The last week of February is Concordia’s “winter semester” a week-long break. It does not coincide with any other school’s breaks, different from even the university’s down the street and so I found myself boarding a plane with businesspeople and retirees, one’s unbound to the conventional early March break timing. Here, only the Americans call it “Spring Break”, the rest call it “Reading Week”. The aim of the week, theoretically, is to get caught up on school before the second half rolls around and leaves any trailing students in the dust. Many Universities have them in the Fall semester too. In the name and in function this break reveals a little of the differences in student culture.
From listening to other exchangers, it seems that my program in Canada is much like the European system. The semesters are relatively calm and uneventful, punctuated abruptly with torrents of studying, all-nighters, drastic measures, and a general hectic studying in preparation for midterms and finals. I am aware that many students choose to do this in US schools as well but here it seems to be much more the norm and expected behavior. I get exhausted just listening to the frantic students listing their heroic attempts at learning 6 weeks of material in 24 hours on a red bull and no sleep. “Thank goodness the library is always open 24 hours,” I hear often.
On top of foregoing sleep, students also forego attending class during exam weeks. My 300 level courses, 130 people enrolled with a regular attendance of 75-100 people, dwindle to 30 or 40 especially hardy students. Any study groups I have on texting groups become peppered with comments like “skipping for a midterm tomorrow, send me the notes for class”. I can’t determine if I was oblivious in the States or if this points to the different student culture.
Extracurriculars and Study Groups
These are only generalizations about the student attitude and certainly does not apply to all students. I have tried hard to find students who follow a more consistent studying routine like I am accustomed to and have been lucky to find a few. I am looking forward to my UNM study groups when I get back!
In hindsight, I was looking forward to getting more involved in engineering societies this semester, but I have found a commonality in that the clubs center heavily around drinking together in various settings. The groups have amazing projects and Concordia’s Concrete Toboggan received 2nd place overall Canada this year so they manage quite well but I have found it is not generally my scene.
Overall, I am relieved that I have been able to stabilize my own habits to reflect that I am on exchange to learn more than integrals, but that I also want to succeed in school without 24-hour cramming sessions. This semester is going a lot smoother than last semester with that accomplishment.
I am looking forward to the last quarter of my exchange because I think have found an equilibrium. Every met expectation is a blessing and every unmet one has been a learning opportunity. With that, happy spring break!