Charles Lipson
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E-mail: [email protected]

Voice: 773.702.8053

Fax:    773.702.1689


Charles Lipson

Professor of Political Science

University of Chicago

5828 S. University Ave.

Chicago, IL 60637


Succeeding as an International Student
in the U.S. and Canada:
A Guide to Studying in North America

Some of the world's best students come to the U.S. and Canada to study. Despite their strong academic backgrounds, they face real challenges adapting to the university environment here. To understand challenges they face, I've spoken with hundreds of international students and their teachers. They highlight five major issues:

  • Mastering English
  • Adjusting to the North American classroom
  • Learning the rules of academic honesty
  • Expressing their own views (and not simply repeating the professor's) in papers, class discussions, and research
  • Asking for help

To succeed here, to cope with these challenges, international students need to shift gears from what worked at home. They certainly need to understand what their professor says, but they also need to formulate their own perspectives, especially in more advanced classes. For many that feels unfamiliar. For some it feels downright uncomfortable and even disrespectful to the professor.

That's why it is so important to explain our goals and our values to new international students. Professors here want students to express their own views. They want vigorous discussion, even if it means disagreeing (courteously!) with faculty and classmates.. The goal is to foster expertise, originality, and independent assessment. The sooner our students know that, the better.

International students often ask, "What's so different about university life in the U.S. and Canada? How does it compare to university life in my home country?" Let me offer a short list of answers:

  • Your participation in class is welcomed and often required.
  • Critical discussion is welcomed. You cannot merely repeat what the professor said. You need to contribute your own individual viewpoint in class discussions, papers, and exams.
  • Reading assignments here are extensive, much more than international students are used to doing each week.
  • Students here are continually evaluated on performance, not just at end of course.
  • Academic performance is stressed. Admission to top schools is not an end in itself. It's important to do well there.
  • Pluralism is a fact of life in North American universities and a key value shared by students, faculty, and the wider society. Tolerance for others is expected.

Finally, international students need to understand North American standards of academic honesty. In particular, they should recognize that proper quotations and citations are essential. That's not always true in their home countries. The differences in standards can lead to serious problems for international students. What may be an innocent mistake or cultural misunderstanding can easily lead to change of plagiarism, with severe repercussions. That's why it's so important for international students to learn North American standards of academic honesty and incorporate them in their own work.

In talks with students, I cover all these issues. I explain the main differences between North American universities and those in their home countries. I pass along what I've learned from conversations with hundreds of international students—the challenges they've faced and the lessons they've learned. Today's international students can learn from these experiences. The better they understand the challenges, they better they can adapt to university life here and meet their own goals as students.

Talks on Academic Honesty

My talks on academic honesty are based on more than twenty-five years of teaching. I am a professor at the University of Chicago and the author of Doing Honest Work in College (University of Chicago Press, 2004) and How to Write a BA Thesis (University of Chicago Press, 2005), as well as books on international politics. I have served as director of graduate studies in political science and am currently director of undergraduate studies.

Besides talks to international students, I also speak with high school students, college students, faculty, and administrators about academic honesty.
      • For talks to college students, please click on Why Honesty Matters for Your Education
      •   For talks to faculty and administrators, please click on Helping Your Students Do Honest Work
      • For talks to high school students, please click on Why Honesty Matters in High School
For more resources about academic honesty and teaching, see my Web page: Reading, Writing, and Plagiarism
Pages on this Web site
Lipson Courses
Lipson talks
Home List of my courses
International Politics
Talks on Education & Honesty
Books by Charles Lipson
Why Honesty Matters for Your Education
           (for university students)
Talks by Charles Lipson
Courses offered
Helping Your Students Do Honest Work
          (for faculty and advisers)
PIPES Workshop
World History
International Relations Resources 15th-18th c. World Politics
Why Honesty Matters in High School
          (for high-school students)
Reading, Writing, Plagiarism 19th c World Politics
How to Write a Thesis 20th c World Politics to 1945
Succeeding as an International Student in the U.S. and Canada      (customized for students, faculty, or advisers)
Politics and Culture 20th c World Politics 1945-91
Fun Big Wars: Ancient, Medieval, & Modern
Talks on Global Issues
News Pages
Social Science Core
What's New about the New Economy?
World News Power, Identity, Resistance The World America Made
Middle East News   Political Threats to Global Prosperity
Headline News   Turning Points of the 20th Century
World News-Web Audio   Democracies in World Politics
Advice for students
  Israel's Challenges
How to Write a Thesis   China in World Politics
Getting a Recommendation   The Cold War
  Why We Fought WW2
Charles Lipson, 2008