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How to Adapt to a New Education System, Barcelona Edition

by David Sharif
How to Adapt to a New Education System, Barcelona Edition | AIFS Study Abroad | Barcelona, Spain

Coming to Spain, I had to adapt to a different cycle of education. Being enrolled in a study abroad program, I am given the opportunity to apply my studies to world travel. With my major being Political Science and my minor being in Peace and Justice Studies, I am learning the history, politics, religion, and culture of the Mediterranean. Education is the centerpiece of any study abroad trip, which generally leads to why selecting the right university and country is a very significant factor when applying for study abroad. Understanding the education system of your host country or city is very important in order to pass your courses and having the transcripts sent back to your home university.

Here are some useful academic expectations to understand while studying abroad in Barcelona. This will be useful for future study abroad students:

  • Although it may not be explicitly stated in the syllabus, attendance is important.
  • Expectations about the style and form of essays may be different from what you are used to.
  • Students’ progress toward a degree often depends on exams given at the end of each year, or at the end of their program, rather than on work completed for individual classes. Degree candidates, therefore, may put less emphasis on attendance at lectures and more on the work they are doing outside of class to prepare for exams. As a non-degree student, your work may be assessed differently, perhaps with more emphasis on class essays and attendance.
  • In many cases, the professor may be expecting you to be reading on your own and ask you for original research and thought in the exam essays. You will be expected to provide your own motivation and to assume responsibility for your own education and learning, and not to simply wait to be taught the course material.
  • Generally speaking, emphasis is put on reading widely and making use of what you have read in essays and during seminars. Your reading will not usually be based on a textbook or directed in the detailed way, which is common at universities in the United States. If you are told: “You may wish to have a look at these specific titles,” that implies strong advice that these books should be read! Don’t rely on being told exactly what to do or when to do it.

Along with some preparation guidelines on adjusting to a different education system, here are some useful tips to build good relationships with your instructors.

  • Treat learning another academic culture like learning a new language. Ask, “What are the rules? Can I translate what I am experiencing into something I can understand?” Observe.
  • Be independent in your learning. If the lecture doesn’t match the readings, ask yourself why. Make a connection, think about it on your own, or talk about it with your local peers or resident director. If you need more input in order to understand the material, take the initiative: go to the library – in itself a valuable cross-cultural experience.
  • Don’t expect a syllabus – at least, not the step-by-step syllabus you receive from professors in the US. You may get one, or you may receive a list of 40 or 100 books that are somehow relevant to the general discipline of the course you’re taking, in which case it’s up to you to figure out which, and how many, to read, and how to locate them.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions; just be diplomatic. Socratic teaching is not the norm abroad, so instructors won’t automatically steer the class back to a point or thread.
  • Try, for just this semester or year, to focus more on learning than on your GPA. Students who work hard, do the readings and homework, and consistently attend class nearly always receive passing grades.
  • Always remember that your program staff or international students’ office is available to help you with the transition and ‘translation’ process. They are both your support and your advocates, but they can help only if you let them know what’s going on.

This post was contributed by David Sharif, who is studying abroad with AIFS in Barcelona, Spain.

How to Adapt to a New Education System, Barcelona Edition | AIFS Study Abroad | Barcelona, Spain

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