By Mari-An Santos
I have always been a diligent student. Studying is something I take very seriously, and so I am accustomed to getting good grades in school. Every day, I remember, I would have homework in at least two of my classes and a quiz the next day. I would stay up until late in the night to turn in a more than satisfactory paper; putting in as much study time as I could for upcoming examinations. This work ethic paid off and I graduated cum laude from university.
It took me by surprise then how classes are conducted so differently in Europe. Since my colleagues in my Masteral classes are working people, we only meet on weekends. Professors are not very strict with attendance. In fact, I was surprised to learn that there were actually more than 20 students enrolled in our block; only ten attended classes regularly.
Here in Romania, teachers prefer free-flowing discussions. They encourage students to give their thoughts and opinions. There are no quizzes or midterm exams, only a final paper and the final examination. The burden of learning rests almost entirely on the students’ shoulders—how bizarre!
Because the classes are not conducted in English, I’ve had to work double time on my language skills. I need to pay attention in class in order understand and follow the discussions. Usually, the professor stops in the middle of the class to summarize for me in English what has already been discussed—and to ask for my input. He does the same at the end of the class. In this case, I am challenged to snap back from a bubble of very little understanding, to understand everything that’s been discussed, and to formulate an opinion. This also means I cannot be distracted during class nor can I say “pass” when asked a question.
What do I do on weekdays? I read the books recommended by my professors so that I can follow the class. But even in this area, I have the freedom to choose what I want to read; the professors aren’t strict about reading lists as well.
In many ways, it is an admirable system. Each student is responsible for his own performance—whether he comes to participate in class, reads appropriate books, and strives hard to write a good paper and perform well during the examination. In effect, the student is also able to formulate his own ideas based on what he learns from various sources. If he’s lazy, then he won’t learn anything.
Now, I have become more accustomed to being less pressured and frazzled about school. If I don’t do my readings, then I only have myself to blame for not performing well in class. It is also up to me to digest all these concepts and ideas, and decide what I think and feel about them.
And the papers? Well, we’ll see how I fare come examination week.