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First Challenge - Choosing Classes.
What do you have to keep in mind while deciding what courses to take?
First, you need to check your exchange program's requirements on classes.
FSA undergraduate program students (2001-2002) were supposed to take 2/3
of all classes in FSA major field. You will have a huge variety of courses,
and obviously, a temptation to forget about those requirements. From my
experience I can say that you do not necessarily have to take courses
offered by your department. It may be a cross-disciplinary course, such
as Sociology of Globalization, offered by the Sociology department, but
apparently very necessary for International Relations majors. If you took
such courses and your program officials note that and urge you to change,
you can just explain that it is a necessary course for your major. They
usually agree. Though, there are many cases when students don't take any
course from their major. It is still risky, and you have to be aware of
possible consequences. The same applies to the limited number of courses
you can take. This rule usually comes from university requirements; you
will be informed on that for sure.
But if you chose a class, and it turns out to be too difficult, or boring, you always have a chance to drop that. Well, not always, but usually during the first 2-3 weeks. If later, you may be charged for dropping classes. There is a certain deadline for withdrawal. If you need to drop the class after it, you should definitely have a very good reason to convince people from your Students' Office.
You can drop one class, add another one, though keep in mind that all "good rated" courses get "closed" very quickly. If you desperately want to take the class, which is closed, contact your instructor. Exchange students usually can be permitted to take any class easily. Another option is to go to International Programs Office people who can write a letter to instructor. Your adviser can do the same. Again, it depends from case to case, as people are different…
Grades are also a bit different from the system you are used to. Mostly letter grades are used, where each letter has an equivalent in points. "A","B", "C", "D", "F" are regular grades, which are equal to 4, 3, 2, 1, and nothing respectively. There may be some variations such as "B+", or "D-". You add or take away 0.33 points for each sign "+", or "-", e.g. "A-" is 3.67, "B+" is 3.33, "C-" is 1.67 and so forth. GPA (grade point average) would be your average point, depending on each grade and a number of credits for each class. Again, you can find a way of calculating it on the university web pages.
If you are doing terribly in class and cannot manage to pass the final exam, you have a chance to get an "I" grade, which is "Incomplete". If you are allowed to get an "I" (usually instead of "F"), you will be given certain period of time to complete your paper (or whatever it is, which is your exam). That period ranges from 1-2 weeks to a whole semester depending on the school rules.
You will get a "W" if you withdrew from that class after the drop period. There are more details concerning grade calculations (some classes are "pass/fail", and you don't use them when figuring out your GPA), which you can find at university materials, or just ask your supervisor.
So there is nothing hard to understand, the only thing: do everything
on time and get what you want.
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