Contrary to popular belief, studying abroad does involve academic effort on our part. There are assignments to hand in, grading and teaching styles to get accustomed to, and time to manage. The difference between academics abroad and at home is that the reward for hard work now includes exploring your surroundings instead of watching the next episode of your favorite Netflix show. We are so heavily focused on all the amazing experiences and opportunities studying abroad has to offer that we completely forget a major component: the studying! To try and help you achieve academic success during this time, here are three tips. With these, you’ll hopefully be breezing through any academic adjustments and have the time to worry instead on which café you’ll be hitting up next weekend.
1) Explore Your Independence
I know, I know, you’ve already been in college for “insert number of years”. You’re most likely living away from home and feeling like you’re #adulting. What more independence could you acquire, especially in relation to school? I had these same feelings when I arrived at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Quickly, though, I realized there was plenty of room to grow in this department.
My home uni (Australian slang for university/college) is more hands-on than UniMelb. Shortly after starting the semester, I realized that the American education system, as a whole, takes a more hands-on approach than the Australian system. Professors encourage their students to go to office hours or email them with any questions. Getting a hold of your professors in Australia is more difficult, as teaching is seen as secondary to research for many of them. Thus, it is up to students to take charge of their education. In this country, you get as much out of your education as you’re willing to put in. Professors are not babying you, reminding you to turn in assignments, do readings, or come to lecture.
STEM classes are particularly notorious for expecting students to be highly independent. Any problem sets are handed out at the beginning of the semester and either you do them or you don’t; no one collects them or checks to make sure you’re on track. Your home uni environment might enable you to meet people in class, form study groups, or have study buddies already from all the years of taking classes together. Within Australian unis, however, it is more difficult to do these things. Students go to their lectures and oftentimes head back home shortly after. They do not often stay or live on campus and are accustomed to individually working on assignments.
The same is true in the humanities. Professor stress the importance of engaging with readings, concepts and assignments individually. All this individuality is essential to the Australian education experience because they believe this is how students will be most successful. To them, struggling with material is how you really learn it. When you go abroad, keep this in mind and you’ll really get the independent juices flowing; you’ll be surprised how much confidence you start building towards yourself academically.
2) Time Management
When you’re starting college, literally every adult lectures you about time management, reminding you not to procrastinate and to give yourself enough time to ask questions and understand concepts. You’d think by the time you go abroad that you’d have it down to a science. Chances are, you know how much time you need to complete assignments, whether they be problem sets or essays. But, don’t be overly confident with your time management skills.
You’re hopefully going to be doing more than spending your weekends in a dark corner working on assignments while you’re abroad. Your inclination is going to be to explore your surroundings, take weekend trips, go to different events. To do these things without feeling guilty, it’s important to incorporate time management into your life and create some type of work schedule you’ll be likely to follow.
Overall, there are fewer assignments to hand in throughout the semester at Australian universities. This means the assignments are larger and take more time to complete. It does not help that your professors don’t always remind you when the due dates for these assignments are coming up. To ensure you’re not missing any deadlines, it’s a good idea to write assignment due dates in a place you’ll look at often: your phone, planner, a post-it note above your desk or on your computer.
You are also often given your final essay prompts at the beginning of the semester. Although it may seem like overkill, it is a good idea to start some assignments, like your final essay or studying for a final exam, way in advance. By doing so, you break up the amount of work you have to do and inadvertently give yourself opportunities to say yes to a concert or a trip your friends are taking a couple weekends before the assignment is due.
3) Be Patient with Yourself
Getting used to new academic structures does not instantaneously happen. It takes time. Understand you’ll be lost for most of the first week while you navigate your new uni campus. You’ll probably wish you were back in the states sometimes with your familiar education systems while the semester progresses. Registering for classes is different and can cause frustration. The language used to describe academics changes in Australia, too. Classes are called subjects and professors are called lecturers. You’ll often find yourself getting tongue-tied when talking to locals or annoyed when you do not understand other Australians right away.
Some of these academic changes are small and insignificant, but others are more noticeable. Oftentimes, you end up living far away from university libraries. Finding study spaces can be challenging and frustrating. These feelings are normal. To manage them, and ultimately work past them, it is helpful to be patient with yourself and your new environment. To avoid feeling completely overwhelmed, it is helpful to be patient with yourself. It’s okay that you didn’t know where you were going that first week or that the three places you’ve tried to study at so far have been a bust.
With time, you’ll manage to reorient yourself and even master this new academic setting. You’ll discover state libraries closer to your apartment or actually use that desk in your room as more than just a storage space. Having patience helps you reduce your frustration levels. It frees your mind, so you can think about solutions to academic problems or focus on the important things: handing in quality work on time. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that study abroad is all about balancing the study with the adventures. A patient attitude can help you achieve this balance much sooner to allow you to get the most of all your experiences abroad.
Gabriella Sallai was a Physics and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major at Franklin & Marshall College and studied abroad with IFSA at University of Melbourne in Australia in spring 2018. She was a First-Generation Scholar for IFSA’s First-Generation College Scholarship Program.