Please Spare My GPA!

The AUS Main Building and Student Center.
The AUS Main Building and Student Center.

I didn’t expect the most stressful part of study abroad to be the classes.

To put it in perspective, most students are freshmen during the adjustment period to their new university, so they’re taking introductory-level classes. Study abroad students take upper-level classes, sometimes building on material not yet covered. For example, I took calculus and intro to microeconomics three years ago, and now I’m taking an intermediate microeconomics class that combines both of those subjects, plus material on subsidies and taxes that I never learned. So not only is my knowledge rusty, there’s extra material I have to teach myself.

But the best part of this challenge is knowing I’m getting a solid education. AUS (American University in Sharjah) demands slightly more of its students than my home university (NAU doesn’t require business majors to know calculus); plus, the curriculum was created with help from the American University in Washington, D.C. So with ISEP, I’m paying NAU prices but getting a fancy schmancy education for a year.

As a high school student with pretty high SAT scores, I decided to stay in-state for financial reasons. But, I always wondered what was so different about those prestigious universities that inspired students to hand over $40,000 a year for an undergraduate education. The difference seems to be a mix of small class sizes, plus international professors and higher expectations. It’s easy to stop class to ask a question, none of my professors are from the same country – with all being obviously intelligent! – , and they expect a bit more sweat and tears to get an A.

Back at my home university, constant homework assignments and busy work provided extra padding for grades and immediate feedback to figure out if I understood the material correctly. Here, it’s pretty much study for the quizzes and midterms while hoping you understood the material correctly. However, a huge bonus is that the professors make it much more clear what you’re expected to understand, and there’s less time spent on busy work. Busy work here basically means that the teacher assigns very simple problems as a forced form of studying.

All in all the differences aren’t that large. I am used to getting straight A’s back home, and am worried about not being able to continue that trend during study abroad.

Some tips for classes, based on what you probably didn’t know about AUS:

  • Teachers will almost always announce assignments in class, making syllabi unnecessary. But, reading it anyways is a good chance to score points: teachers here are sometimes used to students not reading the syllabus. One teacher gave me a high-five in class when I mentioned reading the syllabus, and then congratulated American academic efficacy for a good portion of class.
  • Invest in school supplies as soon as possible. I took notes in a little pink diary for the first two weeks. Please, don’t do that.
  • Dude, show up on time. Missing 15% of classes in a single course results in automatically being dropped from that course, and being late counts towards that limit as well.
  • Impressions impact your grade. One teacher announced to the entire class that we should not worry about our grades, since he can tell who is trying and who isn’t, and he will ‘help’ those who are trying.
  • Forget about using Amazon for cheap textbooks. High shipping costs means it’s probably cheaper to buy at the bookstore, at the standard, high prices found in America (around $90 per book). However, there’s a second-hand book market, usually selling the edition not actually being used in class. There’s a Facebook group (, a super awesome website (, and a sale for charity in the Student Center. Books from these three sources cost around 10-30 dirhams, or less than $10. If you’re super lucky, students sometimes leave old textbooks in the hallway for free.
  • Girls, get a pretty purse as your school bag. Girls here all bring purses to class, not messenger bags or backpacks. Some girls even bring Prada to class.
  • Lastly, figure out why you’re abroad. If it’s for the experience, then realize that you might be getting less than perfect grades, but you’re sacrificing them for the experience of a lifetime! (Yes, I am talking to myself.)