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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Column: Davis and the ‘Burgh

I am very proud to call the University of Edinburgh my home university. It is one of the oldest and best schools in the UK, a reputable research and teaching institution with nearly 30,000 students — a third of whom are international! The fact that the university is located in one of the most spectacular cities in Europe doesn’t hurt, either.

Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, is all about contrasts: You’re both disgusted and enthralled by its dark, bloody past which fostered inspirations for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Trainspotting, among others. Today’s Edinburgh, however, is a charming modern city, and it literally is the birthplace of Harry Potter! The coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote the first two books is very popular with students, while Hogwarts-like Old Town buildings are inspiring millions of visitors each year.

The city’s rich cultural life, mild climate, multicultural population and excellent study opportunities attract tons of students each year. But honestly I had no idea what I’m getting myself into when I started back in September ‘09. When I came to Davis it was all new and exciting if a bit frustrating but I knew that I would be just fine. Eighteen-year-old me wasn’t that confident. The change was so overwhelming that during my first semester I lost 10 lbs.!

The teaching style at Edinburgh is rather different from UCD. First of all, our works are anonymous, no names, only barcodes. The grader can’t tell whose work it is and often the student doesn’t know the identity of the grader, either. At school I was always a teacher’s pet, sometimes inevitably getting higher grades than deserved, so being judged entirely on the quality of my work without any preconceptions was a relatively new but extremely valuable learning experience.

This anonymity has its advantages — you’re confident that the grading is all fair (usually…). However, the American “get to know your professor” system seems more attractive as it provides some tools to influence the final grades! More importantly, though, by trying to be noticed you learn how to present yourself and be flexible; you’re encouraged to participate and to communicate your thoughts and ideas. I’m constantly impressed by the confidence and forwardness of my classmates and I definitely learn many things from them, too.

The Edinburgh system, on the other hand, teaches independence. No one’s holding your hand, making sure you’re doing well. Self-studying is expected. (I think the tons of assignments that we get here act as some kind of control — “keep them always busy and not causing trouble.”) At Edinburgh there are no office hours; if you need help, make an appointment. For my subject at least, internships are not required; again, it is your responsibility to get additional experience (if you want to, of course).

After two quarters at UCD, I feel that it is much harder to get an A at Edinburgh than here. Stricter grading comes from anonymity as well as the greater weight placed on any one assignment — more is simply expected from you. The final exam can be worth as much as 80 percent of your grade (we have no midterms), while the rest usually comes from one or two essays or reports, often nearly a third of the grade!

Davis is a completely different story. The workload here, oh boy … I’m pretty sure if I count the words I’ve written during two terms at UCD, my two years at Edi wouldn’t come anywhere close. When you’re producing one written assignment after another, though, quality suffers. But I’m always trying to do my best and more, and then I’m surprised to get comments such as, “You overachieved on this one …”

All the previous exchange students returning from UCs told me that the one thing they definitely learned here is work ethic. Last term I would find myself with four assignments and a midterm in one week, which is not for a faint-hearted Edinburgh-me, but now it’s somewhat normal and doable.

Obviously, neither of the universities is perfect but for me both come pretty close. Pros and cons add to each unique college experience, and the fact that I got to experience two such different systems makes it so much more worthwhile and rewarding.

If you’re thinking about going to Edinburgh for a semester abroad or would like to discuss other differences between American and European universities, you can contact KRISTINA SIMONAITYTE at ksimonaityte@ucdavis.edu.