 4am and there will be 30 people studying around you, and another 5 napping. It’s hardcore.
Although the academic side of studying abroad is often a bit of an afterthought I actually really enjoyed my classes, and hopefully you will too. Like it or not, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in the library. Not to try and influence your allegiances or anything, but look how happy I am outside Davis library: