One thing that can be difficult to manage while on a semester of study abroad is dedicating time to study. I decided from the beginning that although I would work to learn from my courses here, they were not my priority, Instead my focus was on my capacity to learn in other ways: speaking as much French as possible, taking opportunities to participate in the local life and the local culture, and travelling where possible.
Even with the decision that I would work regularly but not arduously, I find my stress levels are elevated as we draw near to the end of semester. I’ve made study calendars, I’ve worked out how much time I need to dedicate to certain tasks, I’ve tried to limit my tendency to scrutinise the details and instead to focus on a more global approach. Even so, it can be hard adjusting to a very different education system. At my home uni, Monash, the teaching units are very clearly structured, and the requirements of the student are explicitly stated. Here, I’ve had assignments on the horizon with no timeline until the week they are given, test days changed at the last minute, in-class tests that have changed into assignments to complete at home… nothing is written in stone. I miss the marking rubrics which sometimes seemed to make life so difficult back at home: all the little details that had to be attended to sometimes drove me mad. Here, most of the time the instructions are given verbally: “Write about 12 lines (ordinary sized writing) on each of the three general topics we talked about today, making sure you expand on what was in the powerpoint. Do some research of your own, don’t just reword what I’ve already given you. That will make up the other 50% of your mark for the unit.”
A very different system indeed. Whilst it’s hard for me to adjust, I do see the value in this “vague” approach. It leaves more room for creativity in terms of the way the subject is interpreted. However, it also increases the likelihood of not meeting the expectations of the teacher, especially for an exchange student who hasn’t learnt the various styles of French written analysis, each of which has it’s own set of rather strict rules and requirements! This vagueness also reflects some aspects of the real world: work tasks, whilst they have limitations and requirements, can be similarly undefined and open to interpretation, yet adhering to invisible workplace rules that are known and don’t need to be discussed.
I’m hoping that I will achieve the necessary 10/20 for each of the units I’ve completed here. So far my results have been promising enough, but I’m yet to sit a lot of my examens, present my exposés and hand in my dossiers. In the mean time, I’m trying to stay zen : exercising, eating well, finding some social time, and setting a timer to keep focused on each small study goal I set. I’m reminded of the French expression:
Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.
“Little by litte, the bird builds its nest”
One little step at a time and I’ll get there in the end.