At the University of Sydney, the classroom experience has been immensely different from my home university in the states. I noticed the differences from my first moments here, all starting with the chaos of scheduling courses. At USyd, they use a “timetable” to create a course schedule. It is painstakingly confusing, as any university administered platform is, and allows you to have clashing course times. When I first saw that, I initially thought it meant you had to change your schedule, because usually overlapping courses are ill-advised or not allowed at my home school. However, it is a normal occurrence here. Instead, what students do is choose what lecture to attend (if they even attend either at all), or they leave one early.
The atmosphere at USyd between faculty and students, and in the classroom itself, is much more of a laidback and truly collegial feel. Your professors, while still maintaining a respectful tone, become to feel more like peers in the way they engage in dialogue with you and your classmates. “Hand-raising” is not as common—it does occur in larger courses, but in my smaller courses it is much more conversational and makes the classroom feel more inviting.
Something that is quite different from my home university is how lectures and tutorials (smaller discussion sections) are scheduled. I only have one lecture a week for each of my courses and one discussion as well. The lectures are each two hours and the discussions are one. Whereas, back in the states, I tend to have my lectures split up into smaller blocks throughout multiple days of the week: for example, a 50 minute lecture on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a discussion section. But at USyd I only have courses on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; after that, I am done for the week with any in-person attendance. I like the format of scheduling at USyd a lot—it gives the student more freedom to get work done outside the classroom and to live a life outside of just academic work.
Another key difference is that at USyd, there is no “busy work”. Most courses have two to three major exams, essays or projects, and that is all that gets marked. Many exchange students were appalled at this when they first arrived, as they were used to the common weekly discussion posts, problem sets, and reflections that permeate the American post-secondary schooling system.
Also, to wrap up the classroom atmosphere: at USyd, on campus, there is constantly something going on. From food trucks, to music, international festivals, and vintage clothing sales—you can always be sure to find a break from classes and studying right on the campus. A school unlike anyplace else: from the beauty of our regal Quadrangle to the plethora of cafés and study spots with tea points, USyd has it all.