Monday, October 27, 2014

Emphasis on the Study: Classes in a New Country

Going into my study abroad experience, I thought classes would be similar to what I was used to in the US. It didn’t take me long (probably only 3 days) to realize that classes would be different…Way different. Now, I realize that classes could be entirely different in each country, and classes may be different at universities within the same country. I talked to a couple of my friends who studied abroad in other countries to get other perspectives to add to this blog, and my hope is that this post leaves you curious to know more about how classes can differ from what you know. Maybe so curious, that it makes you decide to study abroad and go figure it out for yourself! :)

University of Canberra

Canberra, Australia

This is the university I studied abroad at, and I was surprised at how many differences I found. Here are just a few differences I noticed:
  • Each class has a lecture and a ‘tutorial.’ Tutorials are smaller sections of your lecture, which allows for more discussion and activities to recap what you learn in lecture. 
  • Depending on the week and your classes, you may not have all of your lectures or tutorials. I had one class where lecture was every other week, and on the weeks with no lecture, tutorials met. I had another class where lecture and tutorial was every week. Another class had lectures every week and only six tutorials throughout the whole semester. I really had to be on top of things to know when I needed be where each week! 
  • Most Australians do not go to lectures. Professors would post audio recordings of their lectures online, so most students would use that instead of actually going to class. Several friends I met in classes actually scheduled to work during their lectures! 
  • I only had 3 exams my entire semester. Most of my classes were papers that required me to write about a situation where I needed to apply what I was learning. It was much more application based than theory based, and this was something hard for me to adjust to.

Université de Nantes
Nantes, France

Université de Nante

My long-time best friend, Catherine, studied abroad in Nantes, France when we were seniors (round one) in college. I went to visit her while she was there, and my visit with her is actually one of the reasons I ended up studying abroad. I asked Catherine a few questions about her experience regarding classes, and here are some of the main points she told me:
  • Classes were different lengths and different times every day. 
  • Some of her professors were strict, while others were laid back. There wasn’t a typical way professors were, they all varied and you had to get to know how each professor was in regards to how strict or laid-back they were. 
  • In France, if you have a long class, there’s a designated smoking break in the middle. 
  • Over all, classes were easy. Catherine only got a grade based on a final exam, which was her language proficiency test, so there was no way to study except learn the language. This was because of the program she was with, but the goal was for her to learn French while she was in her classes. 

La Universidad Nacional

Heredia, Costa Rica

One of my friends from grad school, Kristin, studied abroad in Costa Rica, so I also took the time to chat with her to get a perspective from another region. Kristin had a lot of things to say about her classes in Costa Rica, so here are some of things she mentioned:
  • In the US, it is unlikely that students will wait in a classroom if the professor is 45 minutes late. This is not the case in Costa Rica, however, as no matter how late the professor is, students will not leave class early. 
  • Kristin’s professors were very laid back and not strict about requirements. She remembers asking a professor for clarification on how long a paper should be, and the professor did not give a solid answer, but rather stated “two, three, four…It doesn’t really matter. It’s more about quality than quantity.” 
  • The language barrier was interesting to work through. She had to make sure she understood what was going on, so Kristin would often talk to professors after class about assignments to make sure she understood what she was supposed to be doing. She also befriended native Spanish speakers in her classes, so she could also talk to them about assignments. Kristin said she would meet some friends outside of class to serve as a “language partner” to help her with her Spanish skills. 
  • Instead of getting books from a bookstore, professors used what is called a “copy shop.” At copy shops in Costa Rica, professors can copy chapters from books they want to use, and the shop will combine it into a large stack/book for students. These shops were everywhere, and often had long lines at the beginning of semesters since everyone was trying to get all their books!

Once again, you will likely encounter your own differences at any university you choose to study abroad at. If you are on a faculty-led program, this may not even apply to you, but you will still be learning in a new and different environment and may face different challenges. Wherever you are going, be ready to experience something new and exciting!

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