Hello everyone! My name is Dennis Montagano, I am currently studying Spanish and English Language BA Honours and will graduate in a few months from now. I come from a small town in southern Italy, so coming to London was a big change for me in regard to my lifestyle. In my first blog, I am going to share the shock (positive) I experienced with how different the British education system is compared with the Italian one.
I will be totally honest, I wasn’t exactly a model student back in Italy, in fact, I graduated with 63 out of 100, so I came to the University of Westminster expecting to fail, or at best just merely get by. The main reason why I took this important life choice in the first place was that I wanted to try a new experience, and at worst learn something new and have another story to tell. It is now three years later, and I am about to graduate with either a 1st or a close 2:1 grade.
Over these three years, I have perfected three languages, obviously English and Spanish, but also French. I can also speak conversational German. I studied and learned French and German on the University’s Polylang program offer, which gives students an optional module opportunity to learn another language at beginner, intermediate or advanced levels. With these four extra foreign languages, I can now converse all night long with tourists visiting my town back in Italy.
I have also benefited from plenty of professional experiences that will open lots of career doors in the near future (I will talk more about this in future posts). As a preview, one good example was representing my University on an in-person visit to the Department for Education and meeting the Member of Parliament (William James Quince). This proved all my past doubters wrong, including former teachers who referred to me as “dumb” and “hopeless”. I would attribute this total change to the totally different British education system, and to all my amazing teachers at Westminster who incited me to develop the skills that I didn’t even know I had before starting my studies here. I won’t sugar-coat it, personally, I really didn’t like the Italian system: It’s very theoretical, it encourages a system of servility from the students towards their teachers, and doesn’t teach individuals how to be human beings with their own critical sense. I feel it only teaches how to absorb knowledge without truly reflecting on it to really learn something.
Class structure, assessment style, and overcoming shyness
To offer you all an example, my average language lesson is structured this way: My teachers introduce the class to an argument related to the modern world (such as the feminist movement throughout history, or LGBT rights), educating us about it. Then they allow us to discuss the topic with them and fellow classmates, obviously in a mutually respectful way, all while using only the target language, resorting to English only when a student asks for clarification about a certain type of vocabulary, or to explain the occasional grammar point (which is kept to only the minimum necessary). Personally, I think this is great, as it teaches us how to use the language in real-life scenarios, and it helps in developing soft skills like public speaking, elaboration of information, group-working, and many other skills. Even the way learning is assessed is very varied and practical: I still fondly remember my first oral Spanish examination. Some of my classmates staged a play in Spanish, others enacted a poem in Spanish, and I sang “Sofia” by Alvaro Soler and “Hijo de hombre” from Tarzan in Spanish. For the record, I got a first-class grade for it. I had fun, improved my Spanish, and overcame my shyness. This generally created an unforgettable memory, one that my friends still envy me for, and new people I meet are constantly amazed at when I tell them. When I first went back to Italy for the first time during the Christmas vacation after having started my studies at Westminster, I lost count of how many friends and family members told me how much I had changed as a person.
Kind and intellectually stimulating teachers
Even the relationships with teachers were a total cultural shock. In fact, during my first Spanish lesson, I used the formal “you” (“usted” in Spanish) towards my teacher, to which she simply replied: “Just call me Olga”. I even cooked for her one time, and we grabbed coffee together at the cafeteria next to the campus. I went from being hated by most of my teachers in Italy because I refused to just accept their opinions and impositions to often talking about life with my teachers here when meeting (even outside of lesson), and having intellectually stimulating conversations.
If any of my University teachers ever read this post, just know that you are genuinely some of the kindest and most competent people I ever met. It was an honour to be taught by you. You contributed greatly to the three best years of my life so far. I could tell many more positive things about my experience at the University of Westminster, but that will be reserved for my future blog articles, so stay tuned. I hope I manage to convince any reader to give their dream of studying in the UK a shot: It genuinely changed me and my life for the better. If I could go back in time I would totally do it all again!
For more insight from international students about studying at the University of Westminster in the heart of London, please visit International Student Blogs.