Happy Friday from Wales! SOOOO . . . I realized that since I’ve been talking about my study abroad journey . . . it is probably about time I actually talked about the studying aspect of the phrase. After all, although the traveling has been amazing, I am here to finish my degree. With that being said, just a quick reminder that my college career has definitely not been very traditional, but I am FINALLY graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree this month with a major in English and a minor in Theatre! I am so excited that I decided to go back to University and finish something that I started simply for myself.
In the States, the majority of universities seem to be set up in the same way: you take at least 12-18 credit hours to be considered a full-time student, and most of the time, you have all of those classes every week. For example, 3 classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and then 2 classes on Tuesday/Thursday. You sit in all of your classes and then you still have to come home and do all of your assignments in the evenings, etc. While this system to which I am accustomed works fine, at times, it can be very overwhelming because you are spread in so many different directions at once. Instead of focusing all of your energy on learning all you can about one topic, you are learning smaller pieces about a broad range of topics at once. During my heaviest semester at home, I was taking 18 credit hours of English courses (6 classes) along with 1 Theatre course with rehearsals at least 3 nights a week in the evenings and working a job on weekends. While I managed it, after experiencing how things are done at my current Uni in Wales, I have realized that there are definitely better methods for education in order to use the students’ time more effectively.
Although my minor at home is Theatre, my university doesn’t have a large program; therefore, while abroad, I have been able to be a part of a more immersive BA Acting program. During my time in the Acting program here, I have only had 3 courses, which in the States sounds like a part-time student, however, the system here is much different. My courses are called modules, and instead of having to take them all simultaneously, I essentially have taken one module per month with a few weeks off for Easter break. This block scheduling allows for full focus on one topic for that month, with the final assessment at the end, before moving on to the next subject. For this term, I have taken the subjects Stand-Up Comedy, Theatre of Absurd, and am currently finishing Shakespearean Performance. Another perk to the education system here is that General Education courses are not required at the university level because they assume your prior education has already covered enough, so by the time you are in your chosen area of study, the bachelor’s degrees are only 3 years instead of the standard 4 in the States.
While I have enjoyed this different approach to learning, the one thing I have had the most trouble adjusting to has been the grading system. I have been ingrained with the US system of 90-100 percent meaning that you have an A, 80-89 is a B, and on down the scale. However, for Uni here, I have had to realign my thoughts because very rarely to people get above the score of 70, which is known as a “First” (First-class Honours/Distinction), and if they do, it is considered an extreme level of excellence. The majority of people aim to score at least a 2:1 classification which is Upper Second-class Honours/Merit and usually falls 60-69 percent. Not knowing exactly how my scores will transfer and affect my current GPA at my University at home has been a bit of a source of concern because this is my final semester and I want to finish strong . . . however, despite the difference in grading, the feedback and scores I have received from my instructors have been very beneficial to my growth as a performer.
Now that I have touched base on the logistics, I also feel that I cannot end this post without talking a bit more about that growth. I know I wrote specifically about my worries in beginning this program in a previous post, so it’s only fair that I give an update. I began the Stand-up Comedy module a little bit timid but prepared to give it my best shot. This subject was completely out of my comfort zone in the sense that I hate giving speeches as myself because it is a totally different feeling than acting as a character on stage. However, throughout this module, the improv exercises we did on the spot, as well as, trying out our written sets on our peers, helped me to begin coming more and more out of my shell and allowing me to be more comfortable in my own skin in front of an audience. Stand-up is definitely still a performance, and being able to play around with the 10 minute set, adding different movement and vocal qualities in order to amplify the text and see what worked with the audience and what didn’t was very interesting and useful.
After Stand-up, we went straight into studying Symbolism and the Absurd which are subjects based in and developed from the Dada movement that began occurring in art and literature circles after experiencing World War I. To say going from comedic performance to this kind of interpretive, emotional performance was a challenge would be an extreme understatement. We did so many emotionally draining exercises within the first 2 days of class, that I honestly thought an entire month immersed in the subject could be completely miserable. While I wouldn’t say that this is my favorite area of performance by any means, I can say that the freedom of interpretation and emotional expression that we (in our performance groups) were able to apply to the script we were given was an experience that I found fascinating and liberating (even if extremely frustrating at times).
Next week, I complete my final module by performing monologues and scenes from different plays written by Shakespeare which is the subject area I was most excited about when coming here because I honestly love Shakespeare. However, I’ll be honest, I had trouble feeling motivated after the long break at first, but now I am thoroughly enjoying the work we are doing with the director on our scenes and I am sad to see the experience come to an end. This module is pushing me to be willing to try things, even if they aren’t right for the scene in the end; it’s a matter of being willing to look foolish in order to find what works best to fully create the moment you’re wanting the audience to experience.
Despite all of the initial apprehension in beginning the program in January and any personal challenges along the way, I know I am going home having been stretched and molded in the best ways throughout this experience. I have also enjoyed working with all of my fellow actors over the past few months, and as with any theatre group or show, everyone knows that the final curtain will close (even if just figuratively), the set will come down, the costumes will come off, and each will move on to their next project: but the memories and the bonds that are formed over learning lines and late night pizza parties after rehearsing are never forgotten . . . after all, once a theatre family, always a theatre family!
**Photo credits to Amelia Williams and Dave Ainsworth