Remember that you are taking part in a study program, not a tourism program, so academics should take precedence over other activities. Consider the academic differences you will face off-campus, as well as the resources that will help you have a smoother transition to your new learning environment.
The more you know about the academic differences in other cultures, the more prepared you will be to deal with these differences. Be aware that faculty abroad will have a different teaching style than you may be used to, and structure programs will also differ in their approach to immersion. Classes will use the extensive resources of your location or academic setting. In general, it is best to approach your off-campus academics by having reasonable expectations, being open-minded and flexible, and by being willing to take on unexpected challenges.
Key differences to look out for (College of Wooster)
- 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 study at a large university (Adapted from College of Wooster)
- 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, do not rely on clubs and organizations to find friends. Many foreign universities do not have those.
- If you live off-campus, make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the university. Many 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, it is highly recommended that you attend the lectures.
- Learn about the classroom culture and etiquette from U.S. students who have studied abroad in the host culture, 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 often “just a number,” there may not be 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.
Connecting your Academic Experience back to Lawrence
It is important to be aware of how your academic performance off campus will come back and affect your overall academic records at Lawrence. Consider the following:
- All courses will come back to your LU academic record and apply to your GPA.
- You can take a course S/U.
- Be sure to talk to your advisor and/or head of department to find out how courses will ‘count’ toward major/minor requirements.
- Save coursework and syllabi in case you need them when you return (departmental portfolios, getting course to ‘count’ for a major/minor requirement, petitioning for class to ‘count’ toward a different department).
- Be sure to have transcripts sent directly from program to LU Registrar (especially in Luther, MSID, SUNY, Budapest, and Coe programs).
- LU will accept transcript direct from your program in that it is an LU-affiliated program. You will NOT need to use a School of Record service (IES and other programs will ask if LU will require you to use their School of Record).
- Off-Campus Program Credit, Course Loads, and Grade Information - Shows how credit for each class will come back as LU units. Also includes full-time course load for term and semester programs (full-time status is a requirement for many benefits such as federal loans, insurance, scholarships, visas, etc.).
If you will be conducting research involving human participants on your program, you should consult Lawrence’s Institutional Review Board. It is important that you start to think about some of the ethical implications for your research; the aim of the IRB is to help you with this. If you need IRB approval for the type of research you will conduct, you will need to petition for this before you conduct the research. To help you with understanding LU’s IRB process, you should look to the IRB’s website (link below) and/or contact the Office of Research Administration.
- Institutional Review Board (IRB) - Page on Lawrence's board for research regulations
Internship/Cultural Practicum/Field Placement
Important things to remember
- View your internship as a cultural learning experience, and not merely as "on the job training."
- Internships are not as common elsewhere as they are in the US.
- Expect local industries and the workplace to be very different than the US.
- Treat this as an opportunity to be a participant observer.
- Research the local industry associated with your internship choices.
For many students, language learning can be one of their biggest challenges while off campus, whether or not language study is actually part of their program. If you don’t speak the host language very well, you’ll be okay—just try to learn the language as much as possible and use it when you can. It is a sign of respect to learn as much of the host culture’s language as you can, even if it is just “survival” words or phrases at first. It is the attempt that people observe, and the practice that helps you learn.
Studying and using the local language is a key part of the adjustment process, because doing so improves your ability to get things done and be heard and understood. It can also increase your confidence in interacting with the locals, which often means that you spend more time with your hosts as a result. Also take advantage of opportunities your faculty and study abroad advisors might offer to help improve your oral language proficiency and intercultural development.
- Look for every chance possible to practice your target language: social and academic activities, excursions, volunteering, meals with host family, conversation exchanges with native speakers, local TV/movies/music, etc.
- Take advantage of opportunities for authentic conversation with those around you (not just other students in your program): host parents/siblings, local shopkeepers, neighbors, etc.
- Avoid people who speak to you only (or mostly) in English, or suggest some rules to stay in your target language as much as possible.
- Challenge yourself! Set specific goals, complete language pledges with your program, etc.
- Don’t pass up opportunities like language exchanges just because you think your language abilities are weak—seize the opportunity to go to events and spend time with native speakers to learn new vocabulary (and culture, too!).
- Remember: learning a language requires time, patience, and a willingness to speak (even when you make mistakes).
Vande Berg, Michael, Jeffrey Connor-Linton, and Michael Paige. "The Georgetown Consortium Project: Interventions for Student Learning Abroad." Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 18 (2009).