(Originally published on The Unofficial Field Guide to WashU ArtSci, February 22, 2016)
The end of this week marks the middle of my term here at King’s. This means that I have made it through five weeks of course work, and after a week off (ideally to study for midterm assessments), there are five weeks left. What does this mean? It means that my learning time overseas is halfway over. Time has flown by, and I realized that I haven’t shared much about how my academic life has been.
My schedule here is beautiful, if I may say so myself. I’m enrolled in four English courses that meet for two hours each week (with one hour dedicated to lecture and the second to discussion). My eight hours of instruction are divided over two days, and those two days happen to be Thursday and Friday. So essentially, my official work week is two days long, giving me five days to explore and sleep in. In other words, my schedule is temptress against any sort of productivity. At WashU, I’m used to at least 15 hours of class instruction and having at least one class everyday. This means that my work mentality lasts throughout the week because I always have a reading or some sort of assignment to turn in. Education at KCL is nothing like that. The courses I’m enrolled in have a final essay or exam as the singular assessment, meaning that there isn’t much active work for me to do. However, I’m also expected to run through four novels a week to prepare for seminar discussion.
This should be an entirely reasonable request, but as I mentioned before, my schedule is tricky. I’m not a natural-born procrastinator. I tend to start projects early and work on them often, but balancing a reading load of at least 1000 pages a week is a bit daunting for me, and so I push things off. I also don’t want to go home without experiencing as much of London as possible. This means that there are days where I leave at noon and get back home at 5pm. Ideally, I would read before and after my day’s adventure, but that hasn’t quite been the result. In addition to reading for class, I’m supposed to keep on top of my independent research project, figure out summer plans, and work on the English honors thesis application. In short, I have a ton of stuff that I need to get done, but a city full of adventures is tempting me away from my work desk.
How does one find balance then? What’s the best ratio of work and play? You’d think that after spending more than a month in class (and having five semesters of college life under my belt), I’d have a perfect system established, and yet here I am experimenting with something new every week. While I don’t have anything figured out yet, I do know some things that work and some that don’t. For all those students abroad right now, planning on studying overseas, or who are back home struggling with motivation, I have some tips that might help you out.
The first one is to wake up early. Not necessarily at the crack of dawn, but I suggest being awake before 10am. I personally aim to wake up around 8:30 every morning. Most days (that I don’t have class) that doesn’t happen, and I roll out of bed around 9:30 confused and groggy. I personally find myself to be more productive on days that I wake up early. On those days, I can speed through an entire novel, or spend a few hours at a new museum. Now I know that sleeping in seems like a great idea, but when I don’t begin my day until 11 or noon, I end up doing absolutely nothing. My other suggestion is to break down long assignments into more manageable chunks. It’s not the greatest method when trying to write an essay, but it’s great when trying to figure out how many pages of a book you should be reading every day in order to finish in time for seminar (or at least get far enough through the book to have something to contribute).
And that’s all I got. I know that it’s not much, and honestly, I wish the list was longer myself. But trying to figure out the best way to live and study in a new city is taking a bit longer than I expected. The first few weeks I was only able to get through about 75% percent of my readings, but recently that percentage is closer to the 90s. It’s not my ideal completion rate, but all I can do is keep trying my best. Both to do what’s expected of me academically, and also to have fun and see the sights.