When you think about study abroad, you think traveling, meeting new people and having the time of your life. This is all very true: I have made so many great friends and had life-altering experiences while abroad. But there are also those classes that I have had to attend, as well.
Not many people put too much thought into actually attending uni, but I have felt that this has been another aspect of the experience that has been very eye-opening. With this being the third university that I have attended – San Diego State, University of Technology in Sydney, and now Audencia Business School in Nantes, France – I can say with confidence, the United States does things very differently.
Going to school in a new country is very strange, and there are a lot of aspects that are different from back home. Here are a few things that I have noticed about the different schools while I have been abroad:
- Classes: While abroad, I have noticed that universities focus less on lectures and assignments. They prefer to let students work in groups and use the professors as tools to tackle real world problems that college graduates must tackle in the future. Classes in Sydney consisted of a “large lecture” and a “small lecture” for each class. Here in France, all of the classes are taken with the same group of students; I am in a group of 38 marketing students for the rest of the semester. To gain real-world experience, we practice with real world situations. Here in France, we have been working directly with real companies such as L’Oréal to do real jobs that teach us what to expect in our careers. These classes are no joke, and the university expects you to take them very seriously even if you are studying abroad.
- Homework: Outside of America, there is basically no homework! Since I have left SDSU, I have not had to complete a single homework assignment outside of group projects. The university expects you to do your studying independently. There are recommended practices and readings, but there has not been anything that I must complete for my grade. As great as this sounds, it is impossible to skip the semester and pass the class. It is very important to keep up with the course so that you are learning content for the projects and exams. It is very easy to fall far behind in the class, and I have been caught in moments of panic trying to do some last-minute cramming.
- Grading: As I have said, there is not really any homework in classes abroad. That makes it much easier to do your traveling, but it is harder to get the grades. Classes are typically broken down into a few assignments such as an individual project, group project, and the final exam. These grades are not padded by homework points so they count for a large majority of your grade. From my experience in Australia and here in France, the tests are harder abroad (no multiple choice?!). In fact, I am currently in a class that will completely depend on one group project that we will work on for the semester. That being said, the university does not expect you to get 80’s and 90’s while you are in the program. The average “good” grade while you are outside of the States is around 65 and 70 depending on the university.
- Schedule: This is where France has set itself apart. Both San Diego State and University of Technology in Sydney had set schedules that you are given at the beginning of the semester. This is not the case at my school. When we arrived at orientation, we were given a login to a website that has a tentative schedule. This means that each week the classes change, and this website can only guess when you will have class past two weeks. That is right: It is only accurate up to two weeks out, and it only forecasts my classes two months out. This makes it insanely hard to try to plan weekend trips because it is anyone’s guess as to whether you will have a class or not. C’est la vie for the French, though.
- Campus Life: This is where the schools vary the most. When you go abroad you notice that Greek Life, college sports, huge campus organizations, and even school mascots are nonexistent to other countries. Also, living on campus is not very common when you are abroad and most students choose to commute to school from their parent’s house or private apartments that could be up to two hours away from the school. The one question I get asked the most: What is it all like having everything at university so exciting like the movies? This is so weird to think of because we view what we have at SDSU as completely normal. In reality, our university is so much more than just a school to us students. Save for the few campus organizations that I have seen while abroad, most students only attend university to go to classes. This makes it very hard to connect with other students sometimes.
I think it is very interesting to look at the different way that each culture teaches its students. I feel like I have been getting more usable knowledge abroad as opposed to more theoretical knowledge back in San Diego. However, in order to succeed in these universities, it is imperative that you are self-motivated to study. The international staff, however, wants you to enjoy your time and succeed while you are abroad, and they will often do a lot to help you with any problems you are having.
Study abroad is often seen as one long vacation, but you need to make sure to do your work, as well. A lot of visas require that you attend university regularly and get passing grades in order to stay in their country. You must find your perfect balance of exploring and studying.
Daniel Haberman is a marketing major. He is studying in Nantes, France during Spring semester.