||You can't do what you need to do until you know what you need to do.
What Your Professors Expect
In social situations, most people assume that everyone else understands all of the "rules,"
and they usually don't even realize that they are assuming anything at all.
Your professors and classmates are likely to act
in ways that only make sense if you understand the assumptions they are making, and
what they expect to happen. Here are a few basic ideas that you should keep in mind:
Why Won't These People Shut Up?
- In small classes (or "seminars"), it is expected that you will speak up and
participate in the discussion. Asking questions of your professor, raising
objections to points made by other students or by the instructor, and even some
drama, are all normal. When you participate in class actively, you
are showing what you can do, and this will make a favorable impression. It
is not rude!
- It is rude to interrupt others while they are
speaking, to be abusive of others, to yell, and to openly
suggest that others are ignorant or stupid, though all
these things do happen.
- In lecture-based classes, the opportunity for open discussion will be more
limited, and in very large lectures, the students will probably not participate
at all. Generally speaking, the larger the class is, the less student
participation is expected, and the smaller the class, the more student
participation is expected.
Is This Place For Real?
- America is, in general, an informal country. To some extent, excessive
formality borders on being rude, as it may indicate insincerity or
snobbishness. This can be seen in the American classroom, where students
and even teachers often dress informally, and use informal language. This
does not mean that your teachers or fellow students are not serious about what
they are doing!
- Americans also claim to be democratic, and so distinctions between groups
are, on the surface, generally minimal. However, it is still expected that when
students approach faculty, they will do so with a certain level of respect.
Nonetheless, people often behave as if there was no great difference between
students and teachers. Different faculty will feel differently about this.
Some older teachers will be offended by the kind informal interaction
that many younger teachers insist on. You can learn a great deal about how
to act by paying attention to how others act in the first few class sessions.
It is generally safer to be too formal than too casual,
but you may prevent yourself from fully experiencing the "American-ness" of your
education here if you remain formal throughout your years as a student here.
What About My Grade?
- Many American professors value cleverness, creativity, and a spirited
intelligence much more than the ability to memorize content. Tests are often
designed to test the ability to solve novel problems using concepts from the
course; and sometimes tests are designed to punish those who have simply
memorized the material. This is not always the case, of course! Many of
your teachers will be content if you can simply remember the most important
points that have been covered in the class. Be prepared to do both -
remember the material, and solve problems creatively.
- Students are usually evaluated based on several factors: class attendance,
participation, tests, and papers. Depending on the type of
class, other work may be counted toward your grade: laboratory work (including
record-keeping), art projects, computer programs you have written, etc.
But What If I'm in Trouble?
- In many American colleges, you get an exception made
to some rule or grading factor if you have a good reason.
For instance, if you become very ill and miss an exam,
your professor may agree to let you re-take it, or make some other
arrangement with you. This is usually up to the teacher to decide.
- Administrators also can make exceptions, though there is usually more
paperwork involved. If you feel that some rule or requirement should be
waived in your case, there may be a "petition" or other form that you can
submit, in order to have an exception made in your case. For example, you
may be a professional programmer without a degree who is returning to school.
Instead of just taking a required introductory programming class,
you may file a petition requesting that the
class requirement be waived for you, because of the knowledge reflected in
your work record. In fact, if you are persistent, you can accomplish a lot
through the use of petitions and other appeals. The only limit is your
imagination. This can be a valuable tactic for surviving the difficult process
of getting a degree in a foreign country in an unfamiliar language.
- If you don't ask questions, you won't get answers. Ask!