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.
Direct Enrollment programs offer integrated university studies alongside host country students. Students are taught by host country faculty and may participate in all aspects of foreign university life. Students must possess language proficiency to participate in direct enrollment programs. Direct enrollment programs may offer students the greatest array of choice when selecting courses, still, students should be aware that universities overseas may, or may not, permit cross-enrolling in more than one or two academic departments. Independent students with clear goals for their study abroad experience may find that they are well served by this model. While direct enrollment programs provide the greatest access to an integrated university student experience, there is often little opportunity for formal reflection on the cross-cultural experience. Direct enrollment programs may offer a variety of housing situations from homestay to university residence hall to apartments.
Island Programs offer a set curriculum of courses for students on the program only. Courses may be taught by host country nationals or on-site program staff, and may be taught in English or the language of the host country. Island programs allow students to study in non-English speaking countries, such as the Czech Republic or Greece where integrated university study would be impossible for most Santa Clara students. Typically, if students pursue coursework in English, a host-country language course will be taught and required of all students to afford basic cultural interactions. Students on Island Programs may find that they improve their language proficiency, but less dramatically than on Direct Enrollment or Hybrid model programs. Island programs may be thematic and focus on such areas as Social Justice, Economic Development or Sustainability. Island programs may have ten to twenty-five other American students participating in the same curriculum together. While the Island Program model provides great fodder for personal reflection, it may, or may not, be ideal for students who desire a great degree of independence from the group. Students on Island Programs typically live in homestays or apartments. On Island Programs, students may find that they gain the greatest exposure to a broad cross-section of the host culture through their field-based coursework, homestays, excursions, as well as volunteering or independent project work. Frequently, there is a great deal of formal reflection on the host culture and cross-cultural experience, as well as coursework in field research methodology.
Hybrid Programs combine the characteristics of Direct Enrollment and Island Program models. Hybrid programs offer students an opportunity to create a program of study combining one or more integrated university courses alongside host country students, and courses taught for students on the program, only. As with Direct Enrollment programs, language proficiency is required, but students who are less confident with their language abilities may find that the Hybrid model allows the opportunity to explore regular courses overseas in an environment with a great deal of American-style support. Students eager to improve their language skills may find that the Hybrid model will serve them well.. Hybrid programs which provide “all the comforts of home” may require students to make greater efforts toward cultural integration and experiencing the host country like a local. Programs can range from ten to 100 students or more. Students on Hybrid Programs may be accommodated in homestays, university residence halls or apartments.