It’s more than likely I am never going to meet Taylor Imrie; I won’t stand behind her to check out books at Porter library, or bump into her at the university bookstore, or chat with her at the DC bus stop. We will never hold a door in Hagey Hall open for one another. That’s because she is doing her English degree entirely online from Rome, where she relocated from Toronto. Read on to find out what it is like to do your degree online–and thank you to Taylor for participating in Words in Place.–JLH
JLH: What made you decide to do your English degree entirely online, and why did you choose UWaterloo over other universities?
TI: I chose to do my English degree entirely online mostly because I didn’t really have any other choice! After high school, I finished two years at York University and then dropped out to move to Rome, Italy with the plan of studying at an Italian university. When I arrived and started working and learning more about how the education system works here, I realized that working and studying would not be an option. Suddenly, three years fly by and I still have no degree, but I have been working and supporting myself. So I started researching possible online degree programs at Canadian universities and I came across UWaterloo’s website. I chose UWaterloo because it was the only university that was offering complete degree programs entirely online. The cherry on top was that the university also has a great academic reputation! I’m really happy I made the choice to study online and I have just one semester left before finishing my degree!
JLH: What are some of the rewards and challenges involved in doing your degree online?
TI: Good question! I feel like for me there are more rewards than there are challenges. I’ve always done well at school, but I’ve never liked going to school. I never learnt well sitting at a desk and being in that sort of constricted environment. I always got bored and/or distracted very quickly. Doing my classes online has been amazing because I can make my own schedule, I can decide where I want to study—I mean, nothing beats being able to attend lectures in your PJs!! Jokes aside, I also find it more rewarding in the end because I know that I passed a course because I was disciplined and was able to manage my time by myself.
Of course, there are some challenges, too. Going back to the idea of time management, I work full time as an English teacher, 6 days a week. I don’t have all day to sit around and procrastinate. If I have readings to do or assignments to do I have to wake up early, regardless of what time I start work, and study and then when I get home from work, which is usually after 9pm, I eat dinner and then start studying again. My social life is usually quite limited! But, like I said before, it has taught me so much about not only time management, but also responsibility and self-discipline. At the end of the course I feel even more satisfied knowing how hard I worked for that grade.
JLH: How easy is it to access course materials from abroad?
TI: Well, the online materials are really easy to access. The LEARN website is really easy to use and I haven’t had too many problems with it. The problem is that most professors give you a list of books you need for the course and 90% of them cannot be found as an ebook, so that means that if I need a textbook I have to not only pay for the book, but I also need to pay the international shipping costs. I’ve had a lot of problems with this. I’ve had to get my parents to scan me textbooks in order to save on shipping. It really frustrates me because the way I see it is since it is an online course, then it should be taken into consideration that some students may not be living in Canada or even in an English-speaking country and don’t have access to the same libraries and bookstores that other students do. Most professors have been pretty accommodating regarding editions of texts and whatnot, but when you have that one professor who needs you to have that 1843 edition of some obscure book and tells you to go look for it in the library in Rome, you start thinking the world has gone mad! This becomes particularly problematic when it comes to Canadian Literature because that is nearly impossible to find in this country. Before each semester I send an email to my professors asking for a list of the books needed for the course and if a specific edition is necessary. Then, I look online to see if I can find a copy as an ebook and hope for the best!
JLH: What do you wish you’d known before starting this degree path? Do you have any special advice for those contemplating doing an English degree online?
TI: Probably the only thing I wish I had known before was the problems I’ve had regarding textbooks. In the end, I’ve always figured it out in one way or another. It’s just frustrating, like I said before. The one piece of advice I’d give to someone pursuing a degree in anything entirely online is to make at least one friend in all of your classes and exchange contact information, either Facebook or phone numbers. I’ve found it really helpful to have someone who can relate to my frustrations or just someone to talk to about the course. When you go to class on campus, you usually meet people in your class who can understand you. It was great for me to have that support system, especially being so far away. It was also great because we edited each other’s essays and created study sheets before exams on Google Docs. Another piece of advice I would give is to make sure you stay on top of the course schedule at all times!! Read all news articles and engage in all discussions. Discussions have helped me so much in regards to understanding difficult concepts and also just hearing different points of view. It is a really great way to engage with your classmates.
JLH: Finally, what are you reading for fun?
TI: I’m actually a really big history nerd!! If getting a history degree provided more opportunities, I probably would’ve considered pursuing it instead! That said, I’ve been reading a book called Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant. It is a really wonderful read about the Borgia family in Renaissance Italy. It is a fiction that incorporates historical facts and takes you behind the scenes of Borgia Italy. The Borgia family was an incredibly powerful one and it is interesting to see what sacrifices the Borgia Pope’s children made in order for their family to become even more powerful. I feel like history and literature really do go hand in hand because without the written word a lot of history would be forgotten.