Culture affects every aspect of an individuals life and as a result, learning styles dramatically vary. One of the most difficult challenges in studying abroad is figuring out how to navigate these differences in order to maintain one’s success. So, here are the major differences between studying at Ryerson and studying at UVT (Universiteit van Tilburg).
The first major difference is how courses are marked. The Faculty of Arts at Ryerson tends to split the course marks into a 30% midterm, 30% final, 30% assignment/essay, and 10% participation. At UVT 100% of the mark is dependant on a final essay or exam. While there are assignments throughout the semester, they don’t get marked. You are required to hand in at least 80% of them or you forfeit the right to write the final essay/exam and essentially you just fail the entire course. I believe they do this to relieve stress throughout the semester. It makes the course more about the effort you put in to understand the course material than about having the material aced before you’ve actually learned it.
Another difference is that UVT prides itself on its exchange students. Every class has a 1:1 Dutch to exchange student ratio, and as a result classes are focused more on learning from your peers than from your professor. Profs basically just mediate materials, while students provide most of the sustenance, giving cross cultural insight on course content. And because we’re expected to learn from each other, we get to choose what we study. In one of my classes, content cycles on a three week schedule. The first week is a guest lecture given by a prof in the field we’re studying (eg. Digital law, privacy, Islam, democracy, global warming, super diversity, etc…). We then meet outside of class with our group and come up with a list of academic questions (the pre-cursor to a thesis) that we then present the following week. We can use case studies, statistics, or anything relevant to the topic to question what we know. In the third week we try to answer the questions as a class and debate real world applications to solve global issues. It’s actually a really cool class (Called wicked problems in culture, the economy, and society). I really like it because instead of focusing on theoretical information we get to look at current affairs (like the refugee crisis) and contemplate solutions while using theories as support for our ideas. Also note that I said our ideas. Because classes aren’t about how good an individual is, they’re about how good the class is, and we all push each other to be better. Profs included. The hierarchy is much more diluted.
Naturally if the university focuses more on learning from each other, it promotes more active and socially present student groups. Everywhere at anytime, there are student associations and for everything imaginable. I find at Ryerson we rely too heavily upon social media to engage and inform students about various groups. At UVT you can see them. They just seem to be more active on campus.
The most annoying things about being at Tilburg is the rain and the opening times of grocery stores. I used to live near the Maple Leaf Gardens and I’m not going to lie, I miss the giant, beautiful, way-too-excessive Loblaws. Even though I miss it, the trade off is pretty sweet. Instead of a huge grocery store, I go to bakeries and butcher shops where the owners recognize me. My vegetables, milk, and eggs come from the farms that I run past every other day. It may be more inconvenient navigating the complex system of opening hours for all the little shops, but it can also be really nice.
While I can always call Ryerson home, Tilburg has found a special place in my heart.