How the Laurier experience compares to international universities

Photo by Darien Funk

Laurier welcomes hundreds of exchange students every year from countries all over the world. Some have only ever experienced Canada through the lens of a textbook or a TV screen, and their exchange allows them to learn about both the subjects available at Laurier and the culture they have immersed themselves in.

I was interested in how an exchange student’s experiences at Laurier would compare to that of their home university. James Gautrey—a third year English and Theatre student from Gloucester, UK—allowed me to interview him on the differences between Laurier and his regular university, the University of Birmingham. 

Gautrey is currently doing all of his classes remotely from his hometown in the UK, but is hoping to get approved for travel to Canada by January.

One of the first things I asked him about was the decision-making process in choosing Laurier for his exchange. I was curious about what made it stand out from other schools in Ontario.

“I wanted to be [at a school] near Stratford, London and Toronto so I could visit them for day trips,” he said. 

As a theatre student, Gautrey is especially interested in experiencing Canadian theatre productions and festivals—such as those in Stratford and Toronto.

Laurier was the best situated school in Ontario for cultural experiences and, according to Gautrey, it also had the best selection of classes compared to other nearby schools.

When I asked what major differences he had encountered so far at Laurier he commented: , “I have more classes here and it seems to be more about quantity over quality,” explaining that at the University of Birmingham he is used to only two or three classes per semester.

He mentioned that professors here tend to give out more assignments, whereas back home they focus on only a couple of bigger assignments worth more of your final grade.

Laurier students are feeling the struggle of heavier workloads this semester, as professors attempt to compensate for lack of in-person participation with even more assignments.

There is also more freedom to choose electives outside of his major at Laurier, which he has enjoyed. 

Interestingly, Gautrey mentioned that the student-professor dynamic at Laurier is more formal than in the UK. It is commonplace for students to refer to their professors by their first names at the University of Birmingham, whereas here it is expected for students to use the appropriate “Doctor” or “Professor” title. 

I don’t know if I could ever imagine referring to my professors by their first names, or even by a simple “Ms.” or “Mr.”, though I do appreciate that the relationship between students and professors appears more balanced in the UK. 

When I asked about his thoughts on Laurier’s grading system, he said he felt that “there is more pressure to get marks here.” At the University of Birmingham, a 70 percent is the top grade students can achieve—anything above that is essentially a bonus. 

But here, a 70 percent only gets you a B-, so for Gautrey there’s more pressure to get a higher percentage. He said he preferred their method of grading over Laurier’s because it was less pressure, but also mentioned that the professors over there are harsher with marking to make it more difficult to achieve the top grade.

Gautrey and I also talked at length about school clubs and associations. He was impressed with the club selection at Laurier compared to other Ontario universities, but commented that, “a lot of student productions [and clubs] are faculty-run, not student run.”

Gautrey’s theatre group at the University of Birmingham regularly puts on plays written and produced by students and because they are not run through a specific faculty, auditions are open to everybody and every person who auditions is guaranteed a role. 

He expressed an interest in starting his own theatre-association at Laurier, once he finally gets to Waterloo. Ideally, this association would put on numerous shorter plays and would be open to students from all faculties, regardless of theatre experience.

He explained that this type of club would be a great way for amateur theatre-lovers to gain some experience in the theatre world. 

Gautrey was hopeful that his theatre dream would come to fruition during Laurier’s second semester. He mentioned the atmosphere at Laurier had been nothing but “warm and welcoming” so far, and was optimistic that students would greet his new club in the same fashion.

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