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The Academic Environment Abroad
Santa Clara University seeks to provide its students with integrative study abroad experiences and significant interaction with the host culture. This approach involves relying on the resources available to students within the educational institution or system in the host country. Most often, teachers in the host country will be professors educated within the foreign system themselves. Students should be prepared for differences both in the academic structure of the institution overseas, and also in teaching styles compared to Santa Clara. Within overseas institutions, students may find differences in administrative procedures such as course and housing registration. In addition, students should expect academic differences in: classroom pedagogy, student/teacher relationships, syllabi and reading lists, class assignments, and grading. Students who anticipate these differences and approach their academic program with a high degree of flexibility are often able to adjust to the foreign system more readily.
The Classroom Abroad
In most countries overseas, the “ liberal arts college” does not exist; students pursue higher education at large research-oriented universities, more similar to large, public research-oriented universities in the United States. At most overseas institutions, a high degree of independence is granted to undergraduate students with the expectation that they will pace their studies individually throughout the academic term. The benefit of this approach is the freedom to pursue learning independently, directing one’s own reading and progress in the subject. The American liberal arts college notion of “continuous assessment” is absent from most institutions overseas. This translates into a classroom approach that is much less interactive than at Santa Clara. Large lecture classes are common and attention to individual students is unusual. Professors may expect to lecture without interruptions, including questions and comments from students. In addition, students may find that faculty may not hold office hours nor make themselves accessible to students outside of class. Grades for individual courses are usually determined by one final examination or paper. Students should not expect homework, quizzes, and midterms. Naturally, students will be graded by foreign standards which may differ from American grading norms. Many programs abroad offer courses taught either in English, or the language of the host country, specifically for American students on their program. Despite this, professors from the host country may employ their teaching philosophy and style, and bring host country grading standards to the classroom.
Academic Calendars Abroad
Universities overseas historically offered courses on a yearlong basis with one comprehensive examination for the course at the end of the year. These days, some universities overseas still offer full-year courses, though many institutions offer courses culminating in an exam at the end of the academic term. Still, the academic calendars of foreign universities may differ substantially from Santa Clara’s calendar. For example, university classes in Germany typically begin in October with the first semester examination taking place in late-January, and continue through July. In Japan, the academic year runs from April to March. Universities in countries in the southern hemisphere such as South Africa, Chile and Australia usually begin in July and end in November. Currently, many academic calendars within European universities are slowly shifting to a calendar that more closely resembles an American calendar with fall term examinations concluding prior to winter holidays in December. Students should observe the differing academic calendars carefully in their consideration of study abroad programs. Students may not arrive at an academic program late or depart early.
Majors and Course Enrollment Abroad
In most countries overseas, broad “liberal arts” education occurs at the high school level and students at university focus their study on a single subject for the duration of their degree. Often, this means that by the conclusion of their first or second year, students from the host country have completed coursework equivalent to an American “major.” Santa Clara students may find that first-year courses in their major are too elementary while second-year courses may prove too advanced. The academic advisor onsite can usually provide guidance on appropriate course selection. Since students overseas study within a single department for the duration of their degree, there is not a high degree of cooperation or synchronization between different academic departments at a university. Foreign universities are decentralized in structure, often with little administration. University catalogs may not exist and on-line course listings may not accurately reflect courses offered. There is no “pre-registration” abroad. To register for courses, students may physically walk from department to department, or from faculty member to faculty member in order to enroll. American students may find this experience time-consuming, confusing and frustrating.
A variety of study abroad program models or structures exist. There is no single, perfect model for all students. Rather, different program models will allow students to accomplish different goals during their term abroad. Understanding program models will help students determine which Santa Clara programs may best meet their needs. The three program models are: Direct Enrollment, Island Programs, and Hybrid Programs.