Pomona College seeks to provide its students with integrative study abroad experiences by relying on the resources of the host country educational system and/or foreign teachers. There are considerable benefits in this approach, but students should be prepared for differences in academic structure and style compared with those of Pomona. These include course enrollment procedures, classroom pedagogy, student/teacher relationships, class assignments, and evaluation and grading.
Some programs provide the opportunity for direct course enrollment in the host country university. Other programs offer courses specially designed for U.S. and/or foreign students, though these are usually taught by host country professors. Many programs offer a combination of these two types.
In most foreign settings, courses may appear to be less structured than courses taught in the U.S. Students are expected to be independent learners, who assume responsibility in directing their own reading and academic progress. Course syllabi, reading lists, and homework assignments are sometimes not available.
Students who inform themselves and who anticipate these differences will adjust to the foreign system much more quickly. Site-specific academic information is available through program brochures, program orientation materials, evaluations from past participants, and advising sessions with OSA staff or Pomona faculty.
Some foreign universities typically offer specialized, year-long courses which culminate in comprehensive examinations. At other sites, semester-oriented university courses are available, and special arrangements for evaluating U.S. visiting students may be made.
At most foreign universities, home students enter the university to specialize in one subject. Their "liberal arts" education has occurred at the high school level. U.S. students may encounter difficulties finding a university course at the appropriate level. Students may find first-year courses in their major are too elementary, while second-year courses may be too advanced. The faculty advisor abroad knows the university well and will provide useful guidance on course selection.
Academic calendars of foreign universities usually differ greatly from the U.S. semester or quarter systems. For example, classes in Europe usually begin in October and run through June or July, with extended breaks between terms. In Japan, the academic year runs from April to March. At some sites, Pomona arranges a pre-session core course to extend short terms abroad.
The classroom approach at many foreign institutions is much less interactive than at Pomona. Large lecture classes are common and attention to individual students is unusual. Professors may not wish to be interrupted or otherwise engage in classroom discussion with students. Office hours may not be offered.
Since foreign universities are decentralized in structure, comprehensive course listings or catalogs may not exist. Departments or faculties publish course lists shortly before the semester or year begins. At many universities, students must go from department to department or faculty to faculty to register for courses. U.S. students may find this a time-consuming and sometimes frustrating experience. On-site academic advisors or program staff should be able to help navigate course catalogs and the enrollment process.
Continuous assessment does not exist at many foreign universities. Students should not expect regular grades, homework, quizzes, and midterms. Final grades are usually determined by a final examination or final paper. Foreign professors will employ foreign grading standards, and these may differ from U.S. standards.
Many programs offer courses specially designed for U.S. students. While these may be similar to U.S. college courses in design, they are usually taught by foreign faculty who may bring their native teaching style and approach to the classroom.