Mid-Semester Crisis

AUS campus at night.
AUS campus at night.
I went through a weird slump a couple weeks ago. Even though finals were more than a month away, I was starting to feel the crunch already. I was spending every moment of free-time in the library, and usually spending the weekend sleeping because by that time my brain felt like lasagna put through a blender. It didn’t help that 60% of my grades rely on the recent midterms – courses here have two midterms a semester – and finals. Yes, even though the semester was more than halfway over, 50-60% of grades for the entire semester rely on two exams spaced only a month apart.

I started out this semester taking 21 credit hours; 15 at my host university and 6 online at my home university. However I withdrew from a course here that I was only taking for funsies, because I wasn’t prepared for the rigor of economics courses at this university. To explain, a classmate was looking online for practice problems for ECO 301 (Intermediate Microeconomic Theory), and found them… on an exam for the same class at MIT. MIT is ranked as the 7th best American university ( 1 ), and has the best American graduate program for economics ( 2 ). And we have similar exams.

Of course, the price of this great education is not having as much time for other things, and can be difficult to reconcile with a social life and being a tourist. Back home, I have an overall GPA of 4.0 and my record course load was 24 credit hours a semester; however, my goal for AUS is just a GPA of 3.0. Although I originally intended to finish yet another year with a 4.0, not only were the classes much more difficult than expected, but there was also too much fun to be had. It was hard for me to come to terms with this, since the perfectionist in me was disappointed… but I finally figured out that the number associated with my education doesn’t matter, the fact that I’m getting a great education does. And what’s more important, maintaining a superficial measure of progress, or enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a foreign country? Still, I am trying my hardest, but leaving time for fun.

My grades abroad are used to calculate my GPA back home, so that’s why withdrawing from a class was a wise decision. But, if you need to take extra classes to graduate on time, there are ways to get those credits. Because I’m on an ISEP-Exchange where I’m technically enrolled at my home university, I was able to take online classes at my home university for no extra fees. Plus, the semester at my home university started a week before orientation at my host university, and I ended up completing 75% of the coursework before getting on the plane to the UAE. Summer classes are also an option, or even saving free electives for study abroad, which usually means easier classes.

However, some study abroad courses will only be listed at your home university as transfer credit, and the grades won’t be calculated into your GPA. This can relieve some of the stress of maintaining a high GPA while abroad, and wether or not grades are calculated into your GPA depends on your home university and study abroad program. So, talk to your advisor.

Study abroad is a pretty stressful experience, but it’s also deeply rewarding. I had always gotten good grades, and my high school teachers always told me I was smart. But, I had always wondered if I would have made it at a top-knotch American university… and now I know that the answer is yes. That’s a very rewarding answer to have found.

( 1 ) US News Link Profile for MIT’s overall performance for undergrad.

( 2 ) US News Link Profile of MIT’s graduate program in economics.