General Education

What Differences Will I Encounter in Latin American Classrooms When I Study Abroad?

What Differences Will I Encounter in Latin American Classrooms When I Study Abroad?
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Greig Roselli February 8, 2019

Wondering what a classroom is like in a different country or continent? Check out our field guide to education culture in Latin America.

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The number of American students who study abroad has tripled over the last twenty years. In 2013, the total number of U.S. students who participated in study abroad programs was 283,332, according to the State Department’s Open Doors study.

Studying abroad affords you the opportunity to experience other cultures, and you will find yourself shaped by a set of pedagogical norms vastly different from what you’re used to.

In this series, we take a tour of classrooms around the globe, as students share the cultural differences they experienced studying abroad.

Latin America

To varying degrees, European and North American education systems place the professor at the center of learning experiences. Latin American countries, on the other hand, emphasize dialogue and the transmission of ideas among students and professors.

What counts for academic achievement is starkly different as well. The Latin American ethos privileges a cyclical path to acquiring knowledge, rather than a linear one. Goals are understood in terms of exploration, so there is more emphasis on navigating abstract concepts than on concrete outcomes. Students focus less on getting the highest grades, and you will not find the same anxiety over nuances in grading that many American students experience.

In Mendoza, Argentina, Anastasia Anazonwu, a student from Columbia University, studies abroad with IFSA-Butler (affiliated with Butler University), and takes classes at the Universidad Nacional de Cuyo and Universidad de Congreso. Reflecting on differences in the classroom, she says that “lectures are more like dialogues between student and professor," where the student is seen as “an active participant, by asking questions and clarifying doubts continuously throughout the lecture."

These education systems interweave social norms with the institutional structures. Tony Behan, who studied at the Instituto Allende in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, explains that classes began at 7:30 a.m. He was able to take a siesta at noon to rest, but returned to class from late afternoon until late evening. “As far as my education there, it was very hands on and practical," Behan says. “Because I was learning the language and art, it was very practical in nature."

Interested in learning more about cultural differences around the globe? Check out the next part of our series: What Differences Will I Encounter in African Classrooms When I Study Abroad?


Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (2014). International community resources. Retrieved online from Iowa State University.

Open Doors (2013, November 11). Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. Retrieved online from the Institute of International Education.

Twombly, S. B., Salisbury, M. H., Tumanut, S. D., & Klute, P. (2012). Study abroad in a new global century: Renewing the promise, refining the purpose. New York: Wiley.