Considerations for Your Time Abroad
If you take courses at a host university taught by local professors, you will likely experience a very different educational system than what is typical in the U.S. This could mean:
- Classes may be very large. For example, some classes at German universities may have 1,000 students in them. Since typically no one keeps attendance, students come and go as they please, and the professor will probably not know your name.
- Classes may have strict attendance policies that penalize a student’s grade for each unexcused absence.
- You may have very little guidance in your classes. Unlike the U.S. system where students are given regular homework assignments, you may be given a reading list at the beginning of the semester and that is it. It is up to you to make sure that you read all the material.
- Instead of numerous quizzes and tests, you may be given one comprehensive exam at the end of the term or year.
- There may not be regularly scheduled office hours. At some universities, there is a shortage of rooms. Professors are not given offices and when they finish teaching, they go home.
- Communication between professor and student may be quite different. For example, in France professors can be very frank with their students. When a student entered class thinking her spoken French was excellent, the professor turned to her and said, “Your French stinks!”
Tips for Success
- Read! Don’t ignore those assignments until a week before the exams.
- Don’t skip class! As a U.S. student in a foreign educational system, you are at a disadvantage over your fellow peers. They have had a lifetime of learning the ins and outs of the system; you have not.
- Do not return to the U.S. unless you have taken all the required exams. If you don’t take your exams, you will fail your courses!
- Try to talk to your professor. The best time to do this is typically before or after class as they may not have office hours. The hierarchy between professors and students can be very different in many countries than what you are used to in the U.S. You should speak to the professor personally, first introducing yourself and being sure to address them as Doctor or Professor. Email is not the best approach when trying to reach your professors. Many professors abroad may not check their email regularly or may find it rude that you would simply contact them via email.
- If you have trouble in class, make it your mission to get help from your fellow peers. Not only will you stay on top of your subjects, you’ll have the chance to get to know other students.
- If you are having serious trouble with a class, don’t let it slide. Seek the assistance of your on-site coordinator or staff at the institution’s international services office. If these individuals are unable to help you, contact the U of I Education Abroad staff.
- Academic problems are always more difficult to resolve after the fact than when they are actually occurring.
All students are required to complete a Course Planning Form as part of the U of I Education Abroad application. The purpose of this form is to determine how courses taken abroad will fit into your U of I degree. If you have decided to take courses different from what you had pre-approved on your Course Planning Form, you must contact your Education Abroad Advisor and academic advisor to obtain approval for any changes. The Office of the Registrar should then be contacted so they may make a note on your Course Planning Form. In some cases, it may be necessary to complete a new Course Planning Form.
Since educational systems vary, it is often difficult to determine credit equivalency. When questions occur, the Registrar typically uses the formula of 15 classroom contact hours equaling one U of I credit. If you are in class three hours per week for 15 weeks, the number of credits you should receive for this course is three credits. Many European countries use the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). The U of I transfers one ECTS credit as half of a U of I credit (six ECTS credits equal three U of I credits). Bring copies of your course syllabi back to U of I with you in case any issues arise in the transferring of your credit.
While you are guaranteed to receive credit for all the courses you take on approved U of I education abroad programs, it is up to individual departments to determine how these courses articulate to U of I, and it is up to you and your academic advisor to determine how courses will fit into your major or minor.
One important note: All students on education abroad programs must taken enough courses to be considered full-time students. Students who are not registered for the minimum number of credits could jeopardize their financial aid and legal status abroad.
Registering for Classes While Abroad
Towards the end of your term abroad you may need to register for the next term back at U of I. If you have an advisor hold on your account you must first contact your academic advisor to conduct email advising, after which the advisor can remove the hold on your account. "Study Abroad Holds," which you might see on your account, do not prevent you from registering.
The education abroad "placeholder" credits that students are registered for is counted toward moving students up in class standing. Therefore, if you are a sophomore, you may count the 12 study abroad placeholder credits toward putting you into junior status. However, if you are actually taking the equivalent of 14 or 16 or another number of credits abroad, these credits (above the 12 placeholder credits) will not count toward your class standing. Only the 12 placeholder credits will be counted. After you return and your transcript is received, any additional credits will be counted toward your class standing. This means at registration time you may still have to register during the timeframe allotted for sophomores, for example, if the 12 placeholder credits were not enough to move you into a higher class standing. While this delay is not likely to keep you from getting into any of your classes, if you are concerned you should register for the wait list and contact the course instructor immediately.
Prior to departing for their programs abroad, students expecting to receive financial aid funding are encouraged to sign up for direct deposit so that funds will be deposited directly into their bank account. If you are experiencing trouble with this process, or if you have another question about your financial aid, you should contact the U of I Student Financial Aid Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 208-885-6312.
Financial Aid Release Dates
Students participating in programs abroad that have different academic calendars may have additional issues regarding financial aid. Student Financial Aid Services releases aid according to the U.S. academic calendar, rather than the calendar of the overseas institution. Therefore, students on programs that begin either much earlier or much later than the U.S. academic calendar must do careful budgeting. For example, the U of I fall semester release date is in August, yet some students in places like Australia or New Zealand may have started their semester in July. They must cover expenses (airfare, etc.) on their own until the financial aid release date when they can then "reimburse" themselves out of their financial aid award. In most cases financial aid cannot be released early. Many programs offer a program payment deferral that allows students to pay the majority of their fees once their aid releases. Be sure to look into any required paperwork in order to utilize this option with your program.
In the reverse situation, the U of I spring semester release date is in January, yet some students may not begin their programs abroad until February or later. These students must carefully budget so that they do not use up the funds intended for their education abroad experience before it even begins.
Full-Time Student Status
Education abroad participants must remain full-time students while abroad in order to maintain financial aid eligibility. Students who drop below full time status may be placed on financial aid probation or may even be required to pay back a portion of their award. Undergraduate students must take 12 credits per semester and graduate students must take 9 credits per semester to be considered full-time.
Financial Aid Suspension
Federal law requires U of I to verify that financial aid recipients were enrolled full-time and received passing grades while overseas. You may receive a financial aid suspension letter and email due to a missing transcript if U of I does not receive a transcript from the institution you attended by June 1 showing you were a full-time student and passed your courses. While some institutions will be able to submit transcripts by the required deadlines, many institutions - particularly in the southern hemisphere - follow academic calendars that make this difficult. Students particularly affected are those who will be abroad during the spring semester, as there is little turn-around time between the end of their program and the June 1 deadline. Before you leave your study abroad site, you should make certain all your fees are paid, all your coursework is submitted, and you have taken all your exams, as this will speed up the issuance of your transcript. If you do receive a financial aid suspension letter, please contact us. We work with the Student Financial Aid Services and the academic colleges to request that student aid is reinstated until your international transcript has arrived.
There are often questions asked by both students and parents regarding the safety of education abroad. It is easy to become alarmed when we hear the Department of State has raised the advisory level for a certain country, or we see natural disasters being broadcast on the news. It is important to step back and view the information through an impartial and rational lens to separate fact from rumor. This is not an easy task: as parents, we worry about our children, and as students, we wonder how these events might impact our experience.
We take student safety and well-being very seriously. However, we cannot guarantee a risk-free environment abroad any more than we could do this for a student studying in the U.S. The best way a student can remain safe is to be aware, be responsible and to follow the advice of U of I and program staff in-country. Student safety is a three-pronged effort: initial preparation, on-site personal responsibility and program preparedness.
Students on U of I programs participate in a pre-departure orientation. Two of the main discussion points of this orientation are health and safety. Students also receive a Survival Guide that discusses these issues. When students arrive in-country, many participate in an on-site orientation that covers site-specific health and safety issues. As a part of this preparation (both in the U.S. and abroad), students should receive emergency contacts for:
- U of I Education Abroad staff.
- Host institution international office staff and/or on-site resident directors.
- Local police, fire and ambulance services.
- Nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
If students have misplaced this information, they should request it from their resident director and/or host institution international office staff.
On-Site Personal Responsibility
There are many things students can do to minimize their safety risk:
- Draw upon as many sources of information as possible before making decisions, and heed their advice: on-site resident directors or program staff, host family members and the U.S. Consulate to name a few.
- Avoid visiting areas that are known to be unsafe.
- Avoid crowds, confrontations or arguments concerning political or religious views and public demonstrations of any kind.
- Blend in with the local surroundings as much as possible. Dress like the locals do with the goal of avoiding unwanted attention that might come from being the obvious foreigner.
- Work on being more than a tourist. As an education abroad participant, you can learn what areas are most frequented by tourists and choose other places to hang out that will decrease the likelihood of being targeted as one.
- Attempt to minimize the times you move about the city with a large group of other Americans.
- Avoid consuming excessive alcohol or other substances that might impair your decision-making ability.
- If you travel, journey with a companion and be sure to leave an itinerary behind with your host family and resident director.
- Make every effort to be aware of your surroundings and keep in regular contact with the host institution and/or program staff.
By following these simple recommendations, you can increase the likelihood of keeping yourself safe and having a great educational experience.
Over the years, U of I has handled a wide variety of emergency situations, including student injury, illness, arrest, natural disasters, political and social unrest and war. The U of I Education Abroad staff is very experienced in emergency response and they have an extensive network of professionals in the U.S. and abroad that they can draw upon for expertise and advice. Each of these sources of information provides a critical link to understanding complex situations and providing guidance in taking the appropriate actions.
Whenever possible, U of I uses in-country assessment since this provides the most accurate picture of a situation. When situations arise in a country, like political instability for example, on-site staff communicate with our office on the recommendations so that we can assist students and make informed decisions to keep our students safe.
Another important source of information are the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories. Travel Advisories are compiled for every country of the world and the advisory level designated to a specific country indicates the level of caution you should consider and in some cases, advisories will warn of areas you should avoid altogether. The information in each country’s travel advisory explains associated risks within the country: crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health concerns, natural disasters, a short-term event, or other potential risks. This information changes often and is a useful tool to evaluate places of interest for your travel abroad. U of I encourages students to continue to monitor the information provided in the advisory as situations may change. Utilize the Travel Advisory information to assess a country of interest and become familiar with the associated risks within a country or areas where risks are higher and may be best to avoid. Read the advisory in its entirety to ensure you have an accurate understanding of situations and risks.
It is U of I policy to support students going to countries with an overall Level 1 and 2 advisories but students should be aware that these levels may changes as situations arise. A country with an overall Level 3 advisory warrants reconsideration and approval through U of I prior to committing to the program. If a Level 3 advisory change occurs while students are in country, U of I Education Abroad will assess risk through all channels available to determine if student safety is highly compromised and advise accordingly in coordination with program staff in-country. U of I does not approve of students participating in any travel to a country or region with a Level 4 Advisory, unless the reason for Level 4 Advisory is due to COVID.
How Often are Programs Cancelled?
Program cancellation and/or the necessity for student evacuation is really quite rare.
Should students be asked to evacuate, they should always follow the instructions of the resident director and/or the host institution’s international services staff. Some program sites may have a predetermined emergency meeting place that students should go to, or in other cases, students may be asked to remain with their host families or stay in their residence halls or apartments until further arrangements can be made. As in all emergency situations, it is important that students try to remain calm, not act impulsively and follow any instructions that are given by program staff or the U.S. Consulate. Once students are safe, they should contact their family members in the U.S. at the earliest opportunity available.