Castle Kids: Students had foreign expectations of midterms

by Cathleen Cusachs / Beacon Staff • November 4, 2015

After three late nights in a row, sophomore marketing communication major Susannah Hicks awoke in the morning to finish some last minute studying when she suddenly doubled over in horrific pain. Her midterm stress had developed into an ulcer.

When planning our semester abroad at Emerson’s humble Netherlands abode, I, along with many others, received the impression that our professors in Europe would be understanding. We heard from staff and fellow students not to worry, that teachers are conscious of the shortened semester, not to mention the loss of most weekends to travelling. Although an extreme outlier from the semester, Hicks’ story proves we were beyond wrong.

The biggest problem, and cause of stress, came from the jampacked nature of the classes. Due to European Union regulations, tourists cannot stay more than 90 days without visas. In an ironic attempt to lessen stress, Emerson castle semesters are exactly three months long.

Ninety days is simply not enough to get through an entire course without educating at hyperspeed when all involved are used to over a hundred days of work. One castle professor assigned three 10-page essays. Another gave a 1,400 word feature article on absolutely anything, except the program or related on campus activities, meaning interviews had to take over weekend travel time. Many other professors required both a midterm paper(s) and an exam. After sprinting through the first half of these courses, our brains were too drained to endure one, let alone both. 

The cramped semester also carried over to midterms week, which included regular classes. Kasteel Well doesn’t have time to give a few days off of everyday course sessions, let alone a free study day. My Wednesday included two back-to-back tests framed by two regular classes. A few students had all four midterms in one day. 

It was these excessive assignments that really hurt me. Within a four day time period, I had three essays and three midterm exams. One of those papers had not been spoken of until the very week before. Even this, though, can be construed as my fault. Instead of taking the weekend prior to midterms off like many, I was prancing around Paris, France. 

Audrey Borst, however, did not prance. Borst, a senior communication studies major, stayed at the castle the weekend before to study for her four essays and three tests, but still had to pull an all-nighter during the week. By the end, Borst said she was so exhausted, she said she had cried at least 10 times. She said these midterms “[took] the cake” for most intense she’s ever experienced because of the lack of understanding of expectations. In Boston, professors outlined exactly what to study; here they didn’t. Because of the shortened semester and lack of guidelines, Borst said she felt she had to cram the whole first half of the course into her studying. 

Besides the unknown of the exams, Borst said her essays were gruelling too. Three of the four were 10 pages including one of philosophical ideas for her environmental ethics class. 

Many Emerson students have taken their fair share of conceptual courses, and I’m not much different. However, all three tests I struggled through involved not only deeply rooted theoretical thinking, but also application in original thought. Combine this with the 15 hours I slept all week when not writing papers and you end up with one incredibly exhausted, stressed, hermit-resembling journalism student.

Casey Hudacko, a junior visual and media arts major, showed up to her history of renaissance art midterm in actual full hermit attire—pajamas, no shoes, and a security blanket. She said her stress also came from a confused expectations. Office hours aren’t available for students to clarify questions, due to the professors’ scattered residences. Language barriers also affected communication of details and requirements. Both are problems not seen in Boston. 

Non-Kasteel Well students often fall into the belief that the castle program is all fun and games, and to be fair, most of it is. To say this experience is not my peak in life is to be whiny and naive. But, when a hard-working student has to go on ulcer medication after a last minute doctor’s appointment, it’s clear not all is perfect in paradise. This is not a complaint piece, it is a call to action.

Consistent standards need to explicitly exist throughout courses, and guidelines should be given. If professors are to be understanding of the time restraints, they should acknowledge the quality and quantity of material and prioritize to cut down the number of all-nighters. If possible, the spreading of exams should be attempted. All four tests in one day will not be tolerated.

From a progressive institute such as Emerson who prides itself on caring for students’ mental health, such tolerance for our current situation is remarkably surprising and unfortunate.