A Study Abroad Series: Academics and Classes

I will preface this blog post with acknowledging that travelling is certainly not part of our lives at the moment and with that many student’s study abroad opportunities have disappeared. However, I wanted to take the chance to document some of my experiences from when I completed a semester abroad. Perhaps, this series can provide some inspiration or reference for anyone considering studying abroad at some point during their time at University.

I think it important to emphasis that I am only discussing my own individual experience, and that every study aborad experience is different. The experience varies by what University attended, the country lived in and a whole host of other variables. Nonetheless, I wanted to do the first blog of this series focusing on the ‘study’ part, the academic side of being abroad. I completed a semester abroad during the second semester (Jan-April) of my second year (2018-2019). I attended Trent University in Peterborough, Canada.

One of the important tasks I had to complete before travelling to Trent University was selecting my classes. To ensure that I fulfilled the required credits I needed to take five courses (in Dundee terminology, modules) at Trent. Within these five courses I needed to make sure that some of my classes covered similar topics to my Environmental Science and Geography classes that I would be missing at Dundee. However, there was lots of opportunities to take unique classes that I wouldn’t have been able to take in Dundee.

Finding out what courses were available proved to be quite difficult. I spent several hours scouring through Trent University’s websites until I found some helpful class guides and descriptions. As I was in second year, I was allowed to take classes that were coded as both 2nd and 3rd year. These were the initial classes that I chose:

  • Sampling and Analysis
  • Aquatic Environmental Chemistry
  • Advanced Ecology
  • Global Climate System
  • Environmental Education Stewardship

I was super excited for these classes, as I would be able to subjects that I would never had been able to study at Dundee or not nearly as in depth. Little did I know there was a little hiccup to come. One that stressed me out, quite a lot. Once I arrived at Trent, and online class resources started becoming available I quickly learned that 4 out of my 5 classes had labs involved in them. Three of these were having significantly based on lab work, this worried me as I had as of yet had no experience in lab work in Dundee. Although I wanted to take classes that I was interested in, I didn’t want to overload myself with completely new and stressful classes while I was in a new country and prevent me from taking some other unique opportunities. Thus, I spent the next two weeks frantically going figuring out how to change some of my classes. I will openly admit that I was quite stressed and anxious for the next week or so, until the issue was resolved. The actual process of changing classes was quite easy but I spent time trying to find classes that I could take and that I was still interested in. I was fortunate to have met two other girls who were also doing a semester abroad and studying Geography. They were also looking at changing some of their courses, and as luck would have it, we were actually changing to some of the same classes. Eventually, I switched my classes to the following:

  • Water Policy
  • Rural Urban Fringe
  • Community Based Resource Management
  • Global Climate System
  • Environmental Education Stewardship

I had some amazing opportunities and learned so much in these classes. Some of the unique experiences I got to have include; in the Community Based Resource Management class as part of work for a project I toured a rescue and rehabilitation center for turtles (I hadn’t even known that turtles existed in Canada). Another unique experience, was during Rural Urban Fringe the class visited a couple of micro-breweries as case studies. In one of my favourite classes, Environmental Education Stewardship, we were assigned to design a lesson plan, which we would later use on actual school group. Having hands on experience incorporating environmental ideas into lessons and then actually having to teach these lessons was such a valuable opportunity. I truly learned so much from and enjoyed all of my classes at Trent. It was fascinating having classes based in an entirely different Canadian context than the Scottish setting I had come from. One of the interesting components in many of my classes was learning about Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). Learning about indigenous ways of knowledge was fascinating and carried such important significance in Canada, and an experience I would likely never had got in Scotland.

Some other general aspects of the classes was as Trent University is much smaller than the University in Dundee, classes were overall much smaller and so you were able to build a relationship with professors and have more discussion with classmates. In comparison to Dundee, I generally had more assignments through the year that were weighted less. This did mean there was slighlty more work to keep on top of on a weekly basis, but I found these assignments super helpful. Additionally, there was slightly less pressure on each assignment because it wasn’t worth such a high percentage of your overall mark. Lastly, this obviously depended on what classes and course you were in, but I only had two exams to finish the semester with; one of these was an at-home exam, the other was traditional. That’s just some of the more nitty-gritty details.

Of course, there was academic challenges as there are with any University classes. Group projects, well those were still difficult. And I definitely still had worries over assignment deadlines but I truly believe that the work ethic that I built up during my semester abroad hugely benefited the rest of my coursework when I came back to Dundee. I learned so much more about what work patterns were productive for me. I was extremely proud of myself and the grades that I achieved at the end of my semester abroad. It truly proved that I was capable of adapting to an entirely new place and taking all of the opportunities this provided, while also achieving a high standard of work.

Next time, I’ll be writing about some of the travelling I got to do during my semester abroad in Canada.


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Hi, I am in my 4th year studying Environmental Science and Geography. As can be assumed by my studies I have a strong interest for environmental issues and a great love for the outdoors. Outside, of my studies I love to play basketball and am also an avid reader.

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