Educational Differences

Assume that academics will be different from what you are used to. Learn about the structure of academics at your host institution ahead of time – your transition will be smoother. Here are some key differences:

  • Instruction Methods: lectures vs. discussions; group vs. independent learning; access to professors
  • Grades: continual assessment vs. one final exam; grading scales
  • Reading Assignments: guided reading assignments vs. bibliographies
  • Class Attendance: required vs. optional
  • Exams: you may need to pre-register to take an exam
  • Spelling: spelling of English words differs by country. Try to adopt the host country’s spelling
  • Classroom etiquette: it may not be appropriate to question/interrupt the professor, eat in class, dress informally, question grades, etc.

Adjusting to Studying at a Large University

  • Take initiative, if that is culturally appropriate. In a large university abroad, if you don't take the initiative, you may not have much faculty contact.
  • Make an effort to get along with other students. Students who are lonely and report difficulty in getting along with people are more likely to run into trouble academically. However, don’t look for clubs and organizations to find friends. Most foreign universities do not have those.
  • If you live off-campus, make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the university. Most foreign universities do not have student housing. In some countries, some professors may not let you in if you are late.
  • Attend lectures. In many large foreign universities, attendance is not mandatory, and the final grade depends on one final exam. Since you are in a foreign academic system, possibly taught in a foreign language, we recommend that you do attend the lectures.
  • Learn about the classroom culture and etiquette from U.S. students who have studied abroad in that country, as well as from local students. Asking questions during a lecture or arguing with the professor may not be acceptable in some academic cultures.
  • Know how to get your questions answered. In many foreign universities, professors do not hold office hours. Depending on the professor, your only opportunity to ask a question may be after the lecture, or not at all. Utilize libraries and ask other students to help you understand the material, if possible.
  • Allow plenty of time for dealing with administrative hassles. If, for example, the school makes a mistake on your transcript, it can be difficult to get in touch with the person who can reverse such errors.
  • Become more independent. Since students at large universities are usually “just a number,” there is not a lot of assistance. For the most part, there are no academic advisors in non-U.S. universities. This means that you might be on your own and won't have much guidance during your time at the university.
  • Take care of your mental health through your study abroad program and home institution, as most foreign universities do not have psychological services available.
  • Learn to adjust to different teaching and learning styles. In many foreign universities, there is little room for discussion of topics and formulation of arguments. The emphasis may be more on memorization of information.