Study Abroad...What Can I Expect

It is difficult to make generalizations about study abroad because it is a highly individualized experience. However, there are a few things that you can expect to encounter.

Students are expected to be highly motivated in their studies.  Intense "academic pressure" is not as common in other pedagogical systems as it is in the US. There will probably be less supervision of your academic work than you are accustomed to here, though this varies according to where you are doing off-campus study. It is important to work diligently; senior year depends on it.

Often courses abroad are different from courses here; they tend to be more specialized and there are few, if any, survey courses.  Sometimes there are no required quizzes, midterms, or term papers, with success in the course dependent on the final exam (oral or written).

In some cases, as much as 80 - 100% of a student's grade can depend on the final exam. The exam period can be quite long, from four to six weeks. Albion students studying at foreign universities, especially during the spring semester, must plan to take their exams at the time they are given.  Often exams in other university systems go through an extensive review process before they are given once, on the designated day. Students may not ask to take exams early.

The grading system abroad can be quite different from the US system. The concept behind passing a course is that the student has achieved sufficient knowledge to go on to the next level in that subject. Thus, passing a course does not connote just getting by.

Courses are often graded on a curve, with the majority of grades in a middle range. Therefore, there are many students who receive passing grades, but few students receive high grades. The emphasis on achieving high grades or a good GPA that students experience in the US is not relevant in many foreign university systems.

However, in many US college-sponsored programs, courses and grading will be very similar to what students experience in the US.

In many foreign universities there is little of what we call "campus life."  The university buildings may be in the heart of a city, but scattered over a considerable area and separated from one another by residences, stores and factories.  You may live in one part of the city, attend classes in another part, work in the library somewhere else, and eat your meal in a student restaurant on the opposite side of the city.  You will thus be faced with problems of everyday city life, e.g., mass transportation, strikes, impersonal attitudes, tourists, etc.,  that forms an important complement (and contrast) to life at Albion.

 

The students you meet abroad are likely to be rather serious and will tend to act, even with peers, with formality and reserve.  The idea of a "friend" is distinct from the idea of an "acquaintance."  It takes many months to make a "friend" but once a friendship is formed, it can last a lifetime.  If you are living with a family, do not expect to be welcomed immediately to the bosom of the family like another son or daughter.  It does happen, but it is the exception.  More typically, your relationship will start as that between boarder and landlord/landlady.  Therein lies the challenge - to make the relationship grow into something more than the formal, distant relationship it may be initially.

You may be surprised at how politically knowledgeable the students from the host country are.  It is very helpful to study the history and politics of the USA (and the host country) before you go.

Be prepared to undergo a fairly typical adjustment cycle during the first few weeks (or months) of your stay.  It may be a "U" shaped curve, generally starting with a great deal of excitement and euphoria; wherever you are studying seems to be the most wonderful place on earth.  After a while, the novelty wears off and you may feel lonely, frustrated, disappointed, depressed, homesick and irritable.  You may complain about everything and everyone, and wish that you had never left Albion.  Such feelings are perfectly normal and usually pass with time.  Things get better, the petty frustrations disappear, and you finally figure out who you are, where you are, and why you are there.  As you complete your adjustment cycle, you will come to accept and then enjoy everything, including the academics, food, drinks, habits and customs of the host country.  At the end of your stay, you probably will not want to leave and you will try to figure out how to return to your host country as soon as possible.  Prepare as much as possible before you go so that your expectations will be realistic.  Consult faculty members, former OCP students and the CIE for suggestions on what sorts of books to read. The staff of the CIE is here to help you prepare for a most rewarding off-campus experience. We look forward to working with you.