How do I navigate academics in my new culture? You may discover that academic systems, learning, and goals are very different from your education expectations back home.

Academic Integrity

Academic expectations often center on integrity. If you are from a culture in which you experienced group work or a lot of cut and paste quotes from sources, then you’ll probably need to realize that universities have clear, yet differing expectations. You are typically expected to do your own work, not copying the work of others, and clearly cite sources. Otherwise, you may be accused of plagiarism, a term you’ll want to ask about many times. Refer to each class syllabus (a plan for the class) and the class reference style for papers (such as MLA, APA, Chicago Style, etc.). This is a very important point, prompting you to seek situational information about course and teacher expectations.

Group vs. Individual Learning

Education is moving away from strictly lectures, notes, and testing. Learning experts often instruct professors to use group learning, independent research, online testing, mentoring, creative exercises, and much more. You are still expected to know the facts, but the goal often is focused on applying the facts and discovering new facts and practices, innovation, and critical thinking. This means using your time outside of class for a lot of reading and cooperative group work with other students for joint presentations, group study, or creative ventures.

Talking to Professors

Most professors want to be helpful to their students. How they do that, or in what situation, may vary. Some like to visit face-to-face, so take advantage of that time. Many teachers like to see you before or after class rather than in long settings in an office or library. Others may seek to involve students in social activities. Some prefer electronic communication, such as email or video chatting. The point is to not hold back from seeking information, engaging discussions in or outside of classes, asking for opportunities to assist the professor in some way, or reading his or her research and engaging in discussions about their articles and books. Don’t assume they will seek you out; take the initiative and reach out where possible. Most will welcome your energy and interest.