Alyssa in New Zealand: Studying at Otago

Being a pre-health student, I’m lucky enough to have found a university that offers endless amounts of classes that help me fulfill my requirements for graduate school. Since I am planning on becoming a Physician’s Assistant, there are several science courses that I am required to take before I apply to P.A. school.

Studying abroad had always been a fear of mine, for I was always afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go. There have always been rumors about being a pre-health student. Many have claimed that we don’t get the chance to do as many things as other majors because we are always spending most of our time outside of the classroom and lab in the library, burying our heads in textbooks. While that may be true, I was determined that I could make studying abroad and my classes work simultaneously.

Having researched University of Otago, I was more than pleased to discover that they offered numerous science classes. After being accepted as an exchange student, I knew that my vision was finally becoming a reality.

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The clocktower is in a very central part of campus

Here at Otago, I am taking Evolutionary biology (a zoology paper) and Microbiology for my biology major back at Richmond. There are two zoology lectures each week. Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I sit in the lecture hall with over 100 other students for 50 minutes. Even two other Richmond students are in the same paper, which I find to be comforting and very convenient when we are working on lab reports together. Every other week, the practical (also known as lab) meets for about four hours. There are two practicals, so there are approximately 50 students in each one as opposed to 100. For every practical there is a lab report that has to be submitted the following week. However, not one lab report exceeds over 9% of our final grade, for they are of very little value. What matters most in the end is what we receive on our final exam, which accounts for 50% of our final grade.

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The zoology building, which is where my practicals meet

The circumstances are very similar with the Microbiology paper as well. The lecture meets three times a week (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) for fifty minutes. The practicals do not meet up every week. For instance, there will be three week period when there will be no practical at all and then another period where the practical will meet for three weeks in a row. Fortunately, we do not have lab reports for every practical. Instead, we have to take two exams throughout the semester. The first exam was on lecture material and the second on practical material. Each exam counts as 15% of our final grade. However, what we receive on the final exam will influence our grade the most, which is similar to the zoology paper.

For my third paper, I am taking a theater class in order to fulfill my Visual Arts requirement back at Richmond. This paper meets three times a week for 50 minutes. Additionally, students are required to attend live performances that take place on campus and movie screenings. The goal of the class is to compare drama that occurs on stage and on screen. Just like my other two papers, the class size is generally large. However, all the assignments that we hand in throughout the semester are equally taken into account for our final grade just as much as the final grade, a concept that is much more similar to Richmond’s way of grading.

Since New Zealand is such a new country, many of the examples that are introduced in lecture are rarely kiwi examples. Instead, many of the professors use examples from America, which tend to come across as new to many of the students. Conversely, I am fairly familiar with many of the examples that are presented. On the off chance that the professor does use a kiwi example, I find myself highly intrigued by its unique and innovative nature.

Generally speaking, many of the final grades that are received at Otago are based off mainly the final exam. Not being used to such grading, I have had to adjust my priorities when it comes to my studies. Typically, I try to complete and put much more effort into assignments that are of high percentage of my final grade. In the end, I know that I will be studying a vast amount for my final exams, for most of my final grades are dependent upon them. Luckily, there is a one month exam period at Otago after classes end (October 11), which in turn gives students a decent amount of time to study.

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Student’s refer to campus as “uni”. This area is where many students may accumulate throughout the day

As unique as my experience has been at Otago, I have grown much more appreciation for the education that I have been receiving at Richmond the past two years. The small class sizes really make a difference, for the professors are able to identify each of their students and even form close relationships with them. With these connections, the student-teacher relationship is strong, which makes the whole learning experience more enjoyable and enriched.

Moreover, I think it’s very important for a student’s progress to be recorded throughout the semester and their entire grade should not be based off one exam in the very end. Final exams are essential, yet a final grade should not be entirely reliant on them. However, I value the education that I have been receiving here at Otago as well because not having heavily weighted assignments throughout the semester has allowed me to explore and have more free time to myself. There will only be a one month period when I will actually have to contribute majority of my time to my studies. As a result, I have found that this type of education is extremely fitting for my semester abroad.

In the end, being a pre-health student has never held me back from doing what I want and I don’t believe that it will in the future. Yes, my education has always been a priority in my life, but I have others as well. Traveling has always been a passion of mine and there is no reason for me to push my aspirations aside just because there are inconveniences. Ultimately, I’ve successfully found a way to make traveling and studying coincide.

This new way of learning has become very convenient for my time in New Zealand. Throughout the past two months, I have been constantly traveling the country and seeing things that one can’t even imagine. In the last few weeks of the semester, I find myself planning and embarking on all kinds of trips, putting in efforts to utilize all of the free time that is left while I can. Such opportunities have been presented often and I’ve been more than fortunate enough to  have been able to take advantage of them.

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