Driving Me Wild – An Introduction, An Example, An Open-Ended Question

With hopes of actually taking this seriously, I’ve started a blog.

I hate to be yet another college student studying abroad and writing a blog on my experiences, so I’m trying to make this something more than that. Of course, no offense to those who are blogging their experiences – I am really intrigued by the way that you novelize your trip to that church or market or concert or what have you because there’s so much more you can say in writing than in person as our attention spans can only bear to listen to each other for a mere minute at the most. So keep writing (and posting), and I plan to keep reading, especially since your writings all seem to be damn good.

While I do plan on posting a bit about my experiences (London can be quite intriguing and the culture shock will always be a startling yet refreshing reminder that I am far from home), this blog will be an outlet for me to dive deep into the things that puzzle me, draw my attention, want to know much more about, or want to pose a question that may or may not be discussed by readers, if readers are actually accumulating.

The title of the blog – which came to me whilst on the tube listening to the Common/Lily Allen song of the same name – is not supposed to be a play on me being a Northwestern Wildcat, but at the same time is aptly that. As a student, I am “supposed to” be perplexed and interested in the complicated parts of life, whether it be academically, socially, physically(?), what have you. The things I want to talk about on DMW won’t always be things I’ll have particularly strong opinions about, but they will be things that perplex me in some way shape or form.

Here’s a good example. I chose to come to London to study at an institution where the premise of each course, let alone each year of “uni” is to allow the student to engage with the material in a way that is not dictated entirely by a syllabus or a reading list/expected reading for each class period. The whole claim is that we students should be free to explore the subject that we are studying. I’m struggling with this for two reasons. First, the amount of freedom in each course is a bit overwhelming, considering that the only assessments per most courses tend to be a final exam with very open-ended questions. It feels like the blueprint of each class could be described as: “Here’s what it’s about, here are the books you could read, here are your assignments, OK, good luck!” I grapple with this freedom but I am looking forward to the challenge of engaging myself in the material and pushing myself to do the research. I hate to say it, but I feel like I am finally being pushed to be a real student while abroad. I have gotten away with solid grades without doing the reading and that, clearly, will not fly in this county. Fingers crossed for this semester.

The depth of study perplexes me more when compared to breadth. I say “compared” very loosely – there is no breadth in British uni. Electives are unheard of here; being a double major has caused a few English friends of mine to become wide eyed with panic for my mental state. But when it comes to studying these courses, how can you consider all facets of a field of study without touching on information in other fields? How do you understand a course on European politics without touching on economics, sociology, history, and even a little bit of literature?

This “depth-instead-of-breadth” mentality is all British students know, though. They’ve been selected for a path in uni based on their A level assessments – kind of like SATs or ACTS, taken in high school and sent to different colleges. These assessments allow the university to pick a track of study for each student, if they get in.

I was curious if Brits considered American schooling for breadth instead (in addition to?) of depth, so I did some research. I found this 2013 New York Times article, which was both surprising and not. In this article, British students attending a Fullbright Commission-sponsored college fair were looking at schools in the U.S., but for monetary reasons, since British universities have become costly since 1998, when the price tag was zero quid. But when it came to British students’ interests, their speciality in study did not particularly mesh with the breadth of the American university curriculum, particularly due to the specializations themselves. Take this portion from the end of the article:

“Mitch Freinberg, who heads Columbia’s London alumni, said his table [at the fair] had been mobbed… “But some of them obviously haven’t done their homework,” he said, citing one student who hoped to major in “cosmetology” and another who wanted to do equestrianism. “I told him Columbia probably wasn’t the right place for that,” Mr. Freinberg said.”

Realistically, some Brits do study these things at uni, even beginning a bit of their cosmetology and equestrianism studies in secondary school. There’s less of a teaching of career skills and a very strong emphasis on theoretical information that can be applied to your practical life. This is not always the case at an American university, where sometimes the studies are so heavily based off of a practical, you’ll-need-this-for-your-job mindset. Which brings me to my big question – who is better off? Is it better to know a lot about little, or little about a lot? Does depth really outweigh breadth in the academic arena when it comes to preparing yourself for a career?

As a journalist, I prefer breadth to depth. It is easier to make connections between people, fields, and big ideas when you can understand at least basic concepts in different areas. However, while I am studying in London, I plan to take on the depth preference, as I am intrigued by the possibilities of getting so much more out of a subject, although I may not agree with the British academic system of doing so.


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