Checking My Calendar by Elijah T. '11
I know I'll eat my words come late September, but I'm looking forward to three weeks from now.
The New York Times has had an interesting set of articles over the past couple weeks about vacation time in the U.S. versus Europe. The basic gist, as I’m sure you know, is that Americans work their tails off, while Europeans do something called “enjoy life”. It reminded me of something I noticed a couple months ago – this:
What’s that, you ask? The top is a snapshot of a week in February 2009, when I was at MIT, while the bottom is a snapshot of the same week in February 2010, when I was at the University of Cambridge. Typical weeks, honestly.
Now clearly, some of this disparity is my own doing – I didn’t have a job during the year (although few Cambridge undergraduates do) and I didn’t note when I watched 24 this year. But the fact remains that no matter how you slice it, I was busy around the clock at MIT and getting several full nights of sleep a week at Cambridge.
At Cambridge, there are three eight-week terms, separated by two six-week breaks and a summer vacation lasting from mid June to early October. The average third-year engineering student has ten hours of lecture per week, but only during the first two terms (uh-huh, no lectures after mid-March); the final term is projects (not lecture, as far as I’m concerned) and exams (also not lecture). So, that’s about 160 hours of lecture over 16 weeks.
On the other hand, MIT has two 14-week terms, separated by a single six-week break in January and a summer vacation lasting from late May to early September. I’d estimate about twelve hours of lecture per week during thirteen of those weeks. So, that’s 312 hours of lecture over 26 weeks.
But, of course, that’s only the beginning of the story. Third-year Cambridge engineers rarely shoot for more than ten hours of lecture per week, but we all have that friend at MIT who’s taking so many classes we wonder when they get a chance to eat (if you don’t have such a friend, it’s you). Basically, it’s not unheard of for MIT students to take on 15+ hours of lecture a week (although probably not attending all of them), plus recitations. Oh, and MIT is four years, while most British universities are generally three.
But while I found the system at Cambridge a welcome change (and, let’s be honest, preferable), I found myself missing my busy schedule. Note that most of the events in my February 2009 calendar are not required coursework, but the result of choice. At MIT, no matter what day of the week or what time of the day, there is always some interesting or obscure talk – formal or informal – or free food event or meeting for one of the seemingly infinite student groups on campus. At Cambridge, the lesser time devoted to coursework (and problem sets; they have fewer of those too) and the less exhaustive selection of student groups meant that there was more room for a casual social life. Again, that was wonderful, but there were times there where I just felt… well… unproductive. Ironically, that was especially true during Cambridge’s last term, which, being devoted to make-or-break exams, means students there don’t do anything other than study.
But no such period exists at MIT. Yes, we have important exams and problem sets, but for some reason, instead of completely drawing our attention away from those distractions, we simply go into overtime. I like that, and, while I know I’ll eat my words come late September, I’m looking forward to three weeks from now. I’m already beginning to fill in my calendar.
By the way, as promised, I have the answers to the places pictured in my last post. I admit some of the pictures were nearly impossible to guess…
1: Ortak√∂y Mosque and the Bosphorus Bridge, Istanbul (Turkey)
2: Along Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai (UAE)
3: Blue streets of Chefchaouen (Morocco)
4: The Taj Mahal, Agra (India)
5: The beach and hotels in Tel Aviv (Israel)
1: Train Station, Belgrade (Serbia)
2: The Acropolis, Athens (Greece)
3: The Coliseum, Rome (Italy)
4: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
5: The Dome of the Rock and Western Wall, Jerusalem
1: The Wagah Border Crossing (Pakistan, from India)
2: Outside Petra (Jordan)
3: Island as viewing from the Aegean Sea (Greece)
4: Big Ben / St. Stephens Tower, London (UK)
5: Oslo Opera House, with my friend I met in Israel (Norway)
1: With a shopkeeper in the old souqs, Marrakesh (Morocco)
2: Chain Bridge, Budapest (Hungary)
3: Bradenburg Gate, Berlin (Germany)
4: Eiffel Tower, Paris (France)
5: The Pyramids of Giza (Egypt)
1: Canals in Amsterdam (the Netherlands)
2: Sixth Avenue, New York (USA)
3: Three Kings’ Day Parade, Barcelona (Spain)
4: Travelling by train (Bulgaria)
5: Streets of Cordoba (Spain)