“You won’t have a social life,” was what I was told about the amount of homework, tests and papers I would have ahead of me as an exchange student in the United States. However, the student behavior and the university relationship dynamics are more different than I could have anticipated, a result of both nations’ culture.
Although other international students may have completely different points of view, the differences have been striking to me. It’s positive, however, because if everyone had the same impressions, exchange programs wouldn’t be interesting at all.
The first thing I was told was that in the United States, people respect the appointment hours, so I should never be late for class. That is not entirely true, since I witnessed students arriving at class with less than 20 minutes before it was over. I was also told the amount of homework and extra-class assignments I would be expected to do would be more. That’s true – here it’s common to spend more time studying outside the class by yourself than the time we have in the classroom.
In Brazil, the amount of homework is significantly less. On the other hand, I used to have longer classes there, usually two to three hours for a typical class.
However, the biggest difference is the relationships between professors and students. Here, the professor is much more respected. I have not yet seen a professor asking for attention here, or for students to stop chatting during a class. In Brazil, it’s hard to pass through a class without seeing that. As a result, students here are more respected as well! The professor here is your friend – they are there for you, for advice and for help. There are office hours, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have coffee with the professor if you can’t make those specific hours. The professor here wants to help the student.
The first time I sent an email to a Temple’s professor and I received the response in the same day, I almost fell off my chair.
With very few exceptions, professors in Brazil usually took a week to respond me.
Students here are also more trusted by their instructors. You are treated as the adult you are supposed to be. Andrea Moraes, a Brazilian junior biomedical student, said she was surprised when a professor left the classroom during a test. In Brazil, that doesn’t happen and it is highly recommended that a professor never leaves, because the students would probably cheat on their tests. I’m not saying everyone would do it – I’m definitely not saying I would. But somebody would, that’s for sure. Here, respect is mutual between professor and student.
People in the United States are very polite, which is a good thing for society. But sometimes, being too polite can be a barrier.
In Brazil, we are very communicative, which is problem when the professor has to ask for students’ attention, but is also a powerful networking tool. Brazilians make friends easily. If we need to know someone, we would try to introduce ourselves. There is so much contact opportunities here on Temple, yet at the same time, American students seem to be so closed off.
There are jobs and internships opportunities around here that people would kill for in Brazil. I’ve heard some American students say, “Yes, I should look for an internship, at some point…” Which leads me to the final difference: the reason to be in college.
Most of the American students I know are studying to prepare for a professional life. Most of them aren’t already working in something related to their major. It’s more common here having internships during college and then being finally ready for a career after graduation. In Brazil, I always felt guilty when people asked me where I worked, because my major is advertising and I still didn’t work in an advertising agency.
In Brazil, students that are not working in their major area yet are rare. I always felt like I was “late” in my career because of that. The idea is that you are studying, but at the same time you should already built your professional path. So the graduation is not the beginning, but part of your professional life. That’s why it’s more common for students to be older in Brazil than it is here. At Temple, I rarely see older students, but at Unisinos, the university I attended in Brazil, I saw fathers and mothers studying more often.
Maybe it is because it takes longer for people to afford university fees there. Maybe it is because the degree has a different meaning here. Or, maybe it is just a different culture.
Monique can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.