This is me
Hello, my name is Alexarae Walfenzao. I am currently a first year VU master student in the Neuroscience Research program. I am from Miami, Florida and I completed my BA in Psychology at Florida International University. I have been obsessed with the human brain since I was a teenager and I have been looking for a University program that I felt connected the complex the term “Neuroscience” to reality. At the university I graduated from with my BA there was not a neuroscience BA program, the closest I could get was psychology. I did find a masters program that was in the beginning stages of developing into a department but I felt it was best to go to a university with an established department. I wanted to study somewhere that I could be surrounded by neuroscientists that have been working on theories for several years. When I googled best neuroscience master programs the VU appeared at the top of all lists, so I sent in my application. I have been dreaming of going to school abroad for many years, so I thought I had prepared myself for the changes I would experience. Unfortunately what I did not take into account was how much my learning process depended on my American (my home) professors teaching. Let me explain what I mean.
Let me begin with quizzes, something I never thought I would miss. In America, I would have up to 10 quizzes in a class before the final exam. Plus a few exams too, all before the final exam. What I did not realise was how much I used the quizzes to study. I did not notice until I lost them, but I used quizzes to figure out what to study. I would remember how the teacher asked technical questions, or didn’t ask, and when I studied I would focus on what I felt they would ask in the exam. My first class at the VU, and all my classes since, have only had one exam at the end of the course. As you might imagine I have been struggling.
Another problem I have had to face is finding the strength to continue. I did not want to quit this exciting experience, but that does not mean I have not become a bit emotional unstable over the past few months. One thing I kept asking myself was, “am I dumb?”. I felt dumb, especially since I apparently could not study without quizzes in my life. What I soon realised though is that I was just overwhelmed. I was unprepared for the change in teaching style and then to top it off I had no time off to organise. My 2nd and 3rd classes all fell in right behind the first class, with only a weekend between each to offer a break. I felt exhausted, and my grades suffered. It wasn’t until the holiday break, from December to January, that I was actually able to get myself on track. My 4th class was different for me. Yes it was actually the hardest class so far, by way of topics and work load, but I had found my new study method.
Breaking out of student mode
What I figured out was what quizzes ‘did’ for me. For instance, in America I used the quizzes to learn if the professor wanted me to repeat what they had taught or if they wanted me to be creative with my responses. What I realised after 3 classes at the VU was my teachers here want me to be logical, and that is easy once you know what is expected. My path to this moment has been tough but worth every step since it is helping me break out of the student mode and into the professional I want to be.
Asking for advice
My advice to any new students coming to the VU from aboard is speak with the local kids about what they do for study. They will help you see where you might have to make some changes in your study methods. For instances, I asked my fellow classmates about why the practice test questions were not on the exam (in America all exams would have at least one question from the practice exam, or at least cover the same topics on the practice exam). My fellow classmate simply told me, “Why would they ask you those questions again?”. That thought broke me, so to speak, and it made me seriously reflect on what I needed to make changes in.
Never underestimate the change in educational systems between countries, but remember it’s all connected. You are just looking at different sides of the same coin, but take my advise and talk to the locals.
Good Luck to all new international students of 2016!