Being abroad is an incredibly exciting period in life. It’s a massive privilege, for starters, as being abroad makes you one of relatively few people in the world who not only get to attend college, but get to spend part of that college career in another country. Because of this, and rightly so, most of us feel the need to take advantage of every possible moment we can while abroad. And that’s good! Part of the benefit of studying abroad is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and discovering new skills and capabilities of which you were previously unaware. It’s discovering a new side of yourself that can only be revealed under pressure, specifically the pressure of coming face to face with a brand new country and culture and trying not to embarrass yourself too much in the process.
It’s scary to believe my study abroad experience is coming to an end. I’ve been dreaming of having this experience since high school and could not wait these past two years at DU to have my turn at these adventures!
I chose Bangor University because it combined both the familiar (English language and the UK) and the unknown (Wales and British university life).
I loved every moment of this experience. Here are my highlights!
I took three classes. My business class counted for DU credit and I liked taking a class that applied to my major in a foreign setting. My Welsh history class was definitely my favorite! It was great to get the information pertaining to the area I was studying in and it made visiting the various castles of the region much more exciting and rewarding! A spur of the moment decision to take a science class was one of the greatest decisions I made at the beginning of the semester. It was five weeks of lectures about the geography of the area and then a week long field course trekking through Snowdonia National Park. It was a great method to learn science and a spectacular corner of the world to explore!
I never would have discovered this corner of the UK without studying at Bangor. Its perfect setting between Snowdonia National Park and the Irish Sea. I went on many adventures throughout the area. My favrotie place was Conwy, a medieval walled city home to the Conwy Castle. It was a great place to explore and shop around the little boutiques. My field course visited the National Park and the best place was the Aber Valley, home to two spectacular waterfalls in a mystical, fairy-tale like setting. Having the ability to explore so many different corners of the UK and Europe on the weekend has definitely instilled a deeper love of travel in me. It also inspired me to travel more around the USA to get to know the different regions!
Britain takes their holidays very seriously. For Halloween, I attended a Harry Potter feast complete with magic lessons, chocolate frogs, and Dumbledore. My friend from DU threw a Thanksgiving for her flat and I got to attend. It was an interesting group to spend thanksgiving with. The feast included standard American thanksgiving food like mashed potatoes, cornbread, pie, and sweet potatoes. Quote of the night came from one of the British students remarking on the fact that the sweet potatoes were covered with marshmallows: “Oh there go the Americans putting sugar on everything they can.” We spent the Thanksgiving comparing and contrasting American and British holiday traditions. Christmas in the UK starts as soon as Halloween ends. The decorations went up and the Christmas music began in the stores.
This abroad experience was one of the greatest things that I’ve ever done in my life. I can’t imagine going abroad anywhere else besides Bangor and very happy with the choice I made and the places I traveled to! I’m returning back to DU and more confident person ready for all the challenges life brings!
My first term at the University of York is drawing to a close, and as I prepare to head home for Christmas and New Year’s, I’ve put together some things I’ve learned about living as an American in England after my first chunk of my exchange year.
- Yorkshire is a county full of immense local pride. Nothing quite brings that to your attention like standing in a crowd of locals at a concert who are all chanting “York-shire! York-shire!” Nothing quite makes you feel as viscerally at home than joining in that chant and having it swell to the point where you can feel it resonate in your chest.
- Nothing teaches you humility like trying to learn all the ins and outs of life in North Yorkshire. Most of the locals have been happy to explain everything to me from how FIFA works, to how a football team makes the world cup, to why people care so much about football in the first place, to what on earth a “brolly” is (Hint: it’s an umbrella). Sometimes you can pick up on cultural nuances via context clues, but sometimes you can’t. And that’s fine! Plucking up the courage to ask what may be a pretty obvious question is an exercise in humility that everyone needs eventually. And it opens up an opportunity for locals to demonstrate kindness and patience towards you. Which, more often than not, they are happy to do.
- England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Should you choose to go abroad anywhere in the UK, don’t underestimate the differences in these dialects and the cultural differences they bring. You’ll inevitably slip up at some point and say something embarrassing. It’s alright. It’ll happen. But the key to managing a new culture (even one that may not seem that different than home), is always listening. Go and spend time with just local people for awhile (as in actively seek out local company rather than just hanging out with other international students. You already know how to relate to Americans, it’s not going to challenge you to relate to them in another country) and just listen to the conversation before jumping in. English folks have very different methods of making friends than Americans, and you can really only learn this on the job.
- A political discussion is going to eventually come up. At some point, it’s likely that whomever you’re talking to will criticize something about America. You may or may not agree with said criticism. Whatever your opinion, wait before jumping to defend your home country. Probe a little. Ask more questions. Figure out what is influencing this person to think the way that they do. Then add your own opinion to the mix. Not only does this make for a more fruitful exchange, it sends a more positive message about Americans in general-that they’re politically aware and willing to try to see issues on a global scale, rather than just a countrywide one. And do keep in mind that every country in the world has serious issues and has made serious mistakes. Admitting to and expressing shame or sorrow over mistakes our nation has made doesn’t make you unpatriotic. It makes you honest.
- And finally, on a lighter note, give yourself permission to be silly. Everyone’s got a goofy side, and it often gives others permission to unleash their goofiness when they see yours. Even if (in my case) that means screeching your way through a karaoke rendition of the Time Warp. People will wonder how many drinks it took for you to pull off that entire dance and all the spoken bits (the answer, surprisingly, as zero. The karaoke bar in question was really expensive). But then they’ll quit wondering and dance the Time Warp with you in the haze of the fake smoke machine and leave breathless and grinning. And it’s moments like those, in addition to the more serious ones, where international bridges are built and some special friendships are formed, when people don’t feel the need to choose between silliness and seriousness. Both are integral parts of being human, I think.
It’s been a fantastic first term. For those of you heading back to the States for good, don’t let your experience fade. Write about it and preserve it. For those of you staying abroad for the whole year-we’re just getting started. Let’s make it count.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger
So at some point in your study abroad experience, you’re going to start missing home very very keenly. It’ll happen at a different time for everyone-for some of you it’ll be right from the get-go and then you’ll gradually settle in. For others, you’ll have an amazing first few weeks and then once the first month rolls around you’ll find yourself missing the smallest things about DU, Colorado, or wherever your home state may be. The point is, it’s going to happen at some point, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I started missing home a lot when there were more and more days like this:
(Rainy, cold, and brutally windy)
….than days like this:
(sunny and positively enchanting).
What started to get to me especially were the shortened days. And I don’t mean Colorado shortened days where the sun goes down a bit after dinnertime and everyone feels like going to bed a bit early. No, I mean 4 pm, the sun is out of here, and you’ve still got part of the afternoon and an entire evening to get through before it’s acceptable to go to bed. And then the sun doesn’t come up again until 7:15, but it won’t really seem like it because it’s usually so overcast in the mornings this time of year. That’s difficult to figure out how to deal with, especially since Colorado spoils you so hard with its 300+ sunny days per year and its reliably spectacular sunrises and sunsets.
So I’ve had to do some strategizing. The first thing was making further use of the light box that my friend who went on this exchange program last year gave me. I have it on whenever I’m in my room, especially when it’s dark, and the added (if simulated) natural light does a lot to boost my mood. The second thing was to beat the sun at its own game. If sunset was going to happen at 4 pm, then I am going to get up with the sun and soak up all the vitamin D I can while it’s around. That’s turned out to be a pretty good strategy, as it leads to morning walks around campus and around town where there’s this gorgeous mist that settles over everything and then slowly burns off as the sun rises.
The third helpful thing in beating the winter-darkness blues has been to look up. And that may seem like a vague bit of advice. But when I walk places, I tend to look at my feet or the ground in front of me a lot. This is born partially out of habit, and partly because I have been known to be quite clumsy and can avoid tripping over things if I’m watching where those things are. This also means that I miss a lot. So I’ve started to very intentionally vary my gaze while I’m walking places-whether it’s up at the trees, straight ahead at the people passing by, or to the side to look at the charming Yorkshire houses-I’m doing my best to quit looking at the ground.
And it helps! I’ve started to notice little things that I love about York that I wouldn’t have noticed before. There’s little grannies all over the place in town that argue with one another in thick northern accents about where they should go shopping next. All the dog owners in York chastise their dogs for not walking fast enough, while the dogs themselves just stare adoringly at their owners without a care in the world, because York is a great place to be a dog. You can catch little gaggles of schoolchildren at the right time of day heading off to classes and chuckle at their matching uniforms and ties bouncing over their shoulders as they race each other to get to the playground.
In short, looking up helps to remind me that the things I love about York far outweigh the frustration that comes with rainy, short days. So when you end up missing home or getting caught up in the annoying things about your host city, remember it’s not permanent. Seasons change. Rainy days end. The sun will rise and set resolutely, regardless of how short its allotted time in the sky is. And in the meantime, there are delightful and quirky things to be found in your host city, it just takes a little searching.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger.
Greetings fellow Pios!
I have successfully completed an entire week of classes at the University of York, which means that I have finished my third week abroad when factoring in my pre-class time here in England. The past three weeks have been eventful, complete with me discovering misty, Charlotte Bronte-esque fields around campus:
And even venturing off campus, out of the city and up to the seaside to find the sun that can be quite elusive sometimes in York:
As it would seem I am somewhat “settled in” now, I have compiled a list of protips and anecdotes that have aided in the settling process for your reading pleasure.
Faith’s Settling in Protips-or, How to Not Make a Complete Fool of Yourself While Studying Abroad.
- In your Study Abroad 101 sessions and regional sessions, the DUSA staff will tell you over and over again that you will need to learn self-advocacy while abroad, even more so than while you are at DU. Take that seriously, because it’s so true. Here at York Uni, they won’t chase you down to make sure you’ve registered your visa or registered for classes or are even in the proper department. They’ll just conclude that you’re not a full-time student if you don’t handle those things yourself, and you will have to deal with immigration services in an unpleasant way. (Now, that’s not to say that the University of York doesn’t have any student support services. They have a very well-developed student welfare system, but it handles personal matters and not academic ones).
- Fall asleep in your first formal class. Be really embarrassed about it because you were in the front row and your prof totally saw you dozing. Then let it go, because it happens to the best of us, and sometimes the quickest lessons are learned by humiliation.
- Realize that there are very few contact hours in England (especially in York) universities when compared to the States. Plan out your own study hours carefully so you don’t get screwed over, and then look for a volunteer position or even a part-time job to fill the downtime. It’s a great way to get connected with the community and meet people outside the Uni.
- See if your school has an International Student’s Association. They may have a very active one like at York that plans day trips nearly every weekend of the term. Go on a few of these, even if you barely know the people there. Connecting with other internationals has been hugely beneficial to me as they are well aware of any difficulties I’m having getting used to English life.
- Step outside your comfort zone a bit when it comes to socialization. Don’t do things that are contrary to your personality or convictions, but if you’re not a huge late night person, push yourself and try going to a pub night once a week. So far, I’ve found that pubs in York are an excellent way to get to know your new friends and classmates. Typically, they are not very noisy and have a warm, homey atmosphere that facilitates get-to-know-you moments. Trying out different pubs in your area is also a great way to get to know the city.
Every study abroad experience is going to be different and is going to require different levels and forms of personal growth. But I would venture to say that the concepts of learning to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself, trying new things socially and academically, and making friends in groups you wouldn’t have even considered previously are fairly universal.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger
Check out what Jacques, one of our students is, doing studying at the University Glasgow in Scotland. We feel that this picture of his friend sums it up pretty well, but check out his blog for more details!
Hello! Just finished my first week of classes abroad. I am taking three classes: a management class that covers a requirement back at DU, a history of Wales class covering the age of Princes, and a Making Snowdonia geography class. The latter is a field course, so five weeks of lectures about the environment and neighboring national park, but then in week six the class goes on field trips around Snowdonia National Park to different sites to learn about the agriculture, geology, plants, and animals of the area. I have class a day for one or two hours depending on the class, so there’s a lot of downtime in my life right now. It’ll get busier as the semester progresses I’m sure with papers and tests. My weekly schedule is never the same because each class session is revered in itself because it might be taught by a different professor and they have planned to a T what will happen. It’s a little irritating but it is what it is. Also, every other week or so there is a tutorial session where the class is broken into smaller groups and attendance is recorded to monitor our progress.
The dorm is very nice. I like having my own little room to come to at the end of every day. The kitchen is shared with six other people. I have cooked a few times. Last Tuesday I thought I started the stove, so I had my pot with the water I thought was boiling on top, but turns out I had just turned the oven on. My Scottish flatmate came in and asked me if I was using “the hob” and I replied “the what???” and she then turned off oven and turned on the stove so whew no harm done with the accidental turning on of oven. For future reference for myself, hob = stove. Although the dorms are very new and very clean, there have apparently in the past been problems with the fire alarms. All over the door to my room and in the kitchen there are signs warning against false fire alarms due to unattended cooking, aerosol use, or steam from showers. And every Thursday they do a sound check of the system. So I am always very nervous that the alarm will go off since it is notoriously triggered easily. My “RA” (who are called Wardens here, and the individual dorm buildings are known as blocks…) when giving the safety talk to our flat said that there will be a fire drill sometime soon and one IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT… awesome..just awesome.
I mentioned in my first post that Bangor is a very hilly city. And boy is that the truth. Everyday I’m walking somewhere and huffing and puffing up and down these hills carrying my bag. The city is classified into two parts: Upper Bangor and Lower Bangor. Upper Bangor is where the university is situated and where I live; lower Bangor is where the high street is and the railway station and bigger grocery stores. The hill that I walk that connects the two is fondly known as “B**ch Hill” by the students. I had heard about this infamous part of Bangor before coming to Bangor but I’d thought it the hill from the site my dorm is on to Morrison’s the grocery store, so when I had felt like the walk to Morrison’s was actually pretty easy, the universe laughed and I found the bigger hill.
I really do walk everywhere. Today, for example, I think I trekked 6+ miles round trip to Penrhyn Castle just outside the city. So my feet hurt all the time and my shoes are already being worn down! But hopefully all this walking will mean great legs for ski season!
During welcome week, the university held their giant two day “Fresher’s Fair” full of all of the clubs and societies available. I ended up putting my name down for the majority because hey it’s fun and a lot of the tables had free stuff. This week the clubs and societies had taster sessions to go to if you wanted more information about the particular club. Thus far I have gone to a Mad Hatter tea party for the Books and Quills club, a craft night for the craft club, a BBQ for the gardening club, and a grub crawl for the Christian Union. I don’t know (or think) I will official join anything but all of these were a great way to meet more people and experience their uni life.
It’s all a overwhelming experience so far but I take it day by day and I constantly remind myself to soak it all in because this is once in a lifetime and I am grateful for all the opportunities and chances I have thus far! Can’t wait to see what’s next!
York is such a charming city it’s almost paralyzing. Everything is built in that sweet old European style that if I were a different major I would have smart things to say about, but I’m not and I don’t, so I just will call it charming and sweet instead. The city is easy to navigate, has a lively nightlife and plenty to do during the day, and friendly bus drivers to boot. With enchanting views like this one and picturesque medieval walls surrounding the city, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about anything, apparently. So far in my stay at the U of York’s (or as the townies call it, the Uni) accommodations, most of my interactions with the reception staff have not gone very well. And this surprised me quite a bit because I consider myself to be a very polite and respectful person, always smiling and lightly self-deprecating to make other people feel comfortable, and the reception staff has also been very polite. But when I ask them things about normal Uni processes, things go a bit sour.
I was cooking some noodles in the kitchen last night and it occurred to me that the trash can was already completely full, even though orientation week hasn’t started yet, much less classes. So I went down to reception and asked if the cleaning staff took out the trash and replaced the bags or if that was up to the students. The reception staff raised their eyebrows and pursed their lips at me, as if my question was incredibly obvious and a stupid one to ask. I shrunk inwardly, feeling stupid. DU is a very nice school where the front desk supplies trash bags for dorms and the cleaning staff takes out the trash in the kitchens. I assumed something similar might happen at York.
The reception staff informed me somewhat coldly that students were responsible for taking out the trash, but they would supply replacement bags. I smiled and apologized probably too many times, trying to explain that things worked differently at different universities and I was just trying to understand their system, and not to demand that they take out the trash for me. They seemed to understand and I took my overanalyzing self back to the kitchen to take out the trash.
So what did I learn from this horribly awkward interaction? A few things.
- Drop any and all assumptions about how this new place works.
- Mentally prepare yourself for flexibility and the possibility of misunderstanding when operating in a completely different higher education system.
- Adopt a friendly demeanor to help clear up any misunderstandings. Smiles vary in their frequency in different countries, but they can always help ease what would otherwise be a tense situation.
And in the meantime, don’t worry about the trash. Sometimes you’ve just got to take it out and then move on.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA Blogger
The realization that I’ll be going to study abroad at the University of York in England for an entire year come mid-September still hasn’t quite sunk in. Most of my prep work is done, but every now and then the gravity of an exchange year starts to hit me.
There are a couple of questions that have been running through my head regarding this whole thing, and I thought I’d answer myself here.
Aren’t you scared to go abroad for a whole year?
Of course I am. I’m equal parts terrified and jumping-up-and-down excited about the whole thing. I love to travel and would like to believe I do so quite well, but Colorado is my home and it will be very hard to only spend about six weeks in my home over the next year.
Won’t you miss your friends? Will they even be your friends when you get back?
Being who I am-a person who loves fiercely, hates rejection, and has lost several very close friends over the years-this is a real worry for me. But like always, the logical and emotional parts of my brain are messy housemates. Emotional me is crying that I’ll have an amazing time abroad and then come back with no friends. Logical me is remembering that one of my dearest friends from high school lives a couple of thousand miles away from me and yet he’s still my best friend. We don’t get to talk to each other near as often as we would like, but when you have a friendship as genuine and as sweet as that, it’s not easily broken. And I think I can say the same for my friends here at DU. We won’t get to talk nearly as often as we do now living together and seeing each other every day. But they are special enough to me that I won’t just drop them, and I know they won’t do that to me either.
You’ll be doing an awful lot of travelling alone. Doesn’t that scare you?
It absolutely does! But after spending a few weeks way outside my comfort zone in southern Kenya, I learned that big risks pay off massive dividends. The payoff doesn’t negate any of the rough parts in the middle-loneliness, getting sick, missing home, wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake in a particularly dark moment. I felt all of those things in Kenya. But it was and remains a trip I hold close to my heart. And I’m ready for the bits where I travel alone. I won’t be completely alone, as I’ll be meeting up with friends in pretty much every place that I go to. Taking intentional time alone and journaling and actually going and doing things (museums, hikes, that sort of thing) by myself help me to grow content with my own company and to get to know my own head. Those are vitally important, as again, I’m the one who has to live with that stuff on a daily basis.
The bottom line is that come fall, I will be embarking on a crazy scary year. But I’m doing it on purpose. Doing scary stuff on purpose is pretty good for you, I think. Keeps a girl on her toes.
-Faith Lierheimer, DUSA blogger
One of the best ways I have been able to meet local students and be immersed in the campus life at Queen’s is through student involvement.
The first step to getting involved was attending Queen’s Fresher’s Fair. Similar to DU’s pioneer carnival, clubs and societies set up tables for you to explore every aspect of what social life at Queens has to offer. The event was overwhelming with all the opportunities being presented. Many of the clubs charged fees, but early sign up often meant discounts. I chose to weigh my options, however, and took a lot of brochures, rather than joining too many clubs on the spot. I knew I wanted to make my time at Queen’s count, so I was hesitant to spread myself too thin.
Excitedly, however, I did manager to get my name on a few too many lists, and once I returned back to my house, I was trying to prioritize. I decided on writing for the Student’s Union Magazine and trying to put together a show for Queen’s Radio.
The magazine was a neat idea, but because it was a new society, the organization struggled a bit. I did officially write three articles for them, and met a few people at our meetings. One of my stories was a review of an open stage night the theater society hosted. This was a great experience, and although it was an indirect effect of joining the magazine, it lead to meeting more people and enjoying a night of goofy theatrical acts and socializing after.
The Radio, was a totally different story. When I attended the first meeting, PJ, Belgian guy from my house was there. We got to talking and found we had signed up for almost all the same clubs. Excitedly, we decided to explore the idea of doing a show together. We signed up for a training time, and even the Radio Manager said we had great names for DJs: Jessie and PJ, they just go together.
I can honestly say that without doing the radio show my life at Queen’s would have been desperately different. I got to meet people through the station, I got radio experience as well as script writing experience, but most importantly I made my best abroad relationship. PJ, my cohost, turned out to be one of my closest friends. We spent an hour doing the show each week, but we also spent about 2-3 planning and writing the themes and goofy scripts that included fictional interviews and creative news stories, oh and music to match the theme. We would get so off track during the planning, laughing and joking about everything; those are memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. We eventually became close to inseparable, and he has been a great person to have since I started my life in Belfast. We would go to the theater, the gym, dancing, even karaoke together; both of us keen on seeing Belfast.
It was really cool to write and work with someone who has English as a second language, I got to help teach vocabulary as well as learn about Dutch phrases and sayings. The radio show really teased out a lot of cultural differences that created space for conversation. Some of the most basic topics would spark in depth discussions, and I ended up learning quite a lot about Belgium! Not to mention working on a project gave me some structure to every week and helped PJ and I stay focused on planning our weeks to leave time for writing.
A Little Bit of P&J will be concluding this week in a final holiday addition. You can listen for yourself Friday at 3pm (Blefast time) which is 8am MST right HERE. We also repost our shows as podcasts which you can check out HERE.
I was exhausted by the time I reached Belfast, Northern Ireland, my final destination after my connection in London. Food, shower, even a place to just sit were the only things on my mind, rather than trying to find my residence via cab. Travel from George Best Belfast City Airport to Queen’s University would have been rather difficult had I not have opted in to the school transport service. I know that this is not available in every University, but Queen’s had students meet me just beyond baggage claim with a bus ready to take me to my new home, and I felt so fortunate to be greeted with smiling faces and cheery accents. (If your school has this service, try to take advantage of it!) While waiting for the shuttle to fill with students from other flights, there was a bit of time to socialize with the other international students, all of us sharing our worries and having some of the student volunteers already starting to answer our questions and queries. This was also very helpful because I really felt less alone knowing other people had questions and concerns.
The bus ride was short, but the check-in line was quite long. I knew it was supposed to be a full day, but I had no idea just how long I would be shuffled from building to building with no idea where I was and the slow realization that not only had I traveled across the world alone, slept very little, and still didn’t know anyone besides the two girls I had chatted with at the airport, I was also in a different country with no idea where anything was. Luckily, the housing staff was incredibly nice and supportive. (Maybe it is because after doing their job for two years at DU I could appreciate all the work they were putting in helping students check in to their on campus housing spots.) I bought my bedding pack and kitchen pack, so I was glad I had come with cash already exchanged to Pounds. Banks and airports usually offer this service, and I came with about 100 Pounds pre-exchanged. And then, I met my RA, Mary. She was all smiles, helping me carry my bags to a shuttle that took me to my apartment style housing complex. Mary helped me take my things to my room, showed me my keys, and told me where to get free dinner. Feeling so overwhelmed, she was exactly what the doctor ordered, coming just short of pushing me to the places I needed to go.
After setting up my internet and calling home, I headed back to the Tree House, the building where I had checked in. I had told the girls I met I would meet them back there to find dinner. What I hadn’t realized was just how far away I was from my original starting point. Not only was I far away, after a bit of wandering, I realized I had no idea where I was going. Scared, tired, hungry, exhausted, and lost I started to panic. Getting a hold of myself, I realized most of the students walking around the main street where I was flustering were also probably international students, and so I walked up to one of the first girls I saw and asked if she knew where the Tree House was. She kindly directed me and I now had adrenaline rush from my previous moment of terror. Feeling more awake, I walked to find my new friends. Fortunately, they had waited for me, but I arrived too late to get the free food. We had, however, received food vouchers for the grocery store, and so the three of us put our vouchers together and purchased bread, soup, and cheese for dinner and some fruit and yogurt for the next morning’s breakfast. With the foresight to get the next day’s meals, we saved time and money! Heading to one of the girls kitchen’s we ate hot soup and fresh baguettes while continuing to get to know each other.
Not wanting to walk back alone, especially after being so turned around only hours ago and it being much darker, I returned to the area in which I had checked in, hoping a shuttle was still running. Unfortunately, the buses had been shut down, but another member of the housing staff offered to just walk me home. He was an RA and a native to Belfast, so not only did I get an escort, but I got a bit of a tour on the way back as well. I usually hate asking for directions or help, but I learned quickly that my first day abroad (as well as the week to come) would include me getting over my hesitance to ask for help. So don’t be afraid to not know things, to ask for help, and to use your resources!
With a large number of students heading from DU to study abroad in the UK this fall, here I write about my experiences studying in both the UK and the US academic systems.Studying in the UK will expose you to a number of differences in academic culture. Below, I’ve highlighted some of the most significant.
Generally you can expect to have fewer hours of class in the UK. In the UK many full time juniors or seniors might have just three or four hours of class time, compared to 15 hours at DU.
The time you spend in class will be much more lecture-based than at DU. Don’t be surprised to find little student participation in your classes in the UK. Often only the Professor will speak for the duration of the class. Instead, student participation is reserved for “tutorials”. Typically, these are one hour seminar/discussion sessions with the Professor, sometimes in their office with just five or six other students.
Given this, there is a much greater focus on independent research outside of class and you will be expected to conduct your own research. In many cases this means picking your own books and articles to read from a list on the syllabus, rather than being assigned specific readings for each class as you are at DU. This means that if assigned a particular essay, many students will answer it very differently based on the differing reading that they have done themselves based on their interests. To get strong grades, incorporating this individualized reading into your papers and exams will be important.
Generally, there will be fewer assessments than at DU. For many classes you might find that your assessment comprises either a single exam or a single paper, or perhaps an exam and paper due together at the end of the quarter/semester. Consequently, it is unlikely that there will be a participation grade, quizzes or midterms. Some students like the fact that they have less stress across the quarter, others don’t like that all their assignments may be concentrated at the end of the quarter.
This system means that there is more ambiguity and less structure in the UK system as a whole. The Professors will see you as more of a self-starter. Often, a Professor might never mention the assignments for that class and will instead expect you to read the syllabus, see what the assignment is and do it without guidance.
In the UK, particularly in England and Wales, most students only study for three years to earn their degree. The three year degree means that there is no common curriculum. In college, students only take classes in their major and therefore usually only from one department. Therefore, most students choose their College major whilst in High School at the age of 17. A DU Junior studying abroad should be aware that local students taking third year classes in the UK will most likely already have studied as many as ten classes in that major.
Given these differences, it will be important to adapt quickly by setting your own learning plan, making sure to meet with your Professors and by disciplining yourself to work throughout the term in order to disperse your workload rather than leaving all your work until the final weeks of the semester.
-Callum Forster, DU Study Abroad Peer Advisor
For those ready to live the authentic British life, here are my five tips to get you started…
1. British Afternoon Tea – Not to be missed, afternoon tea is one of the highlights of UK cultural life. Afternoon tea is taken between 3 and 5pm, often on a weekend and consists of limitless cups of tea, accompanied by both cucumber and egg and cress sandwiches, scones (with cream and jam) and cakes (Victoria sponge, fruit cake amongst others) and pastries. DU students studying abroad in York should be sure to check out Betty’s Tea Rooms in York City Center, where it is not unusual to see people lining (“queuing”) down the street as they wait for their tea. The only question is, should you drink English breakfast tea, Scottish afternoon, Twinnings, Earl Grey or Chai?
2. Visit a Great British Pub – bask in a leisurely drink along with some great traditional British cuisine – fish and chips (served in newspaper), bangers (sausages) and mash or Shepherds Pie (google it). For students studying in Glasgow, check out the Monster Mash Café in Edinburgh, which has a whole menu devoted to different variations of sausage and mashed potato. Anyone for blackpudding sausage and apple mash?
3. Museums, museums, museums… embrace the fact that nearly all museums in London are free. Britain’s best and most prestigious museums such as the famous British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, or check out modern art at the Tate Modern amongst many other museums with free admission.
4. Relish in the opportunity to move beyond American football, baseball and the like and instead venture to a soccer, cricket or rugby game. Watch Glasgow Celtic play in front of 60,000 people, or those studying in England check out the English Premier League, and watch a match at Old Trafford? For rugby games which are played regularly throughout winter and fall check out http://www.premiershiprugby.com/
5. Check out Britain’s Roman history, in particular Hadrian’s Wall. As the Roman Empire began to collapse, Hadrian ordered the building of a wall across the entire north of England to keep out Picts from Scotland. The wall, a World Heritage site, still exists today and stretches across the breadth of Northern England (73 miles). Walk it end to end perhaps and see some of Britain’s rugged countryside.
Achieve these five things and you’ll have plenty to write home about…
– Callum Forster, DUSA Graduate Peer Advisor (and Brit)
Check out Katie’s blog (AND LOTS OF PHOTOS) at http://england-fall2012.blogspot.com/!!
“I know the name is crazy but trust me it makes since. Yes I am one of those silly Americans who LOVES the British Royal family and therefore wishes she were British. And now I will be, for 3 1/2 months to be exact! I am studying abroad at the University of Glasgow this fall. So here is an account of my experiences abroad. Enjoy :)”
I’ve always had difficulty making decisions. Even a trip to the Ben & Jerry’s counter leaves me conflicted, and I inevitably end up sampling most of the flavors as I hold up a line of drooling youngsters. So when faced with the far more permanent and daunting decision of where to go abroad, I was at a loss. I have an open mind, eclectic tastes, varied interests—how would I ever narrow it down to a single location in this vast, vast world of opportunities?
In a moment of strength, I left my dorm and set out to the International Office, hoping that by seeking professional help I would find myself closer to my decision.
Upon arriving I tiptoed into the basement and found myself face to face with a literal representation of the many alternatives. I’m sure they had seen many others like me, wide-eyed and eager, staring up at a wall of brightly colored fliers. But this array of options left me more confused than ever. I had thought I wanted the rich culture and café riddled streets of Europe, but oh, to learn the musical language of Portuguese in Brazil or experience the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. I took a step back, and collected my thoughts. “Camilla, let’s be practical. What do you really want and need out of this experience?”
I began to collect fliers that suited my interests and skill sets. I had recently made the switch from a Music major to an English major, and I reasoned that an English speaking country where I could immerse myself completely in a rich tradition of writers would be an unsurpassable opportunity. I perused the Australia fliers, but there were none of the creative writing opportunities that I had been hoping for, and that would veto the idea of outside travel. I was in the midst of taking a class about John Keats, an English romantic poet, and as my eyes fell on the UK fliers, it clicked. Oh my, England. What could possibly be more steeped in the English writing tradition? My mind flipped through the images I had catalogued of England: green rolling hills, rainy skies, cobblestoned London, men in silly hats, fashionable women, cliffy coasts. So there I had it. England it was. I perused the fliers for some sort of mention of creative writing, and my search was quickly narrowed to three locations: Lancaster in the north of England, Goldsmiths in London, and the University of Exeter in the south.
I allowed these places to sit with me for a few weeks, researching each school and the surrounding area, perusing a Google image search for each. All seemed so wonderful and interesting, so I decided to meet with the UK advisor. He provided with more in-depth information on each of the programs and put me in contact with a student from the University of Exeter who was currently studying at DU. By this point I had narrowed it down to Goldsmiths or Exeter. Did I want the more urban city experience in a school that was known for their creative and non-traditional ways, or did I want to be along the coast, in a place of deeply rooted tradition and folklore?
If I could have chosen both, I would have. But after talking to Greg, the student from Exeter, I was sold. He loved the university; it was two hours from London, ten minutes from the coast. I liked the idea of being so close to the city center and not being swallowed up in a sea of people, as might be the case in a larger city setting. I imagined myself wandering along the green and cliffy coast, stopping to write, the ocean breeze whipping my hair haphazardly about my head. I imagined rushing into a local coffee shop to avoid the rain and spending hours reading the countless novels assigned to me for my English classes.
Perhaps I had created a romanticized version of my study abroad experience, but isn’t that was this experience offers? It offers the reality of a life that you might only dream of otherwise. It provides the opportunity to grow and change independently of DU or your family and to form new and life-changing relationships. It presents a unique learning experience in an unfamiliar educational environment. I giddily anticipate the transformation I will undergo during this period in my life. I see myself joining the student union, learning to navigate the extensive public transportation system, drinking tea and eating scones, and bashfully agreeing to share an umbrella with a debonair British boy (okay… I’m dreaming again.) Whatever is to come, I’m confident that the decision I made is the right one, and I am prepared (and determined) to make the most of it.
–Camilla Sterne, DUSA Blogger
The “buddy system” has been drilled into our brains since we were in preschool, but how relevant is the concept when you’re studying abroad? From my experience last fall in Glasgow, Scotland, sticking with a friend is not always the best policy. Although there are undeniable benefits to consistently exploring with a companion, it is almost equally important to fly solo occasionally.
Wandering around your unfamiliar city by yourself might seem incredibly intimidating, but it is simply the best way to get know your new home. My first day in Glasgow was spent meandering the cobblestone streets, walking in and out of little shops, exploring the university’s campus and getting lost at various points throughout the day. I was so busy taking in the sights and snapping pictures that I never once felt lonely. After making a few friends that week, a group of us walked around together, exploring just as I had by myself the first day. With five us exploring together, it was less about where I wanted to go and more about where the majority of us agreed upon going. Maybe I am just selfish, but aside from the fact that I enjoyed everyone’s company, I found myself annoyed that I was skipping places I was truly interested in visiting, just for the sake of the group as a whole.
Throughout the rest of the semester, I made a promise to myself that I would not forgo visiting any sight or shop simply because I could not find a buddy to join me – and it was the best decision ever! Don’t get me wrong, I made some of the best friends of my life and certainly spent a lot of time exploring with them. But when I wanted to go the museum just down the street from my flat and no one else seemed interested in joining, I put on my raincoat and Wellies and toiled through the rain, happily alone.
From my perspective, exploring Glasgow (or any city) is best done through a combination of the buddy system and independence. There is no question about the importance of making friends and spending time touring your host city with them. But if you do your own thing from time to time, you will learn some invaluable skills, gain confidence and get to know yourself better in the process!
Tips for Safety:
*While it is perfectly fine to explore alone during the day, it’s not recommended to do so after dark.
*Make sure a friend knows where you are going and when you expect to be back.
*Be aware of your surroundings and look out for “red flags”
*Always bring your cell phone and a city map along in case you get lost!
Mikaela Gibson, DU Study Abroad Alum, University of Glasgow ‘11
I knew when I saw my hand shaking while giving my passport to the woman at the check in counter that my time abroad was going to change my life forever. I had already visited England in 2001, but that was with my family. This time I was going by myself. I would have one layover and then when I arrived in London I would have to figure out the train system. I had never taken a train except at Disneyland. What was I supposed to do? These were just a few of the worries I had before I hugged my family and said my good-byes. Of course I would have more on the plane, but first, I had to take that step and cross the threshold into the unknown. I had to start study abroad.
Before I even left to study at the University of Exeter I had a major problem—I didn’t have a housing arrangement. I had filled out the online forms and chosen the residence I wanted to stay in, but I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to pay the housing deposit. However, there was a change in policies and I could not get a room assignment without that housing deposit. For two days I was calling DU and the UK to figure out this problem. Thankfully with some last minute paperwork sent to Exeter I was able to get a room, but I would not know where I was living until I arrived.
After a string of good luck during my travels I arrived at the University of Exeter. Yes, I figured out the trains and yes, when I checked in at housing I did have a room. I was in Lafrowda E212. This room assignment would change my life forever.
I didn’t travel much during my time at Exeter. I did one weekend trip to London and one weekend trip to Paris, but for the most part I explored the area around me. I know that is very different than most other students, but I really didn’t want to leave. I had the most amazing friends and the best part? Almost all of them were my flat mates in E2. I would go out all the time to Arena (the student night club), have kitchen parties in the flat, and just explore the towns nearby. The funny part is that most of these students were international, and most of them didn’t speak English as a first language. Of course, I made plenty of English friends, but there was one person who really had a huge impact on my stay, a certain French boy living in E200.
I met Thomas on my second day in Exeter. I was a little blue sitting at the table eating lunch because I couldn’t get a hold of my parents and I thought it was weird that I was completely surrounded by French people, my other flat mates. Then this guy walks into the kitchen. My first thought was, “He’s cute.” And then he started to speak French, so I thought, “Shoot.” I had taken French in high school and at DU, but I didn’t want to study abroad in France so I thought this was the French department’s way of punishing me. However, over the next three weeks I got to know the French speakers, especially the boy from Paris, and my appreciation of francophone culture went up.
We had other nationalities in the flat: German, Swiss, Spanish and Australian. However, the Frenchies were in the majority so everywhere you went you heard French. I served as translator from time to time, but even I couldn’t understand everything. Still, it gave me a chance to hang out with Thomas and we became closer. After a few weeks it kind of became official: we were a couple.
While, I know I said I didn’t want to travel because I wanted to spend time with all of my international friends, I can’t lie and say that it wasn’t also because of the French boyfriend. However, I got so much more out of my study abroad experience because I developed these relationships. When I had to leave I was so devastated to say good-bye to this group of people who were really my family. Everyone cried at my farewell party and they told me after I left it didn’t feel the same. And to be honest, I didn’t feel the same. I felt like my true life was there and I was determined that I wouldn’t lose touch with my international family.
I still keep in contact with these people and I have visited some of them. The best part is I know that I have so many places to visit and so many people to see because I have lifelong friends all over the globe.
When I say study abroad changed my life I really do mean it. I wouldn’t be typing this blog post in Paris where I’m now a graduate student earning my M.A. in History at the Université de Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne and living with Thomas after four and half years together if it hadn’t. I understand if you might want to travel during your time abroad, and that’s perfectly fine. But let me give you some advice: don’t think this is the only time you’ll be abroad. You will get a taste of what it’s like and you’ll want to do it again. I’m not the only one from DU living life as an expat. You will learn that you are a citizen of the world and you can make any opportunity possible if you put your mind to it. Get to know your fellow students and the place where you’ll be living. I promise you’ll never regret it. And who knows? Maybe you’ll meet the love of your life. I know I did.
Amy Levy, DU Study Abroad Alum, University of Exeter‘07
In case you find yourself without anything to do and not really looking to spend a heap of cash, check out these awesome opportunities!
1) Walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland—The Royal Mile is one of the city’s main streets and it’s also where you will find some of the best attractions such as St. Giles Cathedral, Mary King’s Close and it leads to Edinburgh Castle.
2) Watch the Changing of the Guard in London, England—All things associated with the Royal Family are a huge attraction for tourists, but crowds flock to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace 11.30am daily during the summer and every other day during the winter.
3) Enjoy a Free Concert at the Wales Millennium Center in Cardiff, Wales—The popular Wales Millennium Centre is regarded as one of the world’s most iconic arts and cultural venues, and is host to free concerts for all musical tastes from jazz to classical to choirs!
4) Bask in the beauty at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Ireland—Situated in the former Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the Irish Museum of Modern Art houses a glorious collection of modern art from Jack B. Yeats to Rebecca Horn, not to mention its own stunning grounds!
5) Browse the Old English Market in Cork, Ireland—The Old English Market dates back to 1788 and as the name suggests, it’s a market! A walk around Cork’s English Market is a must to soak up the atmosphere, but you probably will end up spending some money as it can be hard to resist the food on offer!
6) Visit Abbey Road in London, England—Re-enact the famous Beatles album cover, with a strut across Abbey Road and don’t forget to sign the wall in tribute to this famous pop group!
7) Stroll through the Castle Gardens of Kilkenny Castle in Kilkenny, Ireland—A great thing to do on a sunny afternoon, the Castle Gardens offer beautiful rose gardens, large green spaces, walkways and a fun-filled playground for all ages!
8) Soak in the magnificence at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland—This is Scotland’s premier museum and art gallery and admission is free! With an impressive collection of over 200,000 items, including one of Europe’s great civic art collections and one of the finest collections of arms and armor in the world, you can spend a good few hours of your day here.
9) Stop by St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland—This beautiful cathedral is home to Ireland’s largest Celtic Cross and has many mosaics and stained glass windows. Visit for free on weekdays from 10am to 4pm and for a short period before and after Sunday services.
10) Drool over the gems in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham, England—This area of Birmingham dates back over 250 years ago with over 200 historical buildings and is still home to many jewellery businesses today.
Hurry and get off the couch, you don’t want to miss any of these!!
— Kelsey Guyette, DUSA Peer Advisor
The first semester has wrapped up here at KCL. No more essays!
What better time for an image montage:-) Here’s a look at England through the eyes of me.