Academic Expectations

Tips for students enrolling directly in a foreign university:

  • In many countries, students are admitted to universities for one specific major.  Students abroad often focus most of their coursework as undergraduates on courses directly related to their major, as they usually complete general education/breadth studies in high school.  This is very different from US liberal arts colleges in which students tend to explore a variety of subjects and may not begin to really concentrate on a major until their junior year.
  • Third-year classes at universities abroad may be much more specialized than third-year courses in the US and therefore Whitman students may need select their courses (even those in their major field) from those normally taken by the local first- and second-year students.
  • In classes abroad the style of teaching is often more traditional, teacher-center lecture style rather than the discussion-based classes that students are accustomed to at Whitman.
  • Syllabi at universities in Europe and elsewhere are often much less detailed than those at Whitman.  Faculty abroad may expect students to be more self-motivated and independent in their learning and to do outside readings that are not required on the syllabus.
  • Courses at universities abroad are likely to have less frequent small assignments in which the student is assessed and to have mid-terms and/or final exams that carry a much bigger percentage of the course grade.

Tips for students attending center-based programs:

  • Students who attend center-based programs sometimes find that courses require fewer assignments than a typical Whitman course and that a significant portion of the grade is based on a major assignment or mid term plus one final exam.
  • Students who attend center-based programs sometimes find that major assignments and finals are all due at the end of the semester while the first-half of the semester has a much lighter work load.  Time management is therefore essential.
  • Tips for students attending field-based programs:
  • Students who attend field-based programs find that due to all of the field projects and excursions there may be less personal/free time and some weekends may be devoted to required course activities.

General Academic Tips for All Students Abroad:

  • The beauty of study abroad as an undergraduate is that Whitman students may experience a different style of learning, different intellectual traditions and viewpoints, and different resources and languages than what is available in Walla Walla.  But the different environment can pose challenges.
  • Whitman students who discover they are having difficulties adjusting to the new academic system and feel unsure about the expectations of the professors or how to approach their studies, should contact their advisor abroad, program director, or the Off-Campus Studies Office as soon as possible.   Whitman OCS is here to support our students abroad from afar and this is made much easier today with resources like Skype and Facetime.
  • Faculty abroad may seem more reserved or less friendly or less accessible than Whitman professors, but they are usually quite helpful if students take the initiative to seek assistance.
  • Some (but not all) students participating in study abroad programs report they do not need to commit as much time to their studies abroad as they do at Whitman. If students find the academic classes abroad less time consuming, we encourage them to take advantage of the many informal learning opportunities that surround them in their destination such as internships, informal language exchanges, volunteering, joining local clubs and sports teams, visiting museums, and attending performing arts events.  These co-curricular and extracurricular activities can be incredibly valuable for developing better cultural understanding and intercultural communication skills.