Five courses, five different professors and five different vibes… this is how I am spending my exchange semester at George Washington University. This is how I spent all of the previous semesters at Al Akhawayn University. However, even though the system is the same in both my home and host universities, the learning style not only varies from AUI to GWU, it even varies from one professor to another. Both AUI and GWU offer courses in English with professors from all around the world with different teaching methods and various skills in specific fields. Therefore, if despite all of these similarities I can still feel that there is a big difference between the two universities, it must be because it is mainly due to the different cultures and not only the different learning environments.
Let’s start by one major difference between AUI and GW before specifically discussing the difference between the classes. Even though both universities have amazing campuses, they are completely and a hundred percent different. GW’s campus is impressively huge. It has so many buildings with a minimum of five floors each and these buildings are spread out around Foggy Bottom’s area. If I want to go to class and be there on time, I would need to leave my room at least fifteen minutes earlier if the classroom is in a building nearby. Sometimes, I need less time (because I run!) and other times I need more time (either because I wear heels, because the building is located in some distant street or because I need to take a bus to actually reach the location of the classroom). The campus is located right in the middle of the city, the streets are full of cars at any moment of the day and there are actually traffic lights inside the campus. In other words, anybody can walk in or out of the campus since there is no actual difference between GW’s buildings and any other building nearby (except for the dorms for which you we actually need a card to be authorized to come in). Campus is just a word used that infers to the university as a whole instead of a closed area where only GW students, faculty or staff can be found.
On the other hand, AUI’s campus is pretty small compared to GW’s one. Its buildings have between one and four floors and they are all pretty close to each other. You could easily walk through the whole campus in less than fifteen minutes. It usually takes me five minutes to get to the classroom (when wearing heels!) and the only way you can be inside the campus would be for you to be a student, a faculty member or a staff working within the university. The university campus is a closed area where students can be sure that no stranger can come in. Therefore, even if university is about becoming adults and responsible of ourselves, parents always make sure that their children are in a perfectly secured place where there isn’t the slightest chance of something bad happening. As for the courses, attendance is mandatory and each student who fails to meet a certain amount of classes fails the entire course. So, even if attendance represents only a small portion of the final grade and students are supposed to be able to make their own choices, being absent for more than seven classes means failing. Assignments are usually just a way for the professors to torture their students and midterms and finals have percentages as high as 30 and 35 percent.
In George Washington University, there is no such thing as failing a course because of attendance. Professors assign a certain percentage of the grade to attendance and the more absences the student has, the more that percentage comes closer to zero. Some sections contain so many people (up to 200 students) that attendance is not even part of the final grade. Each student is responsible for his own choices and decisions. Assignments and projects represent a big chunk of the final grade and have usually the same weight (if not a bigger one) as a midterm or final. In other words, the university offers to the student an endless amount of resources and it is up to the student to decide what he/she wants to do with them.
These differences may seem somehow superficial, but for a student who needs to adapt to a new system for five months and then go back again to the previous one, they can be tricky. However, as I said previously, those differences between AUI and GWU actually reflect the part of the differences between Morocco and the United States of America. While Morocco is a very collectivist country, the US is more of an individualistic one. The ideal would be to have a mix between those two characteristics and live in a world where Morocco, the US and any other country of the planet learn from the differences that make this world so unique. Unfortunately, that would be dreaming about a utopia that will never happen.