Studying in America: Making the Most of Your U.S. Classes

Studying in America: Making the Most of Your U.S. Classes

"I am most surprised by the diversity in the United States. This country is a place for everybody in the world." That was Jingran Zhao's first impression when she arrived at Georgia College & State University near Atlanta, to study accounting.

The U.S.A. is a multi-racial society that is still absorbing new immigrants, which makes this country very dynamic and exciting. As an international student, you will be studying with people who have vastly different learning styles and expectations. You will have a common desire to learn and to have fun while you are here.

You will learn much from your classmates. You will benefit from their varied experiences and points of view, and they will also learn from you—an interchange that will give you new insights into your own patterns of knowledge acquisition.

As a consequence, in addition to your classroom knowledge, you will learn about other cultures from around the world, not just in the U.S.A. This will help you gain new insights about your own country and culture. Sharing facts about your home will make you more aware of the similarities and differences between you and your new friends.

Academic Environment

The U.S.A. education system is extensive and varied. Whether you're enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program, the subjects you study will be diverse. You might enroll at a university where you can take courses just for fun!

Limited class size a major advantage

Definitions

Campus: The location of a university, college, or school’s main buildings. U.S. campuses are known for their ample size, architecture, landscaping, and numerous student locales.

GPA (Grade Point Average): A numerical measure of academic achievement based upon a computation figured from the number of credits and grade points earned per course. Major: A college student’s field of study. U.S. students typically declare their major at the end of their second (sophomore) year.

It is possible that here, as at home, you will be attending large lectures and listening to professors talk and show slides. Far more likely, though, you will learn in much smaller classroom groups. This is especially true in the summer. There may be only one or two dozen students in the room, where you may be seated in a circle or at a seminar table where everyone can see each other’s faces.

In this kind of setting, you will communicate openly with your peers and the teacher. This vital interaction spurs the learning process. You will feel more alert and absorb more information.

In this country, U.S. and international students alike are expected to contribute to classroom conversations called “class discussion.” You and your classmates will take turns asking and answering questions and contributing to a lively exchange of information.

You may have always wanted to express your views to others, especially when a subject you are studying is particularly interesting, confusing or controversial. Here is your chance. If you are hesitant, just listen for the first few days. After class, practice "role-playing" these discussions with your peers. Before long, you will be raising your hand to join the debate. You will discover that you had the skills all along! All you needed was practice, permission and encouragement.

You will also notice different perspectives on education, starting with some fundamentals. If you come from a culture where professors represent authority and where you defer to their judgment at all times, your biggest adjustment may be to the U.S. freedom to question authority. U.S. students have grown up in schools where they are not only permitted to challenge a speaker and participate in discussions of issues, but where they are given marks based on being outspoken!

Academic freedom is one of the hallmarks of a U.S. universities and colleges. You will be encouraged to “think outside the box” and come up with critical evaluations of accepted theories. You may be shocked to find that your professors themselves may have startlingly different views on mainstream beliefs. After your initial surprise, examine these new ideas and let them simmer along with the traditional concepts you have previously accepted.

In the U.S.A., students are trained to observe and analyze a problem, then solve it. You will be expected to listen to your classmates and dispute their points of view. You don't always have to agree with them!

The goal is pragmatic. In the U.S. education system, you will eventually gain confidence and the ability to organize and present an argument. You will learn and adapt your techniques so that you can be more credible and persuasive yourself.

Don't be fooled, though, by the informality on your U.S. campus. According to Hyun-Young (Eva) Choi from South Korea, "Students look very loose, they always go to parties, but when it comes to exam time they're writing 2-3 pages on the same topic." At her school, the University of Pennsylvania, and probably on your campus, too, Eva warns, "Everything seems relaxed, but they're studying hard."

Relating to Instructors

In the U.S.A., you will encounter more personal attention from teachers than you have previously enjoyed. U.S. professors meet with students during special "office hours" and are usually available for you at other times, too. Don't be surprised if a teacher specifically requests a meeting with you, and don't be shy about approaching your instructor if you need or want to continue a conversation or ask a question after class.

Your teachers will know your name and remember you. They will evaluate you as an individual and may be required to write comments about your progress and your performance.

Continued intellectual exchange between students and faculty is one way to give you a deeper understanding of the curriculum you study. No longer is the subject matter remote and distant; now you can "take ownership" of the facts and concepts in your lessons and readings and retain the knowledge of new material in a personal way.

Even if you are just studying abroad in the U.S.A. for a summer to learn and have fun, you might develop a deeper interest in an academic subject or career field, and you will build personal connections with people who have made a lifetime career pursuing this passion.

The Leading Edge

While studying in the United States, you will be exposed to some of the most up-to-date developments in technology. Here you will work with instruments and techniques that are the envy of the world.

We like to think that our "leading edge" comes from a high level of creativity, which we encourage from a young age.

Evaluating your Performance

Depending on the program you choose, you may receive grades or marks at the end of the session. You may be relieved that at some schools, numerical standards are more lenient than at home, though instead you might face rigorous "progress reports" and written comments.

You will probably take more "quizzes" than at home. Sometimes U.S. instructors ask you to answer questions several times during the summer session to make sure you are keeping up with the coursework. These small exams (often unexpected) will be short, and they will likely be in multiple-choice format.

"Culture Shock"

You've probably heard about culture shock, and maybe you've already experienced it when traveling. Your adjustment will be even more complex now that you are studying, living and competing in a different environment.

Your eventual recovery from culture shock can have many positive effects, such as greater self-confidence and sensitivity to others. You will feel more flexible and objective about your experience, learning to accept parts of the new culture for yourself while cherishing your own cultural traditions.

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