What International Students Can Expect In American Classrooms

A life-changing experience at an American college awaits you — learning in a second language, unfamiliar yet exciting sights and sounds, different kinds of food, and a classroom culture that you may find odd (or even shocking).


It’s understandable to feel as if you’ve fallen into an academic rabbit hole when you step in an American college classroom for the first time. Below are three characteristics of a typical American classroom to give you a flavor of what your experience will be like as you earn your degree in the United States.

Learner-Based Education

It’s safe to say that lecture-style teaching in post-secondary education is not dead, although more and more college professors are challenging this ancient method of teaching and meeting with varying degrees of success. Most international students come from an academic environment where teachers are expected to lecture for the entire length of the class. For the most part, students are relegated to listening intently and taking down copious notes.

By contrast, in most American classrooms, learning is student- rather than teacher-based. Portland Community College provides tips to help international students better adapt to the teaching styles of US schools. PCC states: “students are encouraged to interact with their instructors and classmates much more closely,” which could pose a problem if you’re not used to this type of scholarly contact.

Group discussions, special projects, peer teaching, and other pedagogical styles are typical for an American professor to use in the classroom. Keep an open mind, and participate as fully as you can manage. You will find out that the ability to work and get along well with your peers and superiors will serve you well in the professional world.

Speak Up

This does not only pertain to group discussions but also to in-classroom instruction. Most professors welcome questions from students during a lecture — as long as they are intelligent and relevant to the topic. International students may find this disrespectful and disruptive, but American classroom culture encourages lively discussion and an open exchange of ideas. Students are expected to challenge theories, question assumptions, evaluate options, and judge the merit and importance of facts according to its relevance to their learning.

By all means if you have a question, ask; if you have an insight, share it; and if you have a dissenting opinion, voice it. Use the academic freedom you will find in college classrooms all over the United States as the impetus to propel your education to new heights.

Independent Learning

Americans value their independence fiercely, and this is evident even in the college classroom. To a great extent, each student is responsible for her own learning. Your professors won’t tell you all the answers. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself. When you show up for class you should know the topic assigned for the day and be ready for an intelligent discussion, even debate, on the subject matter.

For many international students, classroom learning follows a strict hierarchy: the teacher teaches, the student learns. In the American classroom, the teacher conducts the symphony of learning. The students, each with their own mastery of their instruments, conspire with him to make beautiful music together.

Studying in America can be challenging, confusing and even frustrating. But if you step in the American college classroom with an open mind, a willing spirit, and a heart hungry to learn, you will be richly rewarded.

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