Things I wish I knew Before I started International Studies: Kira Paynter

In this series, the senior members of BAISmag reflect on their experiences in studying IS and provide advice for the incoming first-year students. This week, Managerial Editor Kira Paynter gives some tips on surviving University life, online.

I have learned many lessons throughout my study experience at Leiden. Concepts such as Orientalism and discourse; honestly kind of sick of hearing about them all the time, despite their importance. I also learned that you have to show up early if you want to sit in the library or the silent area. And just one hot chocolate or coffee from the vending machine can either make or break an assignment. 

Many of my experiences come from attending university in person. However, because I am an international student, I returned home as soon as our classes switched to the online format. Studying online is not how I experienced my first year, but it’s how most of my semester took place in my second year, so while I cannot predict exactly how your courses will be, I hope I can still give some advice on how to stay motivated and get through this time until we are able to return to on-campus teaching. 

  1. On Online Exams

Even though our classes, and therefore also our exams being online, you (and me, and the rest of the student body) still need to study. You might be lulled into a false sense of security knowing that you can look up study notes during the exam, but actually I have found that the online exams were far more difficult than the in-person quizzes. 

Most courses will ask you to cite sources as you answer the questions (which also often have a word limit). In preparation for this, I recommend writing short summaries addressing the themes of lectures and the readings before the exam, so you know where to look. 

Control + F saves time; and grades. 

They expect us to be able to understand the concepts instead of naming them, so beforehand make sure to ask your tutor these questions. Or ask your classmates if you’re too shy to bring it up in class. Or schedule a meeting with the professor.

I promise, asking someone in the faculty is far easier than asking Google. It might not seem it, but it is. 

  1. On Productivity

Studying online was a pain for me. I am the type of person that needs a bit of pressure to function well, but holed up in my room there was no one there to hold me accountable when I started to watch Youtube videos instead of lecture recordings. I’m gonna say something controversial here, but there’s a reason that one of our professors banned the use of laptops in his lectures – they can quickly turn distracting.

At the moment, depending on the situation your country is in, you also don’t have the option of going to a cafe for a change in scenery, which can do wonders in helping maintain concentration. 

Therefore, what worked well for me was having someone there to hold me responsible. I would get on Skype with one of my friends and we would silently sit there and study together and call each other out if we saw that the other person was on their phone. 

Similarly, there are apps and extensions that have similar functions. For example, Forest (not sponsored haha) blocks you from accessing certain apps on your phone. Like all those futuristic movies preach: If you don’t trust yourself, trust AI instead.

Also, for those of you who have pets out there, spend some time with them. Pets are great stress relievers. Note that I am also incredibly jealous. 

  1. On Routine

Find a routine and maintain it. Get dressed in the morning, even though no one will be able to see that you’re still in your pyjamas. Make sure to get out of bed at an acceptable time (no, noon is not acceptable. I know, I’m sorry. I’ve been there, but I promise oversleeping is not worth it. It actually results in lower energy levels.)

Also, try to adhere to the schedule provided by the university. Workgroups are mandatory, but also try not to skip out on the lectures and try to watch them in the designated time spots. It gives your week more structure and also prevents you from having to catch up later down the line. 

I know not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have a place to stay with a semi-functioning internet connection and a decent laptop. If you have any troubles in terms of needing technological support, Leiden University has a service for lending out laptops. Reach out to your study advisor or course coordinator should you have any questions or anticipated troubles that could impact your participation in the program. 

Also, outside of all of these studying tips, remember to take care of your mental health. Here are some services that Leiden University provides. 

Stay safe everyone and welcome to the BA of International Studies. 

I will (hopefully) see you on campus next year!

Kira Paynter

Managerial Editor

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