Life as an International Student in Alaska: College in the U.S is Different

No matter where you from in the world: attending a University in the United States while be quite the change. The first days of school will definitely surprise you and here is why:

1. Class size: When I did my undergrad in Germany I was used to lecture halls with 800 people listening to a monologue of one professor. Even though I made a group of friends pretty quickly who would sit next to me during those lectures, the overall class setting was rather anonymous. I remember my smallest class being abound 200 students. That was pretty exciting because after a few weeks every face looked at least a little familiar. UAF is WAYYYY different than that! Attending a class at UAF will give you everything but the feeling of anonymity. When I did an exchange semester as an undergrad student (that means Bachelor level) at UAF my biggest class had about 35 students and my smallest class about 8. (There are a few 100 level classes where you might actually have 80 students in a room. However, that's the exception, not the rule).  When I came back to UAF to pursue a Master's degree I quickly realized that once you are a graduate student your classes will become even smaller. In my biggest class this semester we are 3 students, the smallest one 2 ;) And even if that sounds crazy at first, I really started to love it! :)

2. Professors/Instructors: Not only smaller class sizes are a reason why the relationship to your professor at UAF might be closer than you are used to from your home country. I believe that the American language as its own makes it easier to communicate with your professor or instructor in a less formal way. While many languages make use of polite address in the 2 person singular (German: Sie, French: vous, Spanish: Usted and so on) in English it's always just "you". This makes it easier to talk to professors in a less formal manner. Therefore most professors also just want to be called by their first name. Instead of writing a super formal email to "Prof. Dr. Dr. Johnson", in Alaska in most cases your emails will start with "Hi Paul, Joe, Anna.... [insert first name here] "

3.Attendance, Participation and Homework: No, it is not only rumors it is actually true: American Universities track their student's attendance. Yes, you are expected to participate in class room settings (and you even get grades for it) and yes you have more homework assignments than in middle school. Studying Economics in Heidelberg, Germany, I've never had a single lecture with mandatory attendance. I've participated maybe once in three years during the lecture and I never ever had homework assignments. While most universities in Europe believe the responsibility of studying and attending classes should be completely on the student, in the U.S colleges are usually set up like high schools. Homework, participation and attendance included. Will you ever get used to it? It depends! As funny as it sounds, I like the concept of participation and homework. It ensures that there is a learning process going on all over the semester and not just the one month before finals. Furthermore my grade got way higher, simply because my final grade consists of lots of different assignments. In Germany I had exactly one grade: my final exam would count 100% of my final grade. When it comes to attendance, however, I think I will never completely get used to it. I have a great time management and I strongly believe it should be up to me to decided if or when I attend a lecture. However, the American system is really strict with attendance. Keep that in mind before planning longer trips to see your friends or family in the middle of the semester!

4. Recreational Classes: The coolest thing at UAF is the variety of recreational and "fun" classes you can take at UAF. No matter if you are into ice hockey, baking, yoga or rock climbing; if you were always curious about winter camping, ice climbing or cross country skiing; or if you simply always wanted to take a wine tasting class: UAF has the coolest "fun" classes.  If you are planning on doing an exchange semester at UAF make sure to sign up for as many crazy classes as possible. They will be covered under your tuition waiver, they count towards the necessary course load for visa requirements (12 credits for undergrads, 9 credits for grad students) and they are incredible fun and an awesome opportunity to get to know many interesting people. My personal favorites: Ski Mountaineering, Wilderness Leadership Education, Introduction to Winter Camping, Rock Climbing, Ice Climbing, Cross Country Skiing.....

5. Online Classes: Alaska is a huge state which is only scarcely populated. Since many people live in small villages online classes are a great way for them to get a university degree without having to move far away from home. Furthermore, college is extremely expensive in the U.S. Therefore many people work full time to finance their studies. Online classes are a great way for people to balance work life and their studies since most of them allow great flexibility. Some course are basically recorded or just require self study. Therefore students are not to tied to a fixed place and time. Even if you are allowed to take one online class each semester as international student, I would not recommend it. You are only in Alaska for a limited time. In-class lectures will give you the opportunity to interact with different people from all over the world, while you are basically on your own when taking online classes.Therefore online classes should only be your backup option. Don't miss out on the opportunity of getting to know people!

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