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winning essay 2006

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Marica Maddox, winner of ADM-HEA's Student Essay Competition in 2006 



“How does your experience of your course compare with any expectations you may have had?”

Not many people get a second chance in a lifetime, but I feel that my experience on my MA Animation course is just that.
It had been two years since I completed my BA degree in Studio/Fine Arts in the United States.  Attending this University to play basketball and study art, I wasn’t able to concentrate on my artwork as much as I would have liked.  Instead of lectures our work was very concentrated on our practice, where we would spend three hours a day learning and refining the taught techniques.  The Arts Department would occasionally bring in well-known practicing artists to do shows, but we never had the opportunity to be taught by them.  Having had this past experience with art, I knew that applying to a school in another country, to study in a field where I had no experience, and that was focused on the arts, was very ambitious.
Refused by many other schools that doubted I could make the transition from artist to animator, I was very excited to learn that I had been accepted to attend the course in the UK in the fall of 2005.  I was on my way to becoming an animator!  A believer in fate, I felt as if I had been given a second chance at life.

Coming to the UK as an international student to study for an MA in Animation with only a BA in Studio/Fine Arts under my belt, I was expecting this to be the most difficult experience one could possibly ever have.  After speaking with several of my friends whom had already experienced an MA course, I was told that it would be heavily self-directed and challenging.  I thought that there would be short lectures everyday where we would be given assignments and sent on our merry way to complete them with no help from anyone.  But despite the expected difficulties I was still excited to have the opportunity to be studying in another country in a field that I have always wanted to pursue.  Fortunately, I wasn’t the only international student studying for a degree in a new field.  There were many other students at this school in the same situation and this was very helpful.
Now after completing my first semester on my course, I feel this experience has been a breath of fresh air.  My experiences in the first semester as an MA Animation student have definitely outweighed the expectations I had of this course.  Although my expectation that the course would be challenging and require independent learning was true, everything else was very surprising.  The course began with three-hour lectures and three-hour tutorials twice a week.  Lecturers that work and teach in the animation field, were brought in by staff to teach us every week.  This has allowed us to create work to a standard expected in the animation field today.  One lecture was for coursework and the other was to help us to get organised for our main project.  I wasn’t expecting there to be so much coursework in addition to our final project work, but everything was broken down so that if we managed our time well, it was easy to cope with all the assignments.
Staff would sometimes join the MA and PhD lectures together so we could learn from one another.  This was intimidating at first but after the PhD students warmed up to having MA students in attendance, it resulted in us having the more experienced PhD classmates as tutors.  Tutorials were also set up with staff to give us guidance and help with our main projects.  Having staff as well as PhD students around for support was very helpful.
One very well accomplished PhD student, who had been teaching at our university as well as others for two years now, took several of the MA students under his wing.  Equipped with a Foundation in Film & Video, a BA in Film & Video, and an MA in Animation and now studying for his PhD in Animation, he is able to help with coursework as well as our main projects.  Professionally he has worked in film and television studios in the UK, Africa, Germany and the US.   I feel as if I have been given a gift because when staff aren’t available, I am able to gain help from this student.  For example, I was able to go to him for questions about the basics of putting an animation film together, filming, and many other techniques.  He would create book and website reading lists and offer support and guidance.  Having someone who knows what the school and staff expect has allowed me to be better prepared for my tutorials with staff.  I think this is a very good learning situation that should be implemented into more universities for MA students.
Many of my fellow classmates have also excelled because of this additional support.  This arrangement benefits PhD students as they gain teaching experience and the staff benefit as they receive additional support while at the same time retaining control of tutorial discussion. Having experienced professionals around is something that I have found essential to the production of my work.   I am now well on my way to fulfilling my dreams of becoming an animator with great staff and a support group cheering me toward the finish line.  Studying in the UK has also allowed me to visit other countries, something I would have never done otherwise.  This experience has been the chance of a lifetime, a paradise, compared to the battle that I was expecting.

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