I am writing this on a rainy Sunday evening, after working tirelessly for the last week on my exams for the University of Amsterdam and thought I should reflect on my school experience thus far. My ten-or-so days of hard studying were draining and stressful, as they usually are, yet quite different, especially for myself as a history major.
At my small liberal arts college, my semesters are usually consumed by vast amounts of writing—I probably write at least two papers per history class, not to mention various smaller assignments and group projects. These writing assignments lay upon a body of literature that also amounts to something like two or three books and an array of articles and journal publications. Thus, throughout the semester, I have ample time and opportunities to work on and turn in these various assignments. Additionally, most of my classes meet at least two times per week, and more focused time in class equates to less work on your own time. Exam weeks are of course stressful, characterized by long library sessions of reading, brainstorming, and typing. However, given the progressive nature of the semester, exams do not typically define your grade for the semester. The system at the University of Amsterdam, and at other European universities as I understand it, is quite different.
Firstly, go to class five times over the course of four days, which is probably half the amount of time I spend in class at home, if not less. With this immense amount of free time, I am expected to read at least 50% more than I am used to. My learning and success is thus much more beholden on the effort I put in outside of class—it is by far a more independent experience, reminiscent of a graduate program. Throughout this first half of the semester, I had two short writing assignments. That’s it. For one class, my bi-weekly 9 a.m. lecture on 17th Century Dutch History, I had no assignments until our three-hour long final exam. The stakes are much higher, and the stress and nervousness are corresponding. I had two exams on one day this semester, and safe to say I was exhausted for several days afterwards. In all honesty, I am very unsure of how well I did; I am anxiously awaiting to get my grades back, worrying that I may have done worse than ever before in my academic career.
However, upon reflection, I think this is ok. Living abroad, despite its glory and magic, is inherently uncomfortable. You are living in a new place, grappling with a foreign language, and adjusting to a totally new way of life. So, an uncomfortable and stressful academic experience is not something to fret over, but something to embrace. Despite being only three months into my year abroad, I can already see the valuable lessons to be learned from trying your best on something that feels out of your reach—I’m a better person for it. Plus, now that I know what to expect, I can better prepare for my final exams in December. Instead of feeling discouraged, I feel inspired. I am studying at an internationally renowned institution in a foreign country, and despite struggling, I completed my exams! I am part of a new community, and that is a wonderful thing.
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Despite being a history major and studying history at the UvA this year, I am a passionate musician. I have been playing piano for over a decade, focusing largely on jazz, but I love to play guitar, banjo, and mandolin in my free time!