It’s 2015. I recall the good times in the University of Kansas this time last year.
(Also on the NUS Psychology blog)
CLIMATE & WEATHER
The inevitable conversation topic
I touched down at the Kansas City International Airport, stepping off the plane to receive literally the warmest welcome of my life. It was August and I was experiencing the height of the summer heat. Kansas is landlocked, which means that weather conditions are more extreme, relative to states located near the coasts. The torrid heat took me a while to get used to, being unaccustomed to the lack of humidity in the air.
As the months past, summer transitioned to autumn (or fall as they call it here) amidst a rapidly falling temperature. The foliage around rejoices by bursting into a flurry of reds, oranges and yellows. I will always remember kicking up piles of leaves on the pavements (or sidewalks as they call it here) and falling in love with fall.
However, in close pursuit of fall was winter, characterised by harsh winds, the blistering chill and the occasional scattering of snow. The weather tend to get more erratic towards the end of the year, with temperatures ranging from 20°F to 50°F within a single day. It necessitated the checking of the weather forecast before getting dressed for the day. You do not want to be waiting at the non-sheltered bus stops for 20 minutes, feeling your bones freeze under too little clothing.
I was there for the fall semester of AY2013/14 from August to December, similar to that of NUS, although school starts a couple of weeks later. Spring semesters run from January to May.
And to assuage any potential fears about natural disasters, KU is located at a region in Kansas characterised by uneven elevations relative to the rest of the states. This means that we hardly experience tornadoes of great magnitude. Yes, like the tornado that swept Dorothy’s house away.
KU AND ITS CLASSES
A taste of the American college system
The Office of Study Abroad (OSA) at the KU is excellent in their hospitality towards incoming exchange students. KU’s international program is one of the most established ones in the states despite the fact that I am one of the first students from NUS to be given the opportunity to participate in an exchange semester there. We arrived in KU two weeks prior to the start of the school term for the orientation program for international students. Together with over 100 students from all over the globe, I took part in a meticulously planned schedule of programs, effective in getting the last of the paperwork settled and easing me into the KU culture.
Since this is a faculty level exchange program, I studied mainly Psychology classes during my time at KU. I took a Social Psychology class, conducted in a large lecture and tutorial format, similar to what we have in NUS. I also had the opportunity to attend more senior level classes which were significantly smaller in size and are conducted in 3-hour-long blocks, much like the honours modules offered in NUS.
My favourite class was Positive Psychology, with just 8 students in total, affording an intimate setting conducive for sharing and learning. The classes and assignments were structured in ways emphasising the application of concepts taught in the classrooms to the students’ personal lives. My final project for the Positive Psychology class was to write a 10-page paper about my personality traits in relation to my life. At the end of the class, I have emerged with a solid understanding of the theories taught in the class and substantial depth of knowledge of myself.
In KU, the continuous assessment (CA) component takes the bulk of the classes. Some common methods of CA are weekly quizzes, weekly reading responses and fortnightly essays, which can come up to about 60% of the grades. Most of the classes I took required the submission of research papers, at a minimum of 5 pages and which I had the entire duration of the semester to work on, for the final grade component.
A piece of my heart was left in this town
The University of Kansas (KU) is located in Lawrence, Kansas. Lawrence is a college town, about an hours’ drive away from Kansas City (and also the airport). This means that majority of the town is populated by college students attending KU, who will leave the place during winter or summer breaks. I adore the quaint and unique character Lawrence possesses, a refreshing contrast to the Singapore city I had grown up in. I spend most of my time in the rolling hills of the KU, amidst school buildings of beautiful architecture.
Another of my favourite place to hang out was the downtown area, also known as “Mass Street”. The street is lined with hip and interesting shops running the gamut from cafes serving superb brunches to theatres showcasing old films and the beloved buffalo wings joints.
Getting around Lawrence was a hassle initially, as public transportation is limited, given that most people drive around the town. Bus shelters were also scarce, making it almost impossible to endure the long waiting times when the weather got cold. Getting to the airport in order to travel to other states required advanced planning and additional fees. I am grateful for the kindness of the people I’ve met in KU who owned automobiles of their own and were enthusiastic to show me around. And it wasn’t difficult to make friends either. Americans are known for their warmth and friendliness. A “Hello, how are you?” had felt odd during my first week in Kansas but as the culture shock rubbed off, I witnessed how easily friendships had been forged by that mere greeting, accompanied by an inviting smile on the faces.
Living on campus was also a great opportunity to meet local freshmen and international students. I stayed at McCollum Hall, which (unfortunately) will be demolished this year to make way for a newer building. Situated on Daisy Hill, within the KU campus together with several other residence halls, the campus shuttle services could be engaged right at the doorstep of the hall. This will be extremely important during winter. Staying in a residential hall an incredible experience. I had some of the best memories with my fellow residents there. After a long day at school, it was always such a joy to be able to hang out with my floor mates in the warm and spacious student lounges.
The campus accommodation came with meal plans which allowed access to the school’s dining hall, lovingly called “Mrs E’s” by the students. I was certainly spoilt for choice with the plethora of food choices confronting me daily – onion rings, French fries, mac and cheese, pasta, pizza slices, steak, cakes and ice-cream etc. On special occasions like Thanksgiving and Halloween, traditional American holiday food was also served at the cafeteria.
Culture shocks and more in Kansas