International Student Services

Cultural Differences in the Classroom

Educational systems vary from country to country. Here are a few facts you should know about academic life in the United States and at Goodwin University.

Classroom Expectations

In many cultures, there is a great difference in status between students and teachers. Students listen quietly, not questioning what the teacher says. In the United States, it is acceptable and often expected for students to ask questions and discuss topics with each other and the instructor. During the first class meeting, your teachers will give you a syllabus, which lists office hours and their contact information. If you have a problem with the material presented in class, it is expected and culturally accepted that you will see the teacher during office hours and ask for help. The syllabus also lists when assignments are due. Dress is informal in U.S. classrooms. Some professors permit students to have food and beverages in the classroom.


You are expected and it is culturally accepted to participate in class discussions. How often will vary according to the course format and the individual instructor’s expectations, but a good rule to follow is to raise your hand to ask a question or to make a comment at least once a week. If you are unclear how often you should speak aloud in class, just ask your instructor for clarification. If a professor calls on you to answer a question, you should respond with the answer or say that you do not know the answer. Don’t worry if the answer you give is wrong — that is considered part of the learning process. Participation will often factor into your grade.

Missing class

You are expected to go to class on time, and to notify your teacher in advance if you will be absent. It is better to be late to class than to skip class. If you must miss class because of illness, you may need a doctor’s excuse, especially if you have a long illness and you must miss several classes. Ask your professors for their policies on missing class. Those policies may also be included in the syllabus. Attendance will often factor into your grade, and if you do not attend on a regular basis your enrollment in the course may be dropped.

Academic Integrity

Academic rules and US laws protect the individuals right to own his or her words and ideas. Students are expected to submit their own original and individual work – unless assigned as a group project. When students are discussing or referring to another individuals work, they must properly cite the source of the information. Academic dismissal is a possible consequence for students who simply copy verbatim someone else’s work without giving credit to the source. The notion that words or ideas can be ‘owned’ may seem strange to some international students! In some cultures, copying someone else’s words or ideas is seen as a form of flattery. Most US students would expect to be punished if it is discovered that they have cheated and they would likely experience some embarrassment if caught and disciplined. Sanctions may include severe penalties for actions that may be considered minor in a home country. Excerpt from NAFSA'S International Student Handbook

Tips for succeeding when you are stressed about class

Continue to go to class. Attendance records are kept for many classes. The biggest mistake that students can make is to stop attending class because they feel overwhelmed. This will make your situation even more difficult and could jeopardize your visa status.

Visit your professor. Many professors say that although they have office hours, too few students visit them. You can make Goodwin University seem like a much smaller place if you visit your professors throughout the semester. You do not have to wait until you feel overwhelmed before meeting with your professors.

Visit a tutor. The Academic Success Center holds tutoring sessions and you can attend as many sessions as you need each week. Students may make an appointment to meet with a tutor, or simply walk in. Services are also offered online 24/7 to any student at Goodwin University.

Take time to enjoy your life. Students often feel a great deal of pressure to succeed or excel in classes. However, it is not possible to succeed if you feel too much stress or anxiety. Try to spend time meeting new friends and enjoying sports, movies and other activities at Goodwin University or in the Hartford area.

For more information please see our academic integrity policy.