student life

The View From Campus: What’s Life Like In A US College Classroom?

Let’s face it, the last year has not been easy. With a global pandemic affecting every part of our daily lives in almost every country on earth, we’d be forgiven for thinking things may never be the same again. In many ways that may be true, but for many international students seeking to study in the United States there are and will continue to be several important parts of academic life that will remain.

While many courses have been taught online and those taught in-person having significant physical changes to the classroom space, the following areas remain consistent.

The Informality

What surprises most international students when they get into their first classes at U.S. colleges is how professors can be so friendly. You may be used to a very formal relationship between students and faculty members in your educational institutions in your home country. For many professors in the United States, the opportunities to help students become what they hope to be is a calling. Faculty members are routinely required to have a set number of hours each week that they are available outside of class periods for students to schedule appointments about topics in class that need clarification or even drop by to have a conversation. International students often develop close relationships with faculty members in their academic program who serve as mentors for students as they progress through their degree program.

The Syllabus

Typically, the first time each class meets, all students in the room receive what is called a syllabus. This document serves as an informal contract between students and the professor. The syllabus outlines all requirements for the duration the class meets, what textbooks or other resources will be studied, when assignments or papers would be due as well as the dates of quizzes, tests, and/or exams. Oftentimes, the syllabus breaks down all content that will be covered as well as how grades will be determined. Quizzes might be worth 10%, a mid-term test 25%, a paper 20%, final exam 30%, and classroom participation 15%. That’s right, you read that last part of the preceding sentence correctly – how well you participate in class can count as a significant portion of your academic grade for a course!

Asking Questions

While you take a minute to digest that last part, let us explain that whether it’s simply asking questions to demonstrate you are engaged in the conversation or need explanations of certain topics, the expectation is that students participate. Speaking with new international students over the years, I have found that while they can usually adapt to the informality of relationships with professors, the real challenge is in changing the way they approach class. Faculty members, in general (certainly not all), encourage debate and discussions on the issues that the topics of the day’s class cover.

Academic Integrity

The realities of the differences in how classrooms operate here compared to your home country may take you some time to become comfortable with them. But one area of how U.S. classrooms operate on college campuses that must be understood immediately after classes begin is academic integrity. In effect, this means there are university policies that require students to practice academic honesty and not engage in plagiarism or other forms of cheating while enrolled.


In the end, you’ll need to prepare for the academic transition to a U.S. college. For additional resources on these topics and more, check out this video playlist from our colleagues at EducationUSA that answers questions on the different facets of the classroom experience in U.S. colleges and universities.

The View From Campus: What’s Life Like on a U.S. College Campus During a Pandemic?

If you are wondering what international students currently in the United States have been experiencing over the past nine months while studying on college campuses, you are not alone. Life for most of the world has changed as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic in more ways than we would have ever imagined. On campus in the United States, whether at a small rural college, a suburban mid-size institution, or a big city university, life is dramatically different for all students. So, what’s the story?

How Campuses Re-Opened

While no one was really prepared for what happened in March last year when most all U.S. colleges’ and universities’ courses went online, as the new academic year began in August and September, many institutions thought long and hard about what the “new normal” would be. While there was not one way that every college approached how to respond to the pandemic’s impact on the day-to-day lives of students, faculty, administrators, and visitors to campus, each one made decisions that were best for their communities. Some university systems like the California State University’s 23 campuses made the decision early on to be fully online for the fall 2020 semester, others like Purdue University in Indiana decided to have a largely in-person academic year.

From regular testing, health screening for temperatures upon entry of buildings/classrooms, quarantine procedures, to mandatory mask and social distancing policies, U.S. colleges introduced a wide range of health and safety measures to protect their campuses. For new students arriving for the first time, most all universities held virtual orientation sessions to limit unnecessary exposure. In the end, there were successes and issues colleges faced, particularly for international students. A recent Twitter chat around this theme addressed what the major challenges were for overseas students on college campuses.

General satisfaction

No one could realistically expect a perfect response from colleges to the pandemic as there simply have been so unexpected variables that have impacted life on campus. From recent national polling of U.S. college students, the general sense was of satisfaction with the education received. There were difference in levels of satisfaction depending on how classes were taught on campus. For those who had all in-person education this fall 85% rated their experiences as “excellent” or “very good” while for students who classes were completely online 71% indicated similar feelings.

Care for International Students

There are many ways U.S. colleges have met the various needs of international students during the pandemic. Calvin University in Michigan realized early on that a large group of new international students would not be able to make it to campus to begin studies. As a result, 65 students from overseas were offered a virtual semester put together by faculty and staff to provide a customized academic and personal experience. 

More than anything else, we all prefer getting more regular communication than too few messages in times of uncertainty. Purdue, as well as other institutions, dedicated pages on their website specifically for resources for international students on Counseling Center services available to help students cope with the very different environment they faced on campus. Other colleges like the University of Louisville saw its international student and scholars services staff feel even more responsible to ensure every international student was attended to at various points during the academic term.

Each college has its own way of responding to the concerns of students. So, as you explore your different options for U.S. colleges and universities, it is critical to hear from currently enrolled students like this article from Penn State University, especially international students like you, to learn how campus life might be for you. Whether that be live chats held by current students, blog articles they write, or emails they send, you need to ask colleges you are considering for ways to hear from current students before you make a final decision.

The View From Campus – How Welcome Are International Students on U.S. College Campuses?

This month we hear from Dana Brolley, Director of International Services, at the University of Idaho, on this very important and timely topic that is likely on the minds of international students considering study options in the United States.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Welcoming, safe, research, beautiful campus, land-grant

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Top 100 public school in the USA, two thirds of undergraduates conduct research, lots of attention from faculty and staff, focus on innovative solutions for global warming and environment challenges,

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

A: Engineering, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Architecture, Music

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/How international is your institution?

A: China, Saudi Arabia, India, Nepal

Q: How does your institution use IELTS in the admissions process? How valuable a tool is it in evaluating prospective students?

A: We require a 6.0 for undergraduate and a 6.5 for graduate applicants. IELTS is a great tool and we like that we can verify results!

How Welcome Are International Students?

Q: Given the current administration’s America First policies, are international students still welcome in the United States?

A: Absolutely! Moscow, Idaho where the University of Idaho is a welcoming town that values and celebrates diversity. The city earned the coveted #1 spot on Livability’s 2018 list of the Best Places to Raise a Family. This is reflected through our student and scholar population who have approximately 180 dependants living here while they complete their academic programs. The community is very environmentally focused and engaged in solutions to climate change.

Q: What steps do universities take to help international students feel welcome on campus?

A: The International Programs Office provides centralized services to our international population from an intensive English program, tutoring, student events, scholarships, immigration support, advising, study abroad and more. Our largest annual event, Cruise the World, attracts approximately 1500 campus and community members who come together to celebrate cultures from around the world. This year’s event is coming up on Feb 1, 2020.

Q: What is the role of an international student office on campus?

A: We provide full wrap-around support for all students, scholars, staff, and faculty in the US on visas as well as assist with all extracurricular needs of the community to connect them to resources available on campus and in the community. Everything from snow-shoeing to scholarships – we’re here to help!

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions value having international students on campus? Give examples.

A: We provide special international student scholarships, have dedicated staff to assist international students and support many international student clubs and activities as they promote their home cultures.

Q: What advice would you give prospective international students considering U.S. colleges to help them understand what life would be like for them in the U.S.?

A: Beyond rankings, academic programs, and costs – which are all very important! – it is important to consider the community where you will live for years. Moscow is very safe, very accessible (I walk to campus every day!), welcoming, surrounded by beautiful nature where you can experience wildlife, skiing, river rafting, hiking, climbing etc. and access to larger cities is very convenient. Students who came here from large cities have told me how much they love living here. Coming the US to earn a degree opens doors for life changing experiences both in and outside the classroom. Make the most of your adventure to learn!

The View From Campus – Making The Academic Adjustment To Life at a U.S. University

This month we hear from Kevin Beisser, Senior Immigration Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, on the important topic of how international students can best make the transition, academically, to life on a U.S. college campus.

Q: Describe your institution in 5 words?

A: Vibrant, welcoming, multicultural, convenient, quality

Q: For what is your institution best known overseas?

A: Academic Excellence and our graduate’s success.

Alumnus Satya Nadella the current CEO of Microsoft, who at the time was an international student from India, received his master’s degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Q: What are your top academic programs (undergrad & grad)?

A: UWM is home to Wisconsin’s largest online education program, with more than 850 classes and 40 fully online certificate and degree programs. The university is also home to the state’s largest collaboration of health sciences, nursing and public health programs through its Partners for Health initiative. It also boasts one of the world’s top film programs. Other major programs include business, engineering, education and information studies.

Q: What are the top 5 countries represented at your college/ How international is your institution?

A: China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, & Iran. 

Q: How does your institution use an IELTS result in the Admission Process? 

A: The IELTS test is used as evidence of English Proficiency.  At the undergraduate level a student would need a score of 5.0 or better for full admission and at the graduate level a score of 6.5 or higher is required. 

Q: What is the most common challenge new international students face when adapting to the academic environment at U.S. colleges? 

A: One common challenge is fatigue.  If you are a non-native English speaker, even if you are proficient in English, spending 24 hours using that language can be tiring as your brain is constantly working.  Combine that with the normal stresses of moving to a new environment and studying and you will be exhausted at the end of the day.  Hence, focusing on your health is crucial in your success at the beginning and throughout your collegiate career. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and exercise are essential.

Q: How much time should students be studying for each class they have?

A: Generally, students should expect 2-3 hours of studying for each credit hour they are enrolled in. 

Q: How is the classroom style of professors so different in the U.S. from what most students have experienced back home? 

A: U.S. academic culture requires class participation which can be a challenge to many students who are not used to this style of education.  Classroom styles can also be more informal than what students are used to in their home countries.   

Q: How seriously do U.S institutions take cases of academic integrity violations (plagiarism, cheating, etc.) on campus?

A: Very seriously!  Taking credit for someone else’s work or cheating at all U.S colleges and universities will result in discipline ranging from failure of the course to permanent expulsion from the institution or system.  There are two common American adages that are the best advice I can give to students when it comes to academic integrity the first is: “Honesty is the best policy” and the second is: “When in Doubt ask questions”. 

Q: How can international students best prepare to avoid potential problems with adapting to their new academic environment on campus? 

A: My best recommendation is to be healthy as mentioned above and try to be involved as possible.  The more people you meet the more resources you will have to ask questions.  In addition, staying busy also helps you avoid the pitfalls of culture shock.  Make sure you ask a lot of questions, Americans are very eager to help others, but they typically wait to be asked rather than assume someone needs help.  The same goes for your instructors, they will all have office hours to help with any issues you may be facing in their course.  Make sure you utilize that opportunity to clarify anything that you do not understand. 

6 Things to Pack When Going Abroad to Study (Part 2)

 

Picking up from where we left off in a previous post, let’s look at us some more essential items that would help an international student settle in quicker at a foreign university. 

 

3. Formal wear

Being a graduate or postgraduate student is more than just coping with academic demands. Thankfully, it also offers opportunities to socialise, helping students find the right balance between work and play.

Depending on where you’re studying, some of the campus events you get invited to may have a strict dress code, such as dark suit for men or evening dress for women. Formal clothing doesn’t come cheap, so it’s sensible to buy something appropriate beforehand.

 

4. Over-the-counter medicine

University life is a whirlwind of activities, and a lot of it is fun. That said, the exertions of such a busy life can leave you exhausted, so be prepared to deal with minor ailments. Most people have a list of go-to medicines that they take in order to fight minor illnesses such as the flu or cold. Such medication may be hard to find in foreign pharmacies, especially if they happen to be herbal, so carry adequate supplies along.

 

5. Raincoat, anorak, or travel umbrella

No matter which part of the world you choose to study in, the possibility of rain can never be waved aside. Unless you don’t mind being caught out by unexpected showers, get yourself a raincoat that’ll protect you from the elements. If you prefer something shorter, anoraks may just be the thing for you. And for those who do not like the idea of walking around wrapped in plastic, a quality travel umbrella should do.

 

6. Universal plug adaptor

There are several gadgets out there which are designed to ease academic work, and all of them are powered by electricity. The trouble is pretty much every region across the globe has a different shaped power outlet. Voltage requirements vary too. A universal plug adaptor can be a lifesaver in such situations, as it lets you charge multiple electronics simultaneously irrespective of the design of the power outlet.

 

All in all, studying abroad does throw up challenges, so do not forget to take along a positive attitude as well. Good luck!

Six Things to Pack When Going Abroad to Study (Part 1)

 

Being a foreign student can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. It’s one exhilarating journey, along which you make new friendships, explore new places, and experience different ways of life. And at the end of it all, you earn yourself a valuable degree that opens doors for you.

 

Prepared for the journey?

As exciting as it all sounds, it isn’t uncommon for students to feel a tad worried on the eve of departure. The thing is, stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things can appear daunting. And the best way to avoid a jittery start is by simply being well-prepared for life in a foreign land.

In this post, you’ll read about some essential things you should pack before catching that international flight to your study destination.

 

What to pack?

1. Daypack

Student life abroad is hectic and packed with activities, many of which entail travelling short distances. For example, if you live off campus, you’ll need to travel to university or the place where you work part-time every other day. Obviously, right from day one, you’ll need something reliable to carry your bare essentials in (e.g. handhelds, water bottle, uniform, books).

Invest in a decent daypack, the smallest in the backpack family that can hold most items you’ll need over a day. And remember to choose a design that fits your needs, not something that just looks great.

 

2. Portable charger

The twenty-first century student has a range of electronic devices at their disposal to help them achieve academic success, be it a smart notebook, tablet, or portable printer. Now, the thing with devices is, they all run on batteries that need frequent recharging, depending on the extent of use.

Imagine you are in a packed lecture hall, and you notice your smart notebook’s battery dwindling. All you could possibly do is watch the device die in frustration, as you’ll have a better chance of finding a date for the weekend in such a place than an empty wall socket. Such a scenario is all too common on campus, so a portable charger is a must, especially if you use a lot of technology to study.

 

We’ll be back with some more must-haves for students hoping to study abroad.

Starting University? Your Guide to Support and Well-being

Image courtesy of GotCredit via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

University is a one of the best times in your life. But sometimes it can prove difficult and students need support for those problems that arise. Here we give you a quick guide on what support is available that will help you manage what life throws at you.

 

Stress and Mental Health

Living away from your family (often for the first time) can be hard for many people at first. You’re in new social situations and dealing with all the stresses that studying can bring. That is normal.

Luckily, the stigma of talking about these difficulties is rapidly falling away, so whether it’s your doctor, student support groups or national mental health bodies, the options are there for students to seek help when they need it.

Look for your Student Services centre, university website or speak to a student representative to find out more.

 

Social life and Activities

Life away from the classroom can provide much needed distraction from study stresses and a chance to left off steam. Universities have a wide range of societies and sports clubs to cater to your interests and connect you with people who share them. These are a great way to make friends and find your feet in a new environment – so get involved.

 

Staying Safe

The vast majority of people go through their student years without any trouble, but it’s always a good idea to be aware of the law (especially if you’re studying abroad) and take precautions. For example, insurance for your belongings will save you lots of heartache if they are lost or stolen. And knowing that some countries driving on the left hand side of the road (including the UK) is a must!

 

Managing Finances

As well as being the first time away from home, many students will be managing their finances for the first time at university. Money in your pocket can be liberating, but it can also contribute to stress if you’re not careful.

So, as well as trying to keep on top of your budget students should be aware that they can get help and advice from Student Services and other university services. Don’t worry, they’ve heard it all before!

 

 

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