On-Site Arrival and Orientation
Students will arrive in Portugal at least one week prior to the start of the academic session (exact dates will be provided after acceptance). Upon arrival, students will be met at the airport by SiPN staff and provided transport to their lodgings. All SiPN students participate in an extensive academic, logistic and cultural orientation program. The academic components that are covered include: an overview of the SiPN network, local classroom norms, assessment methods and grading scales, academic calendars and holiday breaks.
Logistic components will cover obtaining SiPN-provided public transportation passes, supermarket and banking locations, ATMs and other methods of payment in Portugal, using the SiPN-provided cell phone and making/receiving calls from abroad, transportation times on public transportation between the host university and other members of the network, visits to the members of the network and orientation to libraries, wi-fi passwords, student id cards, etc. Students will also take part in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to their visit to the US Embassy in Lisbon.
Cultural orientation activities will include presentations by the Program Director, Prof. Michael Baum , SiPN buddies, the SiPN On-Site Coordinator, Ricardo Pereira, and other orientation activities for new students organized by the host university.
Students are encouraged to seek the assistance of the SiPN On-Site Coordinator in the event of any concern or problem, especially during his regularly posted office hours at the host university. Students are also alerted to the availability of an hour of extra language tutoring per week through SiPN at no additional cost. Students with disabilities and/or needing extra help with their coursework are encouraged to consult our policy on Accommodations for Students with Disabilities and consult with the on-site coordinator.
Course registration and the add/drop period
One of the most challenging elements of the experience abroad can be the registration and credit transfer experience. For example, a student who failed to review grammatical principles prior to taking the on-site language placement exam, but has completed all prerequisite courses on their home campus to complete a language class at the advanced level, may underperform on a language placement test here in Portugal. If this happens, SiPN recommends that students contact their home institution to determine whether credit can be awarded at a lower level, perhaps with documentation of course content. We have worked with other US universities to determine how the European language levels (A1, A2, . . . C2) transfer back to a US 101, 102, etc. format and we can provide such documentation to your department of foreign languages if need be.
Another challenging element is the fact that classroom contact hours in Europe do not neatly align with ECTS credits. Faculty advisors are encouraged to read the section above on credit transfer evaluations, “Pre-Departure Preparations”.
Students struggling in a given course may talk to the SiPN On-site Coordinator about the best ways to find extra tutoring or potentially soliciting extra assignments to try to improve their grades. If a student is struggling with a particular professor, and the add/drop period still allows for it, SiPN’s On-Site Coordinator will work with local staff to determine if the SiPN student can be moved to another section of the specific course, or alternately, switch into another course altogether. The add/drop period in our partner schools is generally the first 2 weeks of the semester.
Early Notification of Problems
SiPN believes early intervention when students first experience classroom or social difficulties can be a highly effective tool to ensure successful completion of the program. Students are alerted to the importance of class attendance during the orientation period, since many classes require high-stakes final exams from those who fail to attend at least 75% of the classes.
In certain situations, the host university may not share grade or attendance information with SiPN staff. As many students are less likely to proactively seek academic assistance even when they are struggling, SiPN believes in the importance of conducting mid-term evaluations with our students. During these evaluations, students have the opportunity to share concerns over their performance in class, any negative or positive interactions with host professors, housing issues, etc.
Similarly, students experiencing difficulties with specific professors are often too concerned about their grades or too shy to speak directly with the professor in question. In other cases, the problem the student is experiencing directly relates to a cultural difference. The SiPN On-Site Coordinator is careful to listen to the concerns of our students and provides confidential advice on a case-by-case basis. If the situation does not stem from a cultural misunderstanding, with the student’s permission, the On-Site Coordinator will seek to intervene on the student’s behalf with staff at the host-university and/or with academic advisors back in the US.
Participants who need to take one or more final exams may find those exams scheduled outside of our regular core curriculum academic calendar. For example, the exam period for Fall semester in Portugal is during the month of January, and exams from the Spring semester occur in June and July. SiPN students who have already returned to North America for the holidays or summer may nevertheless be able to schedule a proctored exam on their home campus on the same day as that exam occurs in Lisbon. SiPN staff will intervene on our students’ behalf to help schedule these exams with home school officials willing to work with you.
Maximizing Learning Opportunities
To supplement learning in the classroom and further encourage language immersion and increase cultural awareness, SiPN students are encouraged to take advantage of SiPN-organized field trips, cultural activities, and other integrated program activities. Events such as student performances, clubs and student tutoring can be highly complementary to student learning within the classroom. We have developed several options aimed integrating with local students, Portuguese culture, and to participate in experiential learning activities. For example, SiPN has developed a Portuguese Buddy Program where student volunteers from our host university meet regularly with groups of approximately 8 of our participants to serve as their buddy and link to Portuguese student life. We also provide an option where our students can volunteer to be placed with a local family for periodic visits (we suggest once/month to start) through our Visiting Family Program. These families have volunteered to welcome one of our students into their homes. You might make and share a meal together, attend a local cultural event together, go to the beach with them, exchange tutoring in English for tutoring in Portuguese with their children, whatever! If a chemistry develops, the program could morph into something more like a host family experience, but to start out we keep the stakes relatively low and let you take it from there.