I have been back in Leeds for about two weeks now. Something I noticed is that it is definitely different returning for the second semester than it is arriving for the first time in Leeds. Yesterday, I met the new arrivals who are studying abroad at the University of Leeds for the spring semester with API. They reminded me of how I felt when I first arrived in Leeds. When I arrived in Leeds in September, I was living off the rush of excitement of being abroad. To me, the streets were lined with gold and life was surreal. Now, after living in Leeds for about four months, I have a life established here. I go to lectures, I have my friend group, study, and go on an occasional trip out of the country or in the UK. I am 'settled' with my student life in Leeds – and this is my reality now.
The past two weeks have comprised of endless revising (British term for studying for exams), finalizing essays, and sitting exams. In England, the exam period for the fall semester is in January, thus, it is encouraged and 'expected' that students revise over the holidays for their exams. I now know why that is encouraged and expected of students. Lecturers do not provide study guides for exams or hint at what might be on the exam. The exam can include any material learned over the semester. Lucky for me, I only had two essay based exams but, I had three 3,000 word essays due. This is because as a student studying History of Art, you are required to critically think and form conclusions about the material covered in lecture – and the formation of these conclusions comes in the form of written essays. Revising for exams definitely made me think critically, and to make independent scholarly choices, about what paintings and material to revise. I enjoyed not having a study guide as I was in charge of my own learning and made my own educated decisions.
Furthermore, the exam process at the University of Leeds is very different than at Saint A's. The exam timetable tells you the time, location, and your seat number for your exam. At first, I was confused as to why I had my exams in The Edge Sports Hall….but, I soon realized it is because 300-500 other students from different modules (classes) are taking their exams in the same location as you. I guess that is what you have to do when the University has over 60,000 students. Sitting my first exam at the University of Leeds was a different experience. I had a specific seat number to sit in, my student ID had to be placed on my desk for checking, my phone placed in a clear zip-lock bag, no labels on water bottles, all coats and bags left at the back of the room, and proctors wearing yellow jackets that said 'exam marshal' patrolled the space. It reminded me of sitting an AP exam in high school but 10x more strict.
Ultimately, education in England is taken very seriously. Students are expected to study during the entire academic year. Since I arrived in Leeds, I have not had a break from studying or revising. I did not have a fall break, nor a thanksgiving break. In addition, I had essay deadlines due over the Christmas holiday. So although I was home in the States, I was at the library finalizing and submitting essays. Even today, I am done with my exams but, I have required readings that are due next week for Week 1 of the spring semester. But, this is all part of the experience of studying abroad in a different culture and I enjoy learning new information about the history of art. So for me, this is a phenomenal opportunity to further my studies of art history both in lectures and through traveling.