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Real life studying abroad: the student experience

Natalie Vincent, a 23 year old graduate from Manchester studied English Literature with American and Canadian Studies at The University of Birmingham. During her third year she took the chance to study abroad and spent a year studying in America. Her experiences will give you a flavour of what it’s like to throw yourself into student life abroad.

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I wanted to study abroad because I thought it would be a great opportunity to spend some time in the US. I had fallen in love with the country as a child, but when I got to college and university I looked more critically at American culture and politics. I wanted to spend some time there, away from the normal tourist spots, to learn more about it and form my own opinion.

What was your route into studying abroad?

My undergraduate degree was in English Literature with American and Canadian Studies so studying abroad was part of the curriculum.

How did the research, application and interview process work?

The application process was a bit of a nightmare. Around 80 students participated in the exchange programme and we were asked to rank a list of 15 universities in order of preference. We were then allocated a place depending on our first year grades.

I decided to apply to the University of Mississippi, also known as “Ole Miss,” which is about an hour away from Memphis, Tennessee. I’m particularly interested in the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, so it was a great opportunity to spend time in a state that was central to many of the big events that took place during that time period.

How much were the fees and how did you fund your study?

Fortunately, the tuition fees weren’t too expensive. It cost £1,500 for the year and this was covered by my loan.

Student Finance also increased my grant to help with additional costs, such as flights and health insurance. I had enough money saved up to fund several trips, such as going to Florida for Spring Break and Chicago for Thanksgiving.

What is it like to study abroad compared to University life in the UK?

The social life is very different in the US and I struggled to get used to how organised and structured events were around football games and fraternity parties, especially since I had little interest in either. It did give me a chance to make new friends and participate in a very American tradition though, which was a unique experience.

Is the academic world different to our own?

In general, the work is a lot easier in the US and tests are often a mix of multiple choice and short essay questions. You get homework regularly so it does feel a bit like you’re back in secondary school sometimes. However, I actually preferred the American system because your entire grade doesn’t depend on one exam. It takes the pressure off.

Do you feel that you have developed academically from studying abroad?

My grades certainly improved during my time abroad. I was able to access a wide range of academic resources, which was great when it came to needing material for my dissertation.

I was also able to interact more confidently in seminars when I arrived back in the UK thanks to the emphasis on classroom participation I experienced in the US.

Do you think studying abroad enhances your chances of getting a job?

Absolutely. It has given me a unique opportunity to gain international work experience and develop my skills. Without it, I doubt I would have been offered my current job.

It’s a worthwhile investment if you pick a course that you enjoy and one that is relevant to your future career.

If you do go abroad, try to take advantage of everything and don’t worry about what’s going on at home. You’ll be back in old Blighty before you know it.