Learning to study in America

Story by

Sewa Bhattarai




Sociology & Anthropology



I was the kind of person who practiced the adage “leap the bridge when you come to it.” As a result, before going to the US, I had no idea about the methods of studying in the US. I was only focused on the process of going. I had given a cursory glance to the syllabus, but knew nothing more. Which meant I did not know how important homework was.

Like most other Nepali students, I had given up homework and assignments after school level. There was a certain internal marking in the subject that I did my bachelors in, but it was not given much importance. Me and my classmates were used to submitting them at the end of the semester, or sometimes, not at all, depending on the teacher. So, for me, the weekly homework was the most troublesome things at first. I had never bothered to read the syllabus in detail, which listed out clearly how much weight the assignments would carry. I continued to submit my assignments late, and as a result, got low grades in almost every subject I took. Only in the next semester, when I made friends and started talking to them about studies did I realize the importance of assignments. I then found that assignments made up more than half of the grades in some classes, and the final exam made up only a small part of it. Some teachers did not even like to take final exams, instead setting a long “term paper” of equivalent marks. Only then did I start doing my assignments diligently, and the full weight of the American education system fell on me.

Then I had to say bye bye to carefree weekends, and bye bye to promises of “I will study at the finals.” Every week I found myself doing one assignment after another. But the good thing was that, I learnt more these assignments than from all final exams combined. Going through different material every week, analyzing it, and coming up with my opinion about it forced me to think about a concept deeply, which mugging up had never done.

Another issue was attendance. I was used to bunking classes with friends whenever we were in the mood. I initially did the same in my college in the US. Much later I realized that teachers here take attendance more seriously, especially in the master’s level where there are so few students that the teacher knows each one by name and marks every absence. When a student wanted to bunk classes, he or she would talk personally to the teacher, or write in an email to inform the teacher. I did nothing of that sort. Thinking back, I am sure the teachers must have thought I was a very rude student.

I remember one incident clearly of my problems with the American education system. There was a teacher whose accent I was not familiar with and who I had great difficulty understanding. On the eve of the first exam, he apparently told students that they could bring a cheat sheet to class, which they could refer to in the exam. I did not hear any of it. When my classmates began referring to their cheat sheets the next day, I thought it was an open book exam, and I actually brought out my book from the bag and began referring to it. I don’t know, maybe because he knew that I was new, the teacher did not say anything to me as I leafed through the book. Much later, when I talked to my classmates, I realized what had happened, and that incident imprinted the value of networking deeply in my mind. If there was anything I did not understand from the teacher, friends would always be there to help out!

To all new students going to America for further studies, I would like to say that if the first semester confuses you, it is normal. Nothing can prepare you enough for a different country, I myself thought that as a well read person, I was prepared enough, but I was wrong. It was my first semester in America that taught me what I could never have read about it. After that, I found that I was ready for any challenge that the American education system threw at me, because I now knew how to deal with it. Similarly, every person is bound to encounter challenges that no one has recorded before, but time will also teach you the method to deal with it.

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  1. Having come from the same educational background in Nepal, I can totally relate to this. That was how I reacted too in my first semester in US. I thought I was the only one who did that. It is great that you shared this story. Now the freshmen might learn something from us, what not to do in the first semester.

  2. Coming from a different education system sure does bring its challenges. Although most aspects of hold true everywhere, certain things like the way a syllabus is used, are what we tend to look over. I would also suggest that students carefully understand the expectations of the course they take with the information that they are provided in their syllabus. Professors make use of the syllabus as a way to convey important information on the classes and it helps you plan out your schedule.

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