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STUDYing Abroad: What You Don’t Know About Learning in Your Host Country Can Hurt You

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez

If you’re anything like me, you can’t afford to spend a semester abroad taking classes that only fulfill elective requirements, which is why I chose to study at Uppsala University in Sweden, for its offerings of communication and political science classes. Most of the classes they offered, in terms of subject matter are very similar to the United States and include areas like integrative biology, computer science, social sciences, humanities and others. Yet, when comparing the set-up and organization of classes, this Uppsala greatly differs to that of Illinois.

Newsletter Jan 1

At Uppsala University, exchange students are scheduled to take only one class at a time. Yep, you heard it! Instead of struggling through five classes that meet multiple times each week, at Uppsala you focus on only one course for 4-5 weeks at a time. Though this type of learning method may sound convenient and easy, there are some important factors to consider such as exams, assignments and the learning style.

The learning style in Sweden is very relaxed and independent. Classes are usually small and students can develop close relationships with professors. Typically, classes are discussion based, but you’re expected to work twice as hard outside of the classroom.

A good example of this was my Swedish Politics. The class lasted four weeks and we were assigned two books to read. The class met two times per day, two to three times per week, often times with a discussion seminar on Thursdays. Now, here comes the shocking part—as opposed to American academic institutions where students are assigned multiple quizzes, papers, exams throughout the semester, this class only had one final exam at the end of the class period that determined our grade. But, the discussions I participated in, where students voiced their opinion with the guidance of the professor, really represented the strong point of the learning process.

This type of class organization, you can imagine, allows the student additional time for personal and academic adjustments. But with this added “free” time, comes a heavy responsibility to be independent and self directed enough not to fall behind in your studies. Keeping up with readings and participating in class discussion are the key to success. Reading two entire books the night before the exam won’t be an easy or successful task for anyone, thus time management is extremely important. Other friends who have studied in the European region have had similar experiences. Though their course schedules might not be the same (taking one class at a time), they still may only have one final exam at the end that is the make up of their entire grade.

Newsletter Jan 2

In contrast, other locations such as Australia or New Zealand have a class and homework schedule similar to that of the United States. Students may have class for at least 5 hours per day, and then have a long week of finals at the end of the exam.

No matter the learning style you prefer, just know that academic learning varies greatly by study abroad program, and not knowing what kind of learning environment you’re walking into or how to be successful in it can hurt you in the long run. But remember the mantra, that adaptability, even through challenge, is what’s most rewarding about studying abroad.

Unsure of what to expect at your host institution? Ask your Study Abroad Advisor for details!


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