Having studied in London for my first semester freshman year, I always knew I wanted to go back. The idea of returning to a place that was familiar suited me better than finding somewhere new and it allowed me to focus more on my studies and the school I enrolled in. The Courtauld, in the art history world, is known for being one of the best schools, and some would say it is the best.
In terms of resources, the Courtauld is unparalleled. The faculty are some of the best in their field, the library focuses solely on art, and the Courtauld gallery holds some of the most famous paintings in the world. London itself is a vibrant city for the arts, with its free national museums and smaller galleries waiting to be discovered. Not only did I study at the Courtauld, I spent much of my time around the city in various museums and I volunteered in a small exhibition space at Two Temple Place. The Courtauld, however, and this program with IES, is very much what you make of it. It’s an unusual and often-disorganized institution, meaning it is very much on you to make sure things happen, especially as a study abroad student. During 2014-2015, there were a total of eight study abroad students, including myself. The small size is fantastic for getting close to fellow students and professors but also means the Courtauld is less accustomed to dealing with temporary students than other, larger institutions might be. It’s merely a different way of doing things, but make sure this is what you want.
It’s also a very different academic system than in America. I took two courses per term and all of the work handed in for those courses wasn’t formally assessed. As an academic year student, my final grade was made up of my four exams and a 4000-word essay; this was beyond daunting to me and it does lend the time spent studying a different intensity than the workload at an American university might have. For semester students, the work produced in classes is assessed for a grade, but there is still much less of it than in the US. It’s given me a very different perspective on how people learn and how institutions chose to teach art history. The Courtauld’s had many of the greatest art historian’s pass through and they acknowledge that history and the mistakes its made along the way, able to critique its own methods.
Living-wise, I lived in King’s Cross, which is a great location and not far from virtually anything in central London by Tube. The rooms are small, yes, but you adjust surprisingly fast and again, it’s really what you make of the situation. Be prepared to cook and share a space with other students and be open to whatever happens. I made some great friends at the Courtauld and spent plenty of time with them and in their house, and this was a large part of what made my time at the Courtauld so enjoyable. I felt like I fit there and it was an amazing feeling to have after spending an entire year there.
If you’re looking for an intense and different study abroad experience, I definitely recommend the Courtauld for someone who’s adaptable and willing to work.