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The American College Experience Through the Eyes of Foreign Exchange Students

By Florinda Gjypi | February 5, 2024

University at Albany is well known for its large exchange students partnership program, currently holding partnerships with 52 universities from all over the world. Students from different countries come to UAlbany every semester to get a sense of the American college experience and explore the United States. But how is this experience from their perspective? Students from Italy, Ireland, and England, share their thoughts and the biggest culture shocks they’ve had so far. 

In comparison to the universities and cultures back in their home countries, many exchange students acknowledge several differences in terms of the academic curriculum, teaching methodology, interactions with people, food, and other cultural norms. 

Left to right: Federico Ceraico, Darragh Concannon (sitting), Sean Archer, and Alice Ciochetta

Photo Credit: Florinda Gjypi / The ASP 

“Classes in the U.S. are smaller and are characterized by increased interactivity, which I feel has the students engaging more and participating in the learning process. Also, the professors go the extra mile to listen to interact with the students throughout the lectures and to create a comfortable class environment,” said Federico Ceraico, an exchange student from Milan, Italy, studying business and economics. “Back in my home country, classes consist more of passive listening and note-taking.”

“Teaching methods here are a lot more personal, you get to know a lot of people from different classes, and there’s a lot of group work. I do like the aspect of presentations being incorporated into classes,” said Darragh Concannon, an exchange student from Ireland studying marketing and management. 

On a more cultural note, considering that for most of them, this is their first time in the U.S., exchange students face a lot of culture shocks upon their arrival, especially when it comes to the American college experience. 

For Alice Ciochetta, a business and economics student from Milan, Italy, the biggest culture shock was food, especially the large portions they give you when you go to a restaurant in the U.S.

“At first, each time I’d go grocery shopping, I’d think to myself whether I’d be able to eat all the things I bought. They came in such big sizes. But I also really like trying different types of food here that my American friends have cooked for me,” Ciochetta said.

Sean Archer, an economics student from Welwyn Garden City, England, currently in his second exchange semester at UAlbany, said that before coming to UAlbany, he’d never thought a college campus could be that big.

“It’s ginormous, so different from my home university. I also couldn’t believe how many students had their own cars which I now get why, as the place is so big you need a car to get anywhere,” said Archer.

For Ciochetta, the cultural exchange experience is very important, and so far she’s met many new people she can share her culture with.

“My favorite thing about America is the fact that you can express yourself in any kind of way, people don't judge your clothing style or your accent, instead they are interested in learning more about yourself and your culture. One of the best experiences so far was this one night when the other Italian exchange students prepared ‘Gnocchi alla Sorrentina’ for our group of friends. Everyone loved it, we discovered differences and similarities between each other and we were able to give them a little ‘taste’ of our culture,” Ciochetta said.

Left to right: Alice Ciochetta, Giuseppe Besa Bevilacqua, Jacobo Magnacca, and Federico Ceraico

Photo Credit: Alice Ciochetta

With the semester moving by very fast and their college experience approaching an end as most of them are also graduating seniors, they say that there are a lot of things they’ll be taking back with them, especially when it comes to different stereotypes.

“They say Americans are very individualistic and maybe that is true to some degree, but I was proven different here in many cases. A lot of people here are very helpful, especially when you’re walking around very confused at the airport with an international phone number like I was,” Giuseppe Besa Bevilacqua, a student from Verona, Italy said.

“The rumors about fried food are true though. People eat so much fried food and I’m still surprised at how they literally have tried frying everything,” said Jacobo Magnacca, a public administration student from Abruzzo, Italy.  

Others consider it to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something that every college student should do at some point as an exchange semester is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and a country rather than your own. 

“I’d say to every student who decides to pursue the exchange program to go and meet as many people as possible. Whether it is by joining sports clubs or talking to people in your classes – the more people you get to know the more people you’ll have to travel and enjoy the American lifestyle with,” Concannon said. 

A foreign exchange experience gives students the chance to explore other places and learn about other cultures. 

“The advice I would give to every exchange student is to consistently step out of their comfort zone. It’s one semester during which you have the privilege of exploring new cultures and diverse perspectives. It’s better to quickly adapt to the American culture for the time you’re here rather than clinging to cultural elements from back home. Those four months go by fast,” Ceraico said. 

The foreign exchange experience is available for both undergraduate and graduate students from these universities that UAlbany has a partnership with. These universities are also available options for any UAlbany students who want to study abroad and try the exchange experience for one or two academic semesters.


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