Poppies, Seals, and Grades: Autumn is Here!

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The transition to autumn has been slow to start, but this past week it has gotten much darker, rainy and chilly. With this transition, some new things have begun to appear… poppies, seals, and grades!

Remembrance Day, which is coming up on November 11th, is the Commonwealth’s memorial day for those who gave their lives in the armed forces. It is a common practice to wear a special remembrance poppy in the UK in the weeks leading up to this holiday. I have been beginning to see these everywhere! Professors, passersby, newscasters and British celebrities alike sport these pins during this time of year.

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poppies with harry potter cast

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The origin stems from the famous poem, “In Flanders Field”: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow. Between the crosses, row on row…” This poem describes the flowers which were the first sign of life after death. Poppies grew on the graves of soldiers buried in France and Belgium during and after World War I.

While the poppies begin to appear, a certain type of wild life is also beginning to appear. Along the coast of Eastern England, certain beaches (from November to March) become home to grey seals. I had no idea that seals were members of the English wildlife! The particular beach to which I traveled was called Horsey, which was about forty-five minutes away from the university. Secluded with no real town or houses nearby, Horsey makes a quiet and safe haven for the seals to reside until the warmer weather. At first, I was thrilled with just seeing the little seal heads bobbing off of the beach, but as I walked down the shore I realized that there were tons of gray blobs flopping around on the sand! About twenty seals were on the shore in a group, with tens of others swimming in the vicinity. The seals were so relaxed despite the people gathering around and snapping pictures…some of the seals even appeared to be asleep. It was absolutely magical to see these gentle giants up close and personal.

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A few days ago, I was up close and personal with my first official grade for my coursework here at UEA. The assignment was an essay, worth seventy-five percent of the final grade for that module. My prior knowledge of the English universities’ grading scale was simply that it is difficult to receive a mark of 80 or higher. Before I even had the opportunity to see my grade, I had to wait nearly three weeks. In this time the essay was not only reviewed by my professor, but also by another scorer who was unknown to me. This seemed to be a fairly intense process. Receiving my grade was shocking and confusing at first. I spotted the mark of “66” upon return, and I felt my face become warm. I immediately felt disappointed in myself and thought: “This was a grade out of 100, right?” The grading sheet is marked that I did “good” in all of the areas graded…Where did those other 34 points go?

As soon as I got the opportunity to, I looked up the grading scale of universities in England. Whew! I was certainly relieved because of what I found. A “66” truly is not a bad score at all! It falls under the category 2.1 or also known as “second class honours.”

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More relief was also came to me once I spoke with some of the British students. Reassurance and personal stories of grades made me realize that this was nothing to be upset about, and was actually an accomplishment to be proud of. It is extremely rare, not just difficult, to get above an 80. A mark in the 90’s is essentially unheard of!

Many novel encounters have happened this past week and all have either taught me or enriched my understanding of English culture. Thanks for reading!

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