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Succeed Academically at American Universities

Hey, everyone! How did your midterms go? Easy A or tough B? The language difficulties may make us feel less confident than we were in our home countries in terms of academic performance. But the truth is that all international students in America are extraordinarily smart, and that is why we are here.

The most important attitude that we should always hold is that our ideas and thoughts are not worse than any native speaker although we may not speak and write as fast as they do. See? Got some confidence? Here are some most frequently encountered problems for international students studying in the U.S., and I will give you some advice/ tips/ tricks to overcome them!

Oh, I miss out on a lot in class, what should I do?

When English is your second language, it is normal that you may miss some things the professor says in class. This happens to everyone, but definitely more to second language speakers.

[Read more advice about and experiences with studying in English]

For example, I am taking a class about the history of American broadcasting industry. It has given me lots of pain, because I basically do not know anything about hit shows in America years ago or big names in American history. As a result, when I’m in class, I am busy looking up the names of people and companies that the professor mentions. Sometimes I need to ask the professor after class about things I did not catch. It is indeed frustrating sometimes, but it is just part of what you have to experience in a class taught in another language.

What make things better is you may not have as much difficulty when it comes to assignments, because you have time to think it over, and just as I mentioned before, our thoughts are not worse than those of an American student.

A tactic that I’ve found useful in writing papers is to stick really closely to the professor’s instructions and requirements. Figure out what he or she wants in terms of content and format, and review those requirements again and again as you are working to make sure you are on the track that your professor expects you to be.

In addition, if you focus on the theories and opinions the professor mentioned in class it helps show your ability to apply the class material accurately, and demonstrates that you pay attention to what your professor is talking about. I like to keep my class notes beside me as I’m writing to blend the class discussions into the paper.

Getting used to U.S. plagiarism rules

In most universities in China, there is no plagiarism scanning when professors grade papers and almost nobody emphasizes it much to students. As a result, we do citations in a pretty general and vague way.

However, here in the U.S., avoiding plagiarism is very important. For many international students, getting used to the requirements for citing ideas and quotations in research papers may be a big adjustment.

Plagiarism detection works on a word basis, which means if your paper has a string of words that you have copied straight from an existing article, you will be in big trouble! What will the repercussions be? The most common one is an automatic fail, but in some cases the consequences can be much worse - getting kicked out of school is not impossible.

So, never ever copy anything and paste it directly into your paper! What you should do is paraphrase and reorganize what you want to include in your paper, use quotation marks to indicate direct quotes from a primary source, and be sure to provide a proper citation for the information. It is not a difficult adjustment to make. You will find out that you develop good academic writing habits after doing about two papers following the citation requirements.

Impress your audiences in presentations

The thing that may be the most challenging for international students is giving oral presentations. It can be really scary to give a presentation, in English, in front of the class and your professor. I know some students who are afraid to choose the courses they are interested in just because those courses have lots of presentations to do. That is totally unnecessary!

It is impossible to talk at the same pace and with the same tone as native speakers. If you came to America as a teenager or after, this is a truth that you need to accept honestly and pleasantly. But as long as you go into your presentation with confidence, no one will judge you for it. Just do your best to talk naturally and smile during the presentation.

Practicing what you are going to say will help you feel more confident as well. Come up with a speech draft that is written in the way that you are most comfortable speaking. Your draft should not be long, because we talk slower than native speakers – plus, audiences get bored easily, so just get directly to the point. The job afterwards is practice, practice and practice!

Here’s a trick that can help you impress your audience as well – you can produce a well-organized and visually appealing Powerpoint or Prezi that incorporates videos and pictures. These visual elements can be more powerful and persuasive than text, and it is a tricky way to hide your weaknesses with language and shed light on what you are good at.

The last thing I want say is to treasure the opportunities to present in front of the class. Oral presentations can be extremely valuable for international students. First of all, you will find that once you have memorized the phrases used in presentations you can use them freely forever. But most importantly, standing in front of class is a good way to show your charm to your professor and classmates.