Classes At My Home University vs Classes Abroad - What's The Difference?

Lucy Mayer
December 11, 2021

When I imagine college, I think of camping out in the library until the middle of the night to study. Morning coffee, more studying. Taking food to-go for every meal to fit in more studying. Each class takes up so much time, there isn’t much left over for other things. I wondered what my image of studying for classes abroad would look like. Is the study culture the same? How will I be able to fit it all in? What are the expectations of professors? 

I remember the second Tuesday of my sophomore year (back in the U.S.) I forgot to click submit on a lab assignment, after doing the whole thing. I emailed my professor within minutes of the deadline informing him of my mistake. Zero in the grade book. That one hurt, and pretty much scarred me. The deadlines and rules are very strict at my home university, specifically within STEM. From then I thought, I will never let anything like this happen again. My approach to doing homework and studying at the beginning of a course is the same. First, I scan all the syllabi. Then, I actually read the syllabi. And then again, and probably five more times after that. I write out assignment due dates and take note of the content of each day of the course in great detail. I open up my Google calendar and put all the class times in. When I do this I feel prepared, but still feel this looming sense that I am forgetting something. I am still haunted by that zero. 

In my college experience in the U.S., I have learned to not ask questions about deadlines or assignments. This is because everything is very set in stone. If you refer to page 12 of the syllabus, there it is—the answer to my question. It’s understandable that professors get frustrated about questions that have already been answered and meticulously planned out in the syllabus, because there was a lot of effort put into creating that guide. Then I got to Spain. At first, I used this approach with my classes. Then I quickly learned how different the nature of a schedule is here. I noticed some days the content wasn’t exactly what was previously said on the syllabus for that specific day, and the deadlines for projects and assignments were constantly changing. I didn’t realize how much I clutched to the safety net of knowing exactly what would happen on every single day of the semester back home. I was waiting for the day that I would miss a deadline like before, and that nobody would be understanding. I was scared to ask questions, and I was feeling like I didn’t have a strong sense of where I was in the class. 

When I started asking questions, things got a whole lot easier. The professors actually want you to ask questions here, and that was a new experience for me. Also, the pace is much more flexible. I feel that each class has allowed me to progressively learn and therefore hasn’t required me to do a cram session at 3 a.m. The classes are interactive, and I feel less burnt out because I have had a combination of field trips and lectures. Overall, I would say that each system has reasons for the way that it is. In the U.S., everything is very planned out in advance. You know everything the minute you sign up for the course, so they don’t want you to ask questions. In Spain, the professors understand that the schedule is more loose. It is more confusing, so it wouldn't be considered weird to ask questions. Of course, this is simply my experience. It’s not to say that every university in Spain is run exactly this way, or that any study abroad in another country will feel like this. However, surely each system differs at least slightly, which makes studying abroad all the more worth it in my opinion. 

Being able to adapt to this change in expectation and style of learning has honestly been one of the greatest skills I’ve gained from studying abroad. In the future, I don’t know where I will be working, but I hope to spend time working internationally. In that case, I won’t know how the system will be run. There isn’t going to be a one size fits all approach to handling the workload. Now that I have experienced a whole new way of going to school, I feel ready to handle what is expected of me and I’m open to trying new ways of learning.

Lucy Mayer

<p>Hi! My name is Lucy Mayer and I am a senior at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts majoring in Biology and minoring in Hispanic Studies. This fall I am studying abroad in Granada, Spain. I am super excited to explore the beautiful landscape and architecture in Granada, and hope to improve my speaking ability in Spanish. After graduating from Brandeis, I would like to do molecular biology research and eventually go on to pursue a Ph.D. related to science or science education. I am passionate about teaching and I would love to be a professor one day! In my free time, I love to figure skate (I have been a figure skater since I was 10 years old), dance, draw, paint, and go on nature runs.</p>

2021 Fall
Home University:
Brandeis University
Minneapolis, MN
Biological Sciences
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