Study abroad: 10 academic differences that no one tells you about
There are many things people forget to mention about studying abroad, and for many students the academic differences in Ireland are stark in comparison to their home institution. Regan, our Griffith College Dublin and US Ambassador, takes us through her study abroad experience – from grade scales and closed doors to partying on a Monday and morning classes…
I won’t go too far into detail here because most countries have differing grade scales. However, it is worth gaining a full understanding of how the grades will transfer back to your home institution before coming abroad to provide peace of mind. Students should note that a 70 percent or higher is considered a high mark in Ireland and is the equivalent of an A in the U.S.
Amount of work
The amount of work assigned varies by class, however; in the five classes I’ve chosen to take in Griffith College this semester there are solely two grades for the entire semester. Usually these grades come in the form of one paper and one short answer exam. This formula usually results in a 40-60 percent split of your grades putting pressure on you to do well. If you’re feeling stressed, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or assistance! Professors want to see students do well.
Assignment week is the perfect opportunity to catch up on studies and complete different projects. The college anticipates that students fall behind in their coursework as the semester passes, and gives a week off of classes to help students get back on the right track. Students who have completed assignments and kept up with their studies often take this time to travel Europe or visit family.
Scheduling classes in Ireland is a breeze with plenty of time to choose your classes for the semester. In Griffith College the first few weeks of the semester are a temporary audit period in which students can test various classes to decide which are interesting and don’t conflict with the rest of their schedule. Once classes are chosen the student goes to register. Unlike in some universities, there is no competitive aspect to choosing classes. Whoever wants to take a class will be able to sign up for that subject with no worry of the class being too full.
During the first few days of class professors will go over the syllabus and define the course materials. It was recommended by everyone I spoke with that you utilise the multiple copies of books in the library as buying textbooks is expensive and usually unnecessary. A few of my classes also provided free, bound printouts of the PowerPoint slides for the entire semester. Normally something I would have to pay for back home, this was a welcome difference.
In many countries there is some level of formality expected when speaking with a professor. However, in Ireland these interactions are very informal. Professors expect to be addressed by their first name. This can be surprising, as well as a difficult habit to break.
Lectures at Griffith College 90 minutes each with 60 minute tutorials (a more interactive class) once a week. These lectures are long and the professors recognise that and allow a break for about 15 minutes once per class. This is the perfect time to run and get a coffee or snack, something to wake you up especially during those early morning classes.
Classes start later
While this may just be a difference between the U.S. and Ireland, it is still worth noting. Classes at Griffith College start no earlier than 9am, which is fantastic for many reasons. One in particular is that for all procrastinators, athletes, or student with jobs, it’s still possible to get eight hours of sleep; even if you work late and go to bed around midnight.
Need to visit an advisor? Or maybe see a professor after class? If you head to their office one will often encounter a closed door. At U.S. schools, a closed door usually means nobody is in the office or the space is closed. However, encountering closed doors is a frequent occurrence in Ireland and if you simply knock you will be invited in!
In Ireland, international students will quickly find that social nights are on school nights and many pubs even offer student deals on Monday evenings. Weekends are the times to go home, relax, and study for the coming week’s classes.
Although not all of these differences are major, they are the factors nobody thinks to mention when telling you about studying abroad. Small details like these are part of the cultural differences students will learn and appreciate during their time in Ireland.