If you want to take an art history class, you can spend three hours a week in the East Duke Building. Or you can spend three months in Madrid-and you'll probably get a better grade.

Students studying abroad usually take four classes-a normal workload-toward their major or graduation requirements, but many said they do less work and get substantially higher grades than they do in classes offered at Duke.

"There was no outside work.... It was probably a GPA booster for most students," said senior Stephanie Scott, who went abroad for the Duke in Madrid program in Fall 2004.

Many students echoed Scott's sentiments and said the workloads in study abroad programs were significantly smaller than the ones they were used to at Duke, noting that doing homework was not a priority.

"We had a midterm and a final, and I probably studied excessively two nights before, so it wasn't a ton of work," said senior Charisse Williams, who went abroad to Venice in Summer 2004.

But study abroad programs are not specifically designed with less coursework in mind.

The alleged disparity arises when students are not required to demonstrate their knowledge regularly throughout the semester with many quizzes or papers.

Instead, students' grades tend to hinge on a few large assignments to allow them more time to experience the country's culture.

"There's a different approach to the presentation of the materials abroad, and this is viewed by students as being simpler, but it's not," said Margaret Riley, director of study abroad. "They're being held responsible for learning that material rather than having their professors guide them through the process and continually assess their work."

Some students, however, said they had a tough time in certain classes abroad because exams and papers had to be written in the country's native language.

Striking a balance between the difficulty of the language and the ease of the assignments was nevertheless a feasible task for many of the students.

"Intellectually, it wasn't as difficult as Duke, but all the tests were in French, so that was a struggle," said senior Nick Shungu, who studied in Senegal in Fall 2004.

"Just learning in a different environment added academic pressures."

In fact, many students experienced a culture shock and had some difficulty adjusting to the new learning atmosphere.

Senior Neil Williams, who studied at the University of Southern California in Spring 2005, noted that his professors' attitudes toward the work and classes were laid back and lenient.

Other students also mentioned that most of the programs were far more relaxed than Duke's academic scene but said they were eager to come back to campus by the time their programs ended.

"The two classes I took at USC were strictly [film] production, so they were easy because I didn't have too much to prepare before class," Williams said. "But as far as classes go, I just felt ready to be at Duke."

Students, however, said it was somewhat difficult to readjust to Duke life and classes after a semester with a minimal workload.

"It was a challenge to actually have to do work, because in Spain I had it assigned, but I didn't necessarily have to do it," Scott said. "Here you have to do your work in order to participate in class."