Wednesday, 6 July 2016

University of Glasgow vs University of Sydney

After a much needed break from reality (and blogging), and as my year in Australia's must stunning city is drawing to a close, I decided to summarize my experiences of studying in Sydney and Glasgow - more specifically, at USYD and at UoG. That might be valuable not only for myself, but for next years' cohort arriving shortly.

Many people asked me if and how Sydney was different from Glasgow. Not only in terms of the cities and countries, but being a student in these very different places?

The answer is yes - very different. Sydney is a massive city, with gorgeous weather (most of the time...), incredible food, stunning views and never-ending places to discover. Glasgow though brilliant and exciting on a sunny day, is quite small, often pretty dull and with repetitive architecture and large areas of absolutely no interest. In Sydney, most suburbs look nothing like other places, with very distinct feelings to them; suburbs by the beach (say Manly or North Bondi) are very different from inner west, be they hip Glebe or boring Alexandria. The places one wants to see in Glasgow are easily covered in 1-2 days, whereas one can spend a lifetime exploring Sydney's beauty and wonder. Of course, there are many places in Sydney too that I have no interest in visiting, but by the sheer size and number of beautiful places compared to Glasgow, it doesn't ever feel that way.

So, to student life. Throughout the year, 3 things in particular have stood out as big differences:

1) Since the cities are very different, uni life is very different
Most people in Sydney seem to have their lives sorted out when they come to Uni, where Uni is just a thing you do a few days a week, often in-between shifts at work. Most of my USYD friends have lived in Sydney most of their lives. On the contrary, people seem to move to Glasgow to attend Uni, where Uni Life always seems to circle around Uni Life - after all, there aren't so many beaches and bridges and Opera Houses and Big City Life that demands your attention. In Glasgow, most students live in and around the West End (where the main campus is), spend their time in cafés or parks or with friends close to Uni, go to the Uni gym, go out to pubs or nightclubs close to Uni or participate in active and vibrant student societies, always at or very close to Uni. In Sydney, everyone lives, works, parties, meets up with friends all over the city, rarely if ever close to Uni.

In Glasgow, I pretty much only know students. Often we live in a world of our own (hey, West End Bubble..) with all that goes with it. For instance, I barely know many other places in Glasgow than the West End or have non-student friends for that matter. In Sydney, I never experienced such a bubble. The university is very much part of the city, and most of my friends are non-students. It's like university in Sydney is a "show-up-for-class-then-leave" whereas university in Glasgow is "show-up-and-spend-all-your-time-there".

The best example of this is the library. In Glasgow, the library with its one major entrance and one major café area is a massive meeting place; I always bump into people I know while coming or leaving, or when waiting in line in the café area. USYD has countless of libraries and study areas and cafés. While this means much more space (even in exam times!) and much more varied food (some cafés here are amazing!), it also means I rarely see anyone I know - even including vaguely familiar faces from tutorials.

2) Student Societies
Society life at USYD is a joke, at best amounting to subsidised food or a random dinner once a semester. Societies and unions in Glasgow are living thriving institutions where people meet, discuss things, hang out, pursue academics, throw crazy parties or organize massive events. USYD societies might hold a yearly ball, and sometimes rent an expensive boat in the harbour where they get drunk - apart from election time where everyone goes nuts for a few weeks.

Oh, unless you enjoy yelling loudly about some imagined scandal produced by some vague and incoherent idea about "Capitalism" or run down a library crying indignantly about such atrocities in your pursuit of a meaningless signature or attention. Shallow sacrosanct hypocrites. To be fair, every university campus has its fair share of that, but USYD is simply in a league of its own.

USYD societies seem to be about existing whereas Glasgow societies seems to be about doing things.

3) Choose your tutorials wisely
Suffering through dull and quiet tutorials is a thing everywhere, but nowhere like USYD have I encountered units where literally nobody opened their mouths - for the entire semester! In a few of my classes I don't know a single person, and not exactly for lack of trying.

At Glasgow, tutorials were small enough with tutors interesting or provocative enough to create a dialogue, from which everyone could learn. In USYD, half of my tutorials were simply an "additional hour of lecture" with "If there are no questions, I guess we'll finish early" (which works remarkably well if you have engaging students and great lecturers; horribly if not). The other half involved some admirable attempts, but never better than the worst ones I had in Glasgow. I guess this depends very much on your subject of study and sheer luck.

In summary, USYD is an amazing place with beautiful views, great lecture halls, incredible food and cafés, but campus and Uni Life is often much worse than in Glasgow.

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