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Taking Mathematics While Studying Abroad

Duke students make arrangements for studying abroad through the Global Education Office. To make the most out of a semester abroad the particular attributes of foreign programs must be understood and weighed in light of each individual's intellectual and career goals.

Study abroad requires especially careful planning for students who need to take mathematics courses. Generally the focus of course work abroad is particular courses for which the foreign environment is much more conducive to learning than the Duke environment. Course work of this type may involve immersion in the local language, culture, literature, history, ecology, etc., but in most cases it will not involve basic undergraduate math courses. This means that most students who study abroad should plan early how to fit in math courses before and after the semster abroad, so that it is possible to concentrate on what is special about the foreign environment during the visit.

The naive thought of casually picking up a math course or two on the side during a semester abroad is fraught with problems. Learning in mathematics is cumulative and the study of mathematics is frequently organized quite differently in other countries. One consequence of this is that many courses offered at foreign universities do not correspond well to any course at Duke. For example a course in country X might cover half of the material in one Duke course and half of the material in another or the material in one Duke course may be treated in greater depth in a two semester sequence at a foreign university. A foreign university may offer fewer electives than Duke. This means that it may be difficult to find courses for which transfer credit can be given. Math 401 and Math 431 must be taken at Duke except in special circumstances with prior approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Since a first rigorous course in analysis (Math 431 or Math 531) is an important prerequisite for many other courses, it is frequently advisable to have taken this course before studying abroad.

Math majors planning a visit which will include taking one or more math courses should begin serious review of the course offerings at foreign universities two semesters prior to the planned semester abroad. Advanced students may learn from their professors of strengths of some foreign programs in particular subfields. Make a short list of courses you would like to take. Then gather data which give a clear and detailed picture of the courses.

The following list covers the information which the math department generally needs to judge if the course is suitable for transfer credit:

1. Official name and number of the course. Beginning date of the course. End date of the course. Information about the total number of course meetings.
2. A syllabus of the course indicating topics covered, text used, sections in the text which are covered. (If the syllabus is on the web, just giving the web address is fine.)
3. A list of prerequisites for the course and information about what is covered in the prerequisite courses. A syllabus for each prerequisite course is best.
4. Sample problem sets and exams for the course at the foreign university are a help when available.
5. A complete list of the math courses which you have taken at Duke together with a list of your AP credits and transfer credits.
6. A brief explanation as to how the course fits in with your educational and career goals.

Once you have the answers to 1-6 you send the information to the Director of Undergraduate Studies of mathematics at and ask about the possibility of transfer credit. Alternatively, you may contact the global education office and supply them with the answers to 1-6. They will then contact the math department.

Courses taken abroad must be approved through the Global Education Office before you go. In case a course is canceled or does not fit the original course description, the student is responsible for contacting the Global Education Office or the Director of Undergraduate Studies for advice and approval of alternate courses. Finally, don't overlook the fact that at least half of the major/minor courses must be taken at Duke.

Questions about taking mathematics courses while studying abroad should be directed to the Director of Undergraduate Studies, 
ph:  919.660.2800
fax: 919.660.2821

Mathematics Department
Duke University, Box 90320
Durham, NC 27708-0320