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International Education | Articles

What is studying in North America like?

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Deciding to study in a new country is an exciting and adventurous time but it can also be an enormous culture shock, especially since the structure of education in Canada and the US can differ from the style in China, India, South Korea and many other of your home countries. Of course, that is part of the appeal as you travel to experience a new environment and expand your knowledge of the world. Still, it is worthwhile exploring some of the common features of campus life so new students know what to anticipate upon arrival.


Here’s what to expect from your new campus life:

Dorm life
Student housing differs greatly around the world. While many schools have dormitories, or hostels as they are known in India, the process can be different in North America. Both international and domestic attendees can live on-campus in residence halls or rent a space nearby, with many opting for roommates. Each option can provide a fairly independent living situation with opportunities to cook or purchase meals from a cafeteria.


Depending on the area of study, a lecture hall can be very large and lively. Professors are often casual, conversational and invite debate among their students. Additionally, classes are typically not compulsory, and it is not unusual to see varying levels of attendance. Lessons might also be taught by a teaching assistant, known as a TA. This is generally a student at the institution who focuses on that subject and works directly with the professor.


North American institutions may offer significantly fewer in-class hours than their counterparts around the globe. It is not unusual for an American or Canadian student to spend only 10 hours per week in the classroom and more time reading or completing course work in their free time.


Majors and areas of study:
You may be surprised at how many students change their major or enter a school without a clear idea of their area of study. In the US, nearly 1 in 3 students change their major during their undergraduate years and 10% do so more than once!


In North America students strive for comfort on campus and it’s common to see sweatpants, t-shirts and even pajamas in a classroom. This can be a surprise to many attendees – even locals – who come from schools with uniforms or more formal dress.


One of the best parts of studying in North America is the breath of culture, as many campuses are highly diverse. In Canada, almost half of a campus’s population is a member of a visible minority. This multiculturism provides an opportunity for you to gain new perspectives, hear first-hand about another culture and of course, make friends from all around the world.

Making the decision to hop on a plane and study abroad is a big one and no matter how prepared, you are likely to experience some form of culture shock or surprise at a practice at your new school. In fact, experiencing an environment unlike your own is one of the major benefits of studying in another country.