What is a “reading week”?

At some universities in the United Kingdom, it is a term used to describe a week-long break in teaching, during which students should engage exclusively in self-study.

There are no lectures, it is not necessary to be on university premises, but all sources are still available to the students. That means they can catch up on things they did not have time to do during the busy semester weekdays. The libraries are open and lure us to sit at their desks and open a book. But we should not be deluding ourselves: we are just people and we study at some of the world’s best educational institutions. The workload is enormous, and so the vision of a free week in which it is not necessary to get up for a nine-o’clock lecture is rather perceived as an opportunity for rest, as a vacation. At least in the first year in which there is relatively less work than in the following years, one can afford this change of meaning of the collocation “reading week”. So, we go to see our friends and families, whether they are in the Czech Republic or elsewhere in Britain, to have some fun and to regain strength for future study efforts. By the way, getting used to the fact that a working day, including teaching, begins at nine o’clock and not sooner, as it is the case in our part of the world, is VERY convenient. I can no longer imagine being woken up by my friend alarm clock sooner than that, for example at half past six as it happened at Open Gate sometime.

A reading week forces one to realize another peculiarity. The academic year flies much faster than I would have imagined before it started. The system of breaks at University College London is very clear. Each semester lasts five weeks and is divided into two halves by a reading week. After each semester, there is a month-long vacation: the first one is the Christmas vacation; in the spring it is the Easter vacation. After that, there is just the exam period left, which is officially considered a third term, or a trimester, but there is no teaching. It is quite striking to realize that now, I have just under a month left of lectures. Then, I will go home for a couple of days, only to return soon to begin my preparation for the exams. So in fact, the exam period begins much sooner than after the month for me because of that.

Given how fast time flies and the fact that most of it is devoted to self-study, access to our libraries containing a wealth of resources has become the most important part of university studies. Don’t get me wrong – lectures are enriching, but mainly in that they give you a summary of the materials you should have studied yourself beforehand. Lectures also help to guide you to the really important parts of the readings. I do not claim that is a wrong approach, but it is nonetheless a very important distinction between high school and university studies I have noticed so far. Moreover, students in the English-speaking world do not study using what we call “skripta”, i.e. prepared answers for a given set of exam questions. What is important is to work with primary resources, from which we have to obtain the most important bits ourselves. This further multiplies the degree of independence required from a student. Would you like to be served the questions and answers which you could only memorize to succeed? We are sorry, that we do not have; we cannot help you. Open a book by the man whose theories we have been analyzing in lectures and try to understand them. Depending on how well you understand, you will either succeed – or not – in the exams. How plain. How effective. How intellectually stimulating. However, it forces the frugal Czech to ponder whether the nine thousand pounds which the tuition costs – and which is paid for me by The Kellner Family Foundation as part of their kind support – are worth the library access card and the summarizing lectures. In today’s era of open resources and the soaring popularity of online education it is clear that universities will have to go through a reform.

However, life is not only about education. It is also necessary to take advantage of the plethora of extracurricular activities which the university and also the city I currently live in offer. That is why I became a founding member of a society uniting Czechs and Slovaks studying at UCL and also people of other nationalities interested in our cultures. It is my responsibility to obtain sponsorship contributions to support the society’s operation. This is potentially beneficial not only from the financial point of view, but it is also a way of getting useful contacts which could be useful in the future. Being in London is also advantageous because the headquarters of many big companies are either located here, or the CEOs visit London often. That was how I got the opportunity to meet the leaders of a number of consulting companies. Thanks to the positive experience gained during the meetings, I am now applying for a summer internship. But I also remain faithful to my chosen field of study, politics. Hence, I am also applying for an internship at the Czech embassy in London. In the following week I should find out whether I was succeeded in the selection process. Theoretically, I could spend the spring not only studying for exams, but also assisting the Czech diplomatic corps here in Britain!

Last but not least, I publicly objected the statement of President Zeman regarding handicapped people, among which I belong. I do not believe that separating children with disabilities from healthy children would be a step in the right direction – of course, provided that the person’s health condition allows otherwise. If there is something my studies at Open Gate and now abroad have taught me it is that we cannot generalize in the way the President did. Every person is different. Someone can capitalize on his potential despite a disability and be useful for society. As I am trying to be, for example. That is why we should give those people a chance and acknowledge that there are people who look differently, think differently or walk differently.

But we all have one thing in common: humanity.  

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