Some of the most difficult differences you may encounter living abroad will be in the classroom. You may be surprised by the change of pace, amount of free time, and different perspectives of professors in non-American classroom settings. It’s important to manage your expectations with a new system of learning and to seek help if you need it. Some differences you might notice abroad compared to your classes in the U.S. could include:
Academic Calendars and Vacation Periods
Most educational institutions abroad have their own academic calendars that could differ from The New School’s, anywhere from a few days to even a couple of months. Although you may be accustomed to a holiday break through late January or starting summer vacation in mid-May, your academic calendar may look very different from what you have become accustomed to in the U.S. Some semesters may turn out to be much shorter or longer than you are used to, even though you are expecting to earn the same amount of course credit over your program duration as you would in the U.S. Remember to be mindful of your study abroad program’s academic calendar so you can effectively plan your semester and vacation activities.
Classroom Activities and Attendance
At The New School and other universities across the United States, there is often a lot of interaction between students and professors. Classroom activities are significant to teaching and evaluating students, and attendance tracking is common. When you are abroad, however, you may find that you are not expected to complete as much activity in the classroom or interact as much with your fellow students and professors, and instead are responsible for much more independent work outside of class (for example: a higher emphasis on independent readings). Although a syllabus for your coursework abroad may not include an attendance requirement, remember that attendance is important to your success (and still a requirement for you while abroad under The New School’s attendance policies).
Level of Formality and Classroom Roles
The U.S. classroom is well-known for encouraging open discussion of ideas, personal interactions between students and professors, team motivation, and tutoring. There is often also an expectation that a student’s classroom struggles are partially the professor’s responsibility. Students should be prepared, however, for a much more formal distinction of roles when studying abroad. In many international classrooms, you may find that the professor is seen much more as a figure of authority and not expected to be questioned. You may instead be expected to follow instructions from the professor’s particular point of view and to motivate yourself independently with little to no oversight. It is also important to be mindful of language differences when addressing a professor or fellow student. In some cultures and languages, there may be established phrases or titles to formally address someone according to their role in a classroom setting.