What It's Like to Study Abroad in the United States

March 12, 2016

ISEP student Barbara D. is a part of ISEP Voices Spring 2016. She is a graduate student studying international communication from Università degli Studi di Urbino “Carlo Bo” in Italy, and is currently studying abroad at Creighton University in Nebraska.

The first thing you’ll notice about American universities when you enter a class and the lesson starts is that it’s like you’re back in high school. This is especially true for European students. Don’t be surprised, it’s normal for them to teach that way here and I think it’s great! Professors call you by your name (or even your nickname), ask you questions and opinions, give you homework and also revise it in class, just as in high school. And again, don’t be surprised, you’ll learn to appreciate it.

I remember before I moved to the United States, I was looking for feedback here and there because I was worried. I was nervous because of my language, I was worried I wouldn’t understand my professors or even my peers and I was worried I would fail the exams because of that. Everyone I talked to about the American education system told me the exams are really easy and that there was nothing to be worried about. Well, I don’t agree. You actually have to do a lot of work during the week if you want to do well. So far I’ve taken a few tests and I got “A” or 10 on all of them, but I’ve been working quite a lot.

The most crazy thing I’ve noticed is that exams in the U.S. work differently. Did you ever take an exam at home? I’m not talking about projects or homework, I’m talking about actual exams, like midterm or final exams! I had never done that before coming here. For example, in one of my classes, the professor is going to give us the midterm exam to take home, and we have a week to complete it and give it back to him — wow. I also had an exam this morning and I already knew the questions because our professor gave a copy of them last week. Some of you would think that it might not be as not serious, and so did I when I was told about that one week ago. In reality, I still needed to study to take the exam, I needed to go to class and take notes and have active conversations and I needed to read a few articles and the like. I appreciate that professors really care about you, they want you to do well, and it’s amazing.

I also realized professors will almost always take into account your participation in class. By “participation” I’m not talking about just going to class and having a seat, and not even taking notes would be enough for them. Participation is being actively involved, conversing, sharing your opinions and giving feedback to the professors sometimes. It will be hard if you are shy (as it was for me), but trust me, you’ll find it so useful and you’ll realize that you’re learning much more rather than reading books you don’t really care about. Try not to be shy, people are not going to laugh or make fun of you. They are there to learn just as you are. The first time they hear you talking, they might look at you funny but that’s just because you have a different accent and it sounds different. Every day I have the chance to talk with different peers because we work in groups for most of the time. Every time someone asks me something about my country or my studies, they are impressed when they figure out I speak four languages. They think I’m a kind of supernatural being or something like that! They’ll always find a way to make you feel special and they’ll always congratulate you because of your English. A few of them have told me that as long as we understand each other, everything is fine. Others told me they are jealous because they only know English (I think they don’t realize how prestigious their language is). Some of them are so curious to know some Italian or Spanish words, and others want to know how long it took me to learn “such good English.“

The only thing I think they don’t like is when people stare at them while they are talking in class. In Italy when someone is talking, maybe when a student is answering a question or asking a question, we turn to look at him or her. This isn’t to be rude, but because we like eye contact and because for us it’s actually polite. It’s like you’re showing that you’re paying attention to that person. But here it can be considered rude, for example, I noticed that a girl stopped talking when she realized I was looking at her and she looked back at me showing she was so uncomfortable, and then that made me feel uncomfortable in turn. I stopped looking at people, I just let them talk and take notes. The only negative implications about this is that you don’t really get to know your peers. For instance, today our English professor asked us to play a game: stand up and call one of your peers from the other side of the class by his or her name, then this person will call another peer and so on. I realized I only knew three names and when two of them were already called by someone else, I started sweating. But then we stopped playing, because someone before me got to the point that the only people she knew were already called, and she didn’t know the names of the remaining 10 people. Isn’t it crazy? How can you know people if they don’t want you to look at them? It’s so sad! But it is a part of the culture, and we don’t want to change it as we are just guests!


Are you ready for your own adventure? See all of your study abroad options on the ISEP website.

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