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Have a hard class abroad? Here are some steps you should take.

April 5, 2018

“Oh no! Not classes!” Yes, classes. And although it’s often not necessarily my favorite topic to talk about, it is necessarily a part of studying abroad, really half of the proverbial word equation, if you will. And although we tend to focus a lot more on the abroad part, classes can still play an important role in our experience abroad, and although we shouldn’t let them dampen that experience, we also shouldn’t ignore them. This is particularly significant if we encounter a difficult course abroad, where it becomes easy to feel hindered by such challenges. I, myself, have encountered such a situation this semester, as I have found one of my engineering courses to be quite difficult. But don’t fret! Here are some steps you can take to make such a burden a little bit lighter:

Step 0(Before you are abroad): Plan your courses such that they fit your abroad goals. If your schedule allows, look to take a lighter course load than you would back home. Going abroad is a good time to knock out remaining elective courses, or complete a language minor that you may be pursuing. If you’re taking too many courses, it may begin to infringe upon the abroad portion of your experience, which is something to be avoided. In addition, it is worth considering pass/fail grading options, if your university offers them, if you want to stress less about your courses, or if you are hesitant about the difficulty of the course, perhaps if you are taking a major course in another language.

Step 1: Identify early on if a class is going to be difficult, and act. Although this can be a bit trivial, it’s still a much needed step in pursuing your academics. If you begin to encounter material you don’t understand, or find your course hard to follow, don’t put it off until exam day. Be efficient and decisive about your learning early on, and you won’t find yourself cramming on weekends that could have been spent traveling or pursuing other adventures abroad.

Step 2: Look for non-destructive ways to increase your studying. If you're struggling in a class, then you’re going to have to spend more time studying that course in order for you to succeed. However, sometimes finding that time slot can be difficult as an abroad student, where you have so many non-academic opportunities to explore your host country. But, is watching Netflix or YouTube really contributing to your abroad experience? Look for time slots that you would normally fill with something that you could do back home, and replace it with study time.

Step 3: Be in contact with your professor. It can sometimes be intimidating to approach your professors back home, and thus sometimes even more intimidating abroad, especially if there is a language barrier. But don’t be afraid! Your professors most likely are not out to get you, and they are likely especially sensitive to the needs of their exchange students, who they understand may not be as acclimated to their university’s course layout or teaching style. If you develop a good relationship with your professor, not only will have a better chance of doing well in their course, but you may even come back home with an impressive professional reference.

Step 4: Consider getting a tutor. If you are still feeling bogged down by your course, know that tutoring is likely an option at your university. Whether you get a student or professional tutor, having someone to guide your studying and familiarize you with perhaps a different teaching convention than that of your home university, can be of great use. Within my program, my university was eager to aid me with this process, and was able to find a tutor for me quite quickly.

Step 5: Remember what it’s all about. Being challenged in your academic studies abroad can often be a bit surprising. And, as students, it is easy to bottle up in order to cope with such a challenge. But you didn’t go abroad to put yourself in a bubble, you went abroad to burst it. Although, like I said earlier, the “study” in “study abroad” shouldn’t be ignored, it also shouldn’t be the dominant force in your abroad experience. Don’t let something like a difficult class blind you from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities granted to you by immersing yourself in a new culture and in a new place. Sometimes it requires more work, but pursue adventure abroad, all the same. Because, trust me, it’s worth the extra effort.

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