Study Abroad - England

Christopher Rose ’11 Recounts His Semester Abroad in England  

I was one of the first three students from Webb to spend a semester abroad in England. Upon arriving at the University of Southampton, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. The University of Southampton is a large university of 25,000 students, a huge contrast to Webb’s 85. I was initially concerned that I would be an outsider in a completely foreign environment. But when I arrived at my residence hall, I was greeted by a smiling warden who showed me to my room and helped me carry my bags inside. After throwing my bags onto my bed, I wandered into the courtyard and found the JCR, an elected group of students that organized social functions for the various halls of residences. They were actively advertising events they had planned for “Fresher’s Week.”

Over the next week, under the guidance of the JCR, I became acquainted with the layout of the campus and the surrounding city; signed up with various societies at the University of Southampton, including the German, Catholic, and engineering societies; and participated in various themed pub crawls. I quickly formed strong friendships with many members of my halls, especially with my corridor mates. These friendships only continued to grow stronger throughout the semester.

Once Fresher’s week ended, the first week of classes began. The ship science department, in which I was taking the majority of my classes, referred to this week as induction week. Instead of attending regular classes, all of the new ship science students at the University of Southampton were split into teams of five or six and given the task to design a boat from foam and plywood to carry bags of sand across a swimming pool. At the conclusion of this project, each team presented their design to the head of the Royal Institute of Naval Architecture (RINA) to be judged. Not only did this project allow us to learn valuable lessons about the design and production cycle, but it also gave us the opportunity to interact with our fellow ship science students. The friendships I formed during this week extended beyond purely academic, since throughout the remainder of semester, the ship science students hosted various events, including karaoke, a boat trip, and a rum run.

The classes at Southampton were structured very differently than those I was used to at Webb. To begin with, most of the courses, with the exception of Ship Studies, Graphical Communication, and Marine Transportation, were taken with the Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering students. I found myself with over 200 students in each class. Although people often believe that large classes are impersonal, this was not the case. For each of our classes, we had a weekly or biweekly tutorial session, in which a group of twelve to eighteen students sat down with a professor, often someone who had lectured the course in past years. During these sessions, students could ask any questions they had and receive help on the coursework.

Another startling difference between Southampton and Webb classes was the way that a student’s performance was evaluated. I was familiar with weekly homework assignments, several projects, lab reports, and 3-4 unit tests per semester, and a final exam. No individual test or assignment at Webb had counted for more than 20% of the final grade. Therefore, at Webb, even if I performed very poorly on a particular assignment, I would still be able to recover my grade. But at the University of Southampton, the final exam in each course counted for 80%-100% of the grade, depending on the course. Some courses had lab reports or graded coursework which could be worth up to 10%. Ultimately, almost my entire grade depended on my final exam, and a poor performance could be devastating. As a result, I did not need to study for the intermediate tests or work on the numerous projects I would have had to pour time into at Webb, but I studied harder than I have ever before in my life during finals week.

One particularly beneficial aspect of my overall experience was the ability to make contacts overseas in the field of Naval Architecture. Even though the English culture does not celebrate Thanksgiving, I was invited to a Thanksgiving meal at the home of Dr. Price, the former head of the Ship Science department. He had been instrumental in setting up this exchange program, and wanted the Webbies in England to feel at home. Not only did we receive a delicious meal prepared by his wife, but we also got the opportunity to speak with Dr. Price about his experience in the field.

One particularly interesting remark Dr. Price made (quoting George Bernard Shaw) was that America and England were two countries separated by a common language. Throughout my 4 months in Southampton, I found this observation to be true. English people refer to French fries as chips, and chips as crisps, but they still call curly fries curly fries. Another example is that soccer is football and football is American football. These simple interchangings of words were easy enough to master after a month or so, but the confusion only got compounded when my friends assumed that as an American I would use the incorrect term, so even though I was speaking in English terms, they assumed otherwise. This confusion often resulted in unforgettable humorous experiences.

Financially, the semester abroad cost about the same as a semester at Webb. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, the main reason for this was the plummeting value of the pound while I attended the University of Southampton. When I arrived, a pound cost $1.87, and when I made my final room and board payment a pound cost $1.38. Also, room and board fees cost roughly three fifths of what they do at Webb, and I didn’t have to buy a single textbook. But even with such a lucrative exchange rate and the savings on room, board, and books, everything in Southampton seemed to cost money. At Webb it is possible to spend a night hanging out with friends for no money, but in Southampton all social activity is outside of the dorms, which means that most nights spent socializing cost money. Also, the meal plan I was using, the most comprehensive meal plan available, required that students provide their own lunches and cook for themselves on weekend nights. Luckily for my wallet, I was able to scarf down salami sandwiches and pasta for most of these meals. Another expense I encountered was two transatlantic flights.

In conclusion, the semester abroad in Southampton was a memorable experience that I would recommend to anyone. It cost about as much as a semester at Webb, and I was able to experience a completely different academic and social culture than I had grown accustomed to at Webb. Also, through this experience I have made great friends and academic contacts that will surely help me for the years to come.