International Student Support Office Blog Post: Five Tips for Easing Academic Adjustment(s)

Haverford is a pretty unique academic experience for a number of reasons including our faculty, the small class sizes, the range of classes available through the Quaker Consortium (Bryn Mawr College, Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania), and the Honor Code. This can be a major adjustment for any incoming first year, but this is especially true for us as international students, since we are simultaneously adjusting to multiple aspects of life at Haverford and in the United States. Here are five tips that helped me navigate my academic life at Haverford:

(A Quick Disclaimer: These tips come from my experiences in predominantly Humanities classrooms, and reflects things I’ve learnt in my academic journey. This might look incredibly different (or similar!) for you depending on your academic interests and backgrounds. The most important thing is to find what works for you, using the resources Haverford has to offer.)

1. Think about your schedule carefully: Since visa-carrying students have to maintain a full course load of 4 credits each semester, it’s important to think about your course load. Take time to consider how you’ll balance academic commitments with a job, extracurriculars and time to relax and have fun. Of course, your UCA and Pre-Major Advisor can assist in this process. As a rule of thumb, it’s better to start with fewer activities than you did during secondary school, and slowly add more as you begin to understand what you want your life at Haverford to look like.

2. Create a support network: Seek out resources to adjust to  American academic conventions and classroom dynamics, like the Writing Center and the Office of Academic Resources (OAR), early in the year. I highly recommend working with a Writing Center partner, who is a Writing Center peer tutor you meet every work to discuss your writing assignments. One of my biggest fears coming to Haverford was accidentally violating the Honor Code by committing plagiarism because I didn’t understand citation styles. You can speak to your Honor Code Orienteers (HCOs) to understand what the Honor Code expects of you. Dean Glanzer is also a support and can help you build your resource network. There are tons of other types of academic supports which will be covered in an upcoming First Year blog post!  

3. Seize all the opportunities available to you: There’s always a lot happening on campus, and it can be hard to keep up with it all. It can be helpful to follow clubs and academic spaces you’re interested in on social media and subscribe to their emails lists to stay in the loop. Academic centers like the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship (CPGC), the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Science Center (KINSC), and the Hurford Center for Arts and Humanities (HCAH) have lots of funding opportunities, which range from stipends for attending conferences and doing research, to support for pursuing independent scholarship.

4. Make the best of the flexibility offered by a liberal arts education: The domains system encourages you to take classes in fields of study that are outside your comfort zone. I struggled with the natural sciences in high school, so being able to take classes that discussed intimidating topics in more approachable ways has been great. I’ve really valued the possibilities for intellectual exploration, be it through classes or academic spaces (like New Philosophers’ Club or the Bryn Mawr Classics Colloquium). You can also find ways to connect your communities back home with your academic life at Haverford. Last semester, I took a religion course called “Poetics of Religious Experience in South Asia”, and it helped me explore my experiences as a Hindu woman in an academic setting. I cannot stress this enough: your academic journey at Haverford is really what you choose to make of it!

5. Prepare for the academic culture to be different: This may be different than your secondary school, but at Haverford, students are active participants in the creation of the classroom environment. Professors want to hear from you, and will actively encourage you to share your thoughts and opinions. It is expected that you will come to class prepared to engage in discussions about the assigned reading. It’s okay (and totally normal) to not always have fully formed ideas about the reading, but the professor will want you to demonstrate that you’ve thought critically about it. Learning how to take up space in a classroom takes practice, so think of each class as an opportunity to develop this skill! You can also talk to your professor during office hours, where you can further clarify your understanding of material discussed in a class or explore topics that didn’t fit the classroom space. The American grading system may be very different than what you experienced in secondary school. My high school gave me grades in terms of percentages, so the system of letter grades and the Grade Point Average (GPA) on a scale of 4 was alien to me. I wasn’t sure how I was doing, or what the difference was between a 3.3 and a 3.7, for example. Moreover, we don’t talk about our grades at Haverford. This can be jarring if you came from a more competitive secondary school. Personally, I’ve found the emphasis on intellectual growth healthy and productive; I’ve enjoyed setting my own standards and goals.

P.S.: Have post suggestions? Here’s the form to submit them! I’m also more than happy to answer any questions, and speak about my experience as an international student at Haverford! I’d love to know more about you as well. Feel free to email me at amohan1@haverford.edu, or find me on Facebook.