So, Courtney, you want to live in America?
This question (or a variation of) is something that I get asked very often. Since fresher’s week, meeting new people has inevitably led to the usual “what degree are you studying?” small talk and after revealing I’m an American Studies student the two things I am inevitably asked most are “So you want to live in America?” or “what do you want to do with that?”. Now I don’t mind, American Studies is a niche field of academic study and I’m still passionate enough, after almost three years, to explain what it is I actually learn from lectures and how I want to use the skills I’ve learnt at University in the future. I have a few stock answers to this question which I use depending on the context of the conversation, and I actually enjoy getting practise defending my degree choice so it will be even easier to do in front of future prospective employers. So I thought for this week’s blog post, I would blend my two ‘FAQs’ and write about the benefits of studying abroad and why I passionately believe everybody should do it at least once in their life.
Do you want to live in America?
When submitting my UCAS application to read American Studies, moving to America (believe it or not) was not my primary goal. (I didn’t even do it for the year abroad, as many people seem to think). I’d been on holiday there a couple of times and had enjoyed myself, but didn’t have my heart set on moving across the Pond. After living here for a year, my answer remains the same. If I have to move out here for work in the future I would be relatively happy with that, besides being allergic to Texas (pollen) I think I know enough about the state generally that I could live here. I’ve also learnt how to adapt to new environments so could make living in another less Texan-y state work too. However, most of the jobs I’m planning to apply for post-graduation (at least at first) will be in the UK or Europe.
What do you want to do with that?
In the halcyon days of sixth form, I didn’t have a grand career plan I wanted to follow. During my childhood and teen years, I’d wanted to be, intermittently; an Egyptologist, a forensic anthropologist, an archaeologist, a crime scene investigator, and a Member of Parliament. You might say that I didn’t have a clearly defined career goal, but you’d be hard pressed to find many arts and humanities students who apply for their degree with a destination in mind. The wonderful thing about humanities programs is that they equip you with a large ‘tool kit’ of writing, communication, and problem solving skills that are applicable in a wide range of diverse fields. When I applied to read American Studies I just knew that I enjoyed American politics and history and wanted to spend three or four years studying it.
Why the year abroad is so important
So bringing these two ideas together, I think it’s pretty clear why the year abroad is so important and why everyone who has the opportunity to study abroad should do so. For us pesky arts students without a clear vocation, the year abroad can be a transformative experience that helps us ‘find ourselves’ (please believe my when I say I hate clichés) and discover what truly motivates us. Being removed from all friends and family gives you a chance to have a clean slate and create a new you uninhibited by people’s previous ideas about you as a person. With that chance to be someone new and try so many different things, you’re bound to at least partially figure out what drives you. This is important for figuring out what you want to do for a career, but also more generally. Because of my year abroad and the things I’ve done while out here, I now have a clear career goal. I also know my strengths and weaknesses better and I’m also more confident in myself because of all the different things I’ve been able to do while living in Texas.
The year abroad also makes you more independent. The first few weeks while you’re floundering around trying to make friends are tough, and you have to learn to get on with things by yourself. Before my year abroad I’d have never had the courage to go to New York City or Chicago alone. Living in a foreign country for a year (or even a semester) also teaches you how to deal with feelings of homesickness and loneliness. I’m so much better equipped to deal with these feelings now than I was when I left England so in the future if I have to travel or move for work I’ll be so much better prepared to deal with it. I’ve learnt being alone isn’t always a bad thing.
Personally and academically you will be enriched as a person by the wide variety of new people you will meet and different courses and ways of teaching/thinking on offer. Even studying in America, which has a broadly similar culture to Britain and a shared language, I have learnt so much from my time here. Some of my favourite moments here have been asking my new friends questions about their lives, their opinions, and their customs. I can only imagine the learning experience is more powerful if you’re studying abroad to enhance your language skills or in a more distinct culture.
Finally, it’s just so much fun. Academic requirements are typically lighter for exchange and study abroad students (my study abroad friends in Leicester last year didn’t have to take the exam for our modules, for example) so it’s a chance to get out of your own country and see some of the world. Yes, it’s not all lounging on the beach and theme parks but the year abroad is sometimes that too.
If you’re thinking about studying abroad, just do it. It won’t be easy all of the time, in fact it will be one of the hardest things you’ll probably do, but it will also be one of the best experiences of your life.
Leicester Students find out more about the amazing opportunities on offer to you by following this link http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/international/overseas-exchange/outgoing
I’d be interested if my fellow year abroad bloggers think studying overseas is worth ‘it’ – let me know in comments!