I am Caterina Manzi and I’m studying Politics here at the University of Sussex.
I decided to study in the UK because I’ve always felt that it was a very open-minded country and I’ve always wanted to meet people from different cultures. Actually, my main dream is to travel a lot in my life that’s how I felt about the UK and I came here to study English a couple of times and I loved it.
I chose to study at Sussex because one of my teachers back in Italy recommended it to me so I looked at some information about it and I found it really interesting.
My course is taught through lectures and seminars so for every subject we’ve got a lecture and a seminar and lectures are taught in a big lecture theatre where all the students attending that course listen to the lecture; while seminars are organised in much smaller groups of about 15-20 people. For the seminar you have to do some reading so that you can then discuss what you have done. Mainly seminars are about the same topic as the lecture of the same week.
When I started studying at Sussex I found that the relationship with my tutor was very different from the relationship I had with my teachers in Italy. Obviously I knew my teachers back in Italy much more than I know these tutors here because I had them for 5 years. In Italy you have to address your teachers in a very polite way and very formal way so even if I had a really good relationship with them I still had to address them saying “Professor” and using very formal language. While here you can just call them by their first names, you don’t have to be too formal, so that’s kind of weird. When I had to write some emails to my tutors or lecturers I had to ask all my English friends how I should address them because I was feeling a bit weird really, it seemed to me like I was being unkind or impolite, that was strange.
When I‘ve got questions to ask my tutors, at first I was feeling really embarrassed, because I thought my questions were really stupid especially compared to all my class mates’ questions. Even though they are very polite and they are very nice and kind and they keep telling you that they want you to ask questions, I was feeling really embarrassed, especially in classes in seminars but in the end, after a while, I began speaking in classes and I began asking tutors my questions and at the end of the first term, in the course feedback of one of my courses, my tutor had written that she was very happy that I’d started asking more questions and started participating and she said that what I was saying was interesting. In the end even if they were stupid questions at least I had shown some interest in what I was doing and I think tutors really appreciate it. But it only comes after a while, at first I think it’s normal to feel a bit embarrassed.
In a seminar you are expected to participate, to take part in the discussion, but being Italian and speaking another language not English, I was feeling a bit awkward because it takes me a lot longer to say my idea in English than English speaking people so I felt like when I started talking I was stopping the conversation for a long time and I felt that my classmates could feel a bit bored about it. You just have to try to do your best to participate because in the end, as I said, tutors really appreciate it and I think that participating in discussion helps you create your own ideas, you start with an idea and then you listen to what other people think and then you change your own mind.
The reading for my courses is a lot and tutors advise you to skim read what you have to read but I can’t do that in English, (I could do it in Italian but not in English) so it takes me a long, long time to do the readings, so you have to dedicate a lot of time to your readings but in the end I would say don’t get too distressed if you can’t do all the reading because I think tutors understand that and you can’t really spend all your life on doing the readings. Do your best and then you will be able to participate in the seminars.
I had never written any essays in Italy because they are not so common, so it was a bit weird at first. I received a lot of advice from my lecturers and my tutors and my academic advisors and my mentors so I knew what to do in theory but obviously doing it in practice is a bit more difficult. People here at Sussex are very helpful so my tutors told me that if I had a plan, I could make a plan and then show it to them, that was really helpful and also they repeated to me lots of times to say where my ideas came from. In Italy it seems obvious that if you have done some reading to write something, to write an essay, you’re obviously referring to what you have read but here you have to write it down every single time but luckily they told me and repeated it many times so I knew what to do.
The marking system was another weird thing I had to learn coming here to Sussex because here you have percentages. In Italy you have percentages as well but 60% is the minimum, so if you are good, if you are studying hard, you would expect something about 80%-90%, whereas here it seems impossible, at least in the first year, they told me to expect something between 50% and 70%. Luckily they told me before because when I got my first marks, and all my first marks were around 60%, I was a bit disappointed. Even knowing that, it was a bit disappointing because I had studied hard; obviously I know they are good marks but it’s a bit weird.
I do feel homesick quite often. Obviously at first I didn’t feel it at all, especially during the Freshers’ Week, everything is a bit crazy and you don’t have time to think of home, you’ve got many events to participate in and you’re having a lot of fun but when you go through the term a little bit more and you start having to do your readings and everything, you start feeling a bit awkward because obviously I come from Italy and Italy is not that far and the culture is not that different but still it is a bit different so I felt some culture shock but I try to keep in touch with all my friends and family through Skype and Facebook and that helps me a lot and that’s good and people here are very nice, so I can cope with it.
Here at Sussex there is an International Student Society and an International Student Office that work together I think, and they organise a lot of events especially in the Freshers’ Week. Also through all the year they organise trips around England and they are very helpful because, thanks to them, I made a lot of friends in the beginning who were in the same situation as me, in another country, in a different culture. Especially during Freshers’ Week I participated in the many events they were organising. I made a lot of friends and for every question, you can ask them and they are very helpful.