Ever Wondered What College is Like Outside the US?
Written by Javina Houri.
As an exchange student from the UK studying at Haas, I have noticed a few, striking differences between university life in the UK and US. If you’re planning on studying in the UK or US, you should definitely watch out for these differences!
The angst of participation
“People actually volunteer to speak up in class?”
“Yes, they do!!”
“No, you have got to be kidding.”
This was the sort of conversation I was faced with when I went back to the UK for the Christmas break. In the UK, the idea of participating, especially in a lecture filled with 200+ people, is unfathomable to most students. Participation is so far-fetched in England that lecturers usually don’t even ask students questions or if they do, they are simply rhetorical. Only few, over-confidant students would dare interrupt the lecturer to pose a question. Simply put, participation isn’t really a thing in England.
So, coming from a passive learning environment in the UK to the highly interactive class culture in Haas was a massive culture shock. In Haas, it’s perfectly normal for a lecture of 300-400 people to turn into an open discussion or debate. This blew my mind. In the UK, this would not be possible. Should a professor try to do this, he or she would be faced with a sea of blank-staring, unresponsive faces.
At the beginning, speaking up in class was nerve-wracking. I was horribly scared of saying something stupid. I was worried that my professors would not be able to understand my accent. Participation was also difficult for me because professors often referred to US brands that I knew nothing about. How was I supposed to know about Ace Hardware or Chipotle? Incapable of answering questions like “What is TacoBell’s business-level strategy?”, I felt out of my depth in class. However, this was short-lived as, quickly, I learned about US brands, through my classes, reading, listening to other students and, well, experiencing the brands for myself. The first time I tried Chipotle, I was pleasantly surprised.
Although participation was agonising for me at the beginning of my year abroad, now I am used to, and may even go so far as to say, I enjoy participating in class! I like interacting with my classmates, hearing their point of view and stating my opinion in return. I have found that participation makes class far more interesting.
Professors know my name??
When attending a smaller class of around 60-70 students, Haas professors ask that you take out a name card and display it before you. During class, professors will address you using your name. This, once again, is alien to me. In my two years at university in England, not one of my teachers has addressed me by my name. Lecturers and teaching assistants teach their pupils without ever knowing their names. However, I do prefer the Haas method of teachers addressing their students by name.
The horror of cold-calling
Recently, I was cold called on by a teacher, to my great distaste. Never have I been so stressed. The silence, while I wracked my brain frantically for an answer to the professor’s question, was agonising. This experience was worse than any exam I have ever taken. It was one of the worst feelings. I began to resent the teacher a little, and then a lot. This was until I spoke to my roommate about it who said, “they are just trying to give you a good grade in participation”. After that, I realised that cold calling is a form of encouragement. From then on, I began to participate voluntarily in class and found my Haas classes a lot more engaging.
Midterms and quizzes – what are those?
Before arriving at UC Berkeley, the term midterm was foreign to me. Midterms are non-existent in the UK. Most business classes are assessed either with a 100% final or a final and a group project or an individual essay. All this means is that most business students in the UK are assessed through summer exams, rather than throughout the semester like in Haas.
UK students often put off studying during the semester and cram all the material in a month before the exam (this is not my recommendation). In other words, the workload of an average student is relatively low during the year and peaks during summer exams. Contrast this with the constant and unforgiving workload at Berkeley and you find that the UK and US college systems are polar opposites. At Berkeley, there is no easy cruise through the semester. But I mean, it is Berkeley after all. That being said, I prefer Berkeley’s way of assessing students. Despite the heavy workload, I am really enjoying Haas!
Hope you enjoyed reading about the differences between the UK and the US! If you want to know anything else about this topic, feel free to reach out to me!