One of the biggest benefits of studying abroad is having the opportunity to experience a different academic environment. It's important to remember that in some cases, your classes abroad may be pretty similar in style to the classes you've taken here at UNC Charlotte. However, in other cases, they may be very different. As long as you keep an open mind and remain flexible, you're sure to succeed!
Prepare for Differences
Just like here at UNC Charlotte, each course you take may be different in terms of the following factors. The same principle applies abroad. Each course may be different and the academic environment overall may really differ from UNC Charlotte (not in a good or bad way, just different):
Depending on the course, it could be possible that you don't have much homework outside of class. While this may seem great, keep in mind that homework not only reinforces ideas that you're learning but also tend to be easy cushion grades. This may mean that even if it's not required, you should be practicing what you learned in class in your free time. In other cases, there may be a heavier workload. This does not mean you'll be stuck inside when you're not in class just trying to get work done. Rather, this will be a great opportunity to practice your time management skills and keep up on assignments so that you can save your free time to explore your new city or do some traveling.
"Easy vs. Hard"
Beware of asking other Study Abroad Alumni whether or not the course they took abroad were "easy or hard." Even if they give an answer, this is a relative question. Even 2 students participating in the same program taking the same courses abroad may have a different opinion. In other words, as long as you attend class, complete assignments and study for exams, you will set yourself up for success.
The way the class is structured may vary when you are abroad in terms of:
- Lecture vs. textbook
- Performance vs. participation
- Expectations of learning independently outside of class
- Essays vs. memorization
- Opinion vs. fact
It may be common that international faculty do not take attendance. While this may seem great, here in the U.S. attendance is an easy way of getting extra points to contribute to your overall grade in the class. If attendance is not mandatory, you are still expected to attend. This is a great opportunity to develop independence and put the responsibility on yourself, as the student, to attend class - which is what you're there to do!
Interactions with Professors
Depending on the culture, your interactions with professors could really differ than what you're used to here at UNC Charlotte. For example, it may be culturally acceptable to call your professors by their first name, speak without raising your hand or to even meet up with faculty outside of class in a social setting. In other cases, the relationship between the student and professor may be very formal involving little interaction or communication outside of the class.
Access to academic services
Here at UNC Charlotte you have access to a lot of services, including faculty office hours, tutoring and more. Abroad, you may or may not have access to similar services. If you are currently registered with the Office of Disability Services here at UNC Charlotte and require certain accommodations to be made in the classroom (e.g. extra time on tests, etc.), it's critical you share your accommodation letter with the Office of Education Abroad and note that ADA laws do not apply abroad. In other words, these same accommodations are not guaranteed abroad, but the OEA will do our best to be an advocate on your behalf.
The resources listed below are intended to be a guide to help students prepare for departure. However, please note that each student's experience will be different and is relative. Beyond researching the educational system abroad, students should prepare to be as flexible as possible and to adapt to the differences in the academic environments abroad.
- ISEP Country Guides: ISEP, an organization the OEA works with that offers study abroad programs, has Country Handbooks that outline the educational system for many different countries around the world. Please note that some of the information listed in these guides may be specific to students who are participating in an ISEP program, which is not applicable to all students. However, there are certainly a lot of resources that are applicable to any student studying in that country regardless of program.