Academics are the backbone of a study abroad experience. Like almost all aspects of living in another country, academics will be different from what the student is used to.
The overall structure of academics remains the same. The professor teaches, the student studies and learns, and the professors tests and assesses the student’s work. However, from this point on, many differences arise. One major difference is that many foreign professors have a more formal relationship with their students. They will seldom know a student’s name or encourage a friendly rapport. Although they are anxious to help, they often prefer that students contact a ‘tutor’ or graduate assistant for help with their studies.
Assignments may also be different. Rather than daily work and frequent tests, classes often present the students with a reading list, and maybe only a term paper and an examination. Students may reach the end of a semester without having had any coursework graded yet. Their entire semester’s grade may depend on an exam or a paper. Since there are not assignments due at regular intervals, less sophisticated students may read this as a license for procrastination. In reality, such procrastination can lead to failure. Such coursework is similar to what US students encounter in graduate school, and students who are conscientious and mature about their studies will inevitably be more successful.
Class attendance may also have a different emphasis. While many professors will require regular class attendance like here at Ole Miss, others may never take roll. Their attitude is much more laissez-faire, assuming that if students pay for an education, they should want to take part in it. For students coming from an educational system that is much more hands-on, this independence can be misleading. Students who do not go to class seldom learn or perform well by the end of the term.
Contact hours are also different from country to country. Academic credit is determined by the host university and is usually based on not only class contact hours, but also the level of work required, the amount of outside research required, and the papers and examinations the students must complete. Students may find they spend less time actually in class each week than they might if they were taking the same credit load here. Again, this can be deceptive, because they are expected to be proactive and pursue their out-of-class reading and research rigorously.
All in all, we have found that good students here become good students abroad. Or, as a professor once told me, ‘An A student will make As.’ Obviously the more mature a student is about taking his academic work seriously, the better he will perform abroad. The grading scale from each country will be different. Students should familiarize themselves with how grades are marked in the country of study to avoid anxiety. In France, for instance, the highest mark a student can earn numerically is usually a 20. Our office converts grades from other systems using the World Education Services scale of International Grade Conversions. Grades are recorded here at A-F. We do not offer pass-fail options in study abroad programs.
If you are participating in a semester-long study abroad program, one of your most important tasks is planning, completing and turning in our Course Approval Form. This form is a contract between the student and his various departments of study and approved by his academic dean. This contract guarantees that if a student has received approval for a particular foreign course to count a particular way here at Ole Miss, the student will receive appropriate credit. Often this task involves research on the part of the student and his advisor as well as the departmental advisor. Course descriptions and often a syllabus are frequently needed to evaluate the proper home-school credit.
If you get abroad and need to change the classes for which you planned to register, it is your responsibility to make sure to alert your study abroad advisor about your change in registration. You will also be told how to attain course approval from your department and dean while away. When you return, if your transcript from abroad does not match your course approval form, you will be alerted to again complete a course approval form for any unapproved courses. Until all courses have been evaluated and approved, your UM transcript will not reflect your study abroad credits.