By Andrew Melton
Before leaving for Argentina I assumed the world’s universities all followed the same model: midterms, papers, readings, quizzes, finals, and your GPA. Now, as I approach the end of my semester abroad, I can say that there are many similarities, however there are even more differences.
The first difference to pop out at me was the strange schedule. The majority of classes meet only once per week for at least a three hour class. An exception to this is my six-credit course that meets twice per week for two and a half hours each. On top of that, classes only meet in the early morning or at night. My classes go from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM on Mondays and Wednesdays and 8:30 PM to 11:00 PM on Thursdays. Why would classes meet at such strange hours, you ask? The concept of being a professional student is very rare here. The vast majority of students have jobs that would make daytime classes impossible.
The grading and examination system is also considerably different. The grading scale ranges from one to ten with ten being the highest grade. Strangely, you only need a four to pass an exam or class. Other students have told me that a four is equal to a “C,” but the quality of work required to earn a four doesn’t seem to match up with that which is required to earn a “C.” Most classes have two exams, a midterm and a final. However, the midterm exam doesn’t actually factor into your final course grade. You need to pass the midterm in order to have the “right” to take the final exam. That means that your final course grade is completely dependent on your final exam grade. Most final exams are oral with the professor asking the student his or her question, followed by a five-minute preparatory phase, and finally the answer. I’ll admit I’m pretty nervous about my semester coming down to a one question oral exam in a foreign language, but hey, I only need a four.
Some might ask, ‘Andrew, why would you settle for a four; don’t you want that ten?’ Most programs here are degree focused rather than GPA focused (I don’t think they have GPA’s down here). Unless you’re planning on doing a Masters program, how well you did doesn’t matter as long as you get the degree. It’s a very structured process. While US universities and colleges will have general education requirements and a few requisite courses depending on your school, many majors here are nearly 100% preplanned. This fact hit home when my political economy course ended, and I noticed no one was getting up to leave. I asked a student why, and she explained that everyone in the class also had the following class in the same room.
I have learned a lot this semester from my courses, both about the material and the manner in which it is taught. The Argentine system seems more efficient, allowing for students to work and study simultaneously due to flexible schedules and concentrated examination policies. That being said, I prefer the US system. Though not as efficient, it gives students much more freedom to explore subjects and discover their true interests. I am currently studying Political Science and Economics, but I started off studying Biochemistry. That kind of transition would be near impossible down here, and I’m thankful I was in a system that allowed me find my real passions.