I just received this article form a contributor today, exactly 4 years after I arrived to Pizzoli to start MathMods.. Every one has their own ideas and the way of how to handle your first semester abroad. This made me think about those months for quite a while.. Following article might seem to be a bit harsh and maybe too straight forward but this being an autonomous blog, and me being proud of everyone that decides to spend hours on writing an article: here you go!
Dear readers, take from it what fits you and keep the rest as respectful opinion :) Many thanks to our contributor!
I think I would have done much better had I just relaxed. The first semester of MathMods was hard, but in an unexpected way. It was hard because the environment was so oppressive. It was hard because, 7 hours of lectures a day, there was no balance in life. It was hard above all because it was easy to make it so.
The first semester in Pizzoli
Everyone who’s been through MathMods knows that there’s nothing but lectures in the first semester. All day. I’m still not sure how anyone is expected to devote 7-8 hours of continuous concentration to what is supposed to be learning. And it’s not even interactive learning. Most of the time it’s some disinterested guy reading from a book, passing saying things out loud as teaching, without any regards to his audience. He doesn’t care to be there, and students don’t want to be there. To call it teaching would be a waste of everyone’s time. But this is not a post to critique the education quality.
How to handle this first semester abroad?
Let’s accept the unpleasantness as starting point. — How to adjust to it?
If there’s anything I learned in MathMods, it is not to stress. I remember I was dreading the program since day one. Having just arrived at Pizzoli and settled in my room — the fresh scent of cow manure whispering about my nose – there was a senior MathMods guy lingering around the residence. I found out from him that classes would promptly begin, ending in exams just 3 weeks away. The subjects were ODE and complex analysis. I never liked analysis and knew even less about ODEs. Panicking at the predicaments ahead, I hit the books that night. By day three in Italy, I thought I was a master at ODEs.
I eventually managed to forget everything in a week. The ODE prep class didn’t help. I was so frightened at being called by professor (yes, he will pick students to go to the board) that I couldn’t concentrate. Come the exam, I failed gloriously. If I actually had not given a fuck at being embarrassed in front of the whole class, I might have actually learned something.
Stress also makes you obsessed on spending every minute you’ve got studying.
This is about the worse thing to do and – why yes — I did it. I used to spend all my time studying, and not achieving much understanding at the end. Thinking back, I was even stressed in my study episodes, and as a result I could barely focus or absorb anything. As I know now, having concentrated periods of intense focus, 1-2 hours at most, works far better. The feeling of productivity from an hour of concentrated work is much more satisfying than from hours of staring at the book, thinking that by simply expending time you’ll learn something. That didn’t work at all for me.
Another thing to do is getting good rest.
I used to ignore the fog that sets in my head after a certain hour at night, and kept studying. You can feel it…it blunts the clarity in your focus. I don’t recall really learning anything after this point, yet I religiously kept at it. That’s a sign of obsession. I would have been better off letting go and going to bed, restoring my mental energy for the morning lectures.
The point is, you really don’t want to stress out. It impedes your thinking, makes you learn less in class. Which translates to having more work at home, being obsessed with studies, having less time to sleep. The cycle happily perpetuates itself.
If you sense that you’re stressed, start exercising.
It really helps. Running, going to the gym, any sort of physical activity will help you de-stress and concentrate. Never have I needed it more than in MathMods. I eventually started running in Hamburg, and I can attribute at least partly to my doing well the second semester to taking care of my body. I got out to have fun far more often, not least because I was learning better with sharper concentration and being less obsessed. There’s a nice gym in an establishment called Canada that’s conveniently located next to the university. They offer membership for 15 euros a month. It’s close to the bus stop, and nicely fills in the gap between the end of lecture and the bus to Pizzoli in the evening.