Kirsty King, a blogger from our MEDIA programme, sat down with fellow Erasmus Study alumna Rose Winter to exchange travel stories and memories.
This time last year I had just packed my bags and jetted off to Belgium for an Erasmus Study Placement. Now looking back, I can safely say I’m a different person to the one that set off twelve months ago.
I sat down with fellow Erasmus Alumna (Slovenia), Rose Winter, to chat about our experiences and think about the skills that we developed on our foreign adventures. The good news: we agreed that these skills will help us to stand out to any employer.If you are considering Erasmus, don’t miss the upcoming information session. Register here.
Let’s talk: Organisation
Before you’ve even set off on your adventure, you will be developing your organisation skills, whether that’s by looking for accommodation, planning travel arrangements or doing other paperwork. While this may seem overwhelming at first, your ability to organise will stand you in great stead further down the line, believe me.
Rose says: “On my placement I had to study more modules each semester than I would normally study at Queen’s, and some of these were Master’s courses. This meant I had to have good time-management skills to get all my work done.”
Like Rose, I also had to study more modules than I was used to, which meant I had to organise my time well too! While this may sound difficult, you’ll soon get used to the different size of workload, and what’s more, I’m definitely better at multi-tasking now.
Let’s talk: Resilience
Going abroad doesn’t come without its challenges, and things might not always go to plan. That’s where resilience comes into play.
When I landed in Belgium, one of the first things I had to do was register at the city hall. I didn’t get off to the best start when I turned up at the wrong city hall, but don’t worry, with the help of the Tourist Information Office I soon found the right one. Another new experience was having to open a Belgian bank account, which did take a while to set up but was worth it in the end!
Rose tells me: “When registering my accommodation in Slovenia, the police didn’t think my property existed. It was only when I told them the names of my housemates that they realised where I was staying was a real place!”
What Rose and I have both found is that when we ran into difficulties abroad, we showed resilience and were able to solve the problems we were faced with.
Let’s talk: Independence
Travelling away from home means you have to work things out for yourself. This may seem like a tall order, but you’ll soon discover you’re able to figure out a lot more than you thought.
Rose says: “Going to university in a different country means you have to deal with new situations on your own such as getting used to a different teaching and assessment style – this gives you a lot of independence.”
I definitely agree. Since going abroad, I feel like I now have the confidence to ‘get on with things’ on my own, without having to ask for help every time I try something new!
Let’s talk: Communication
When you go abroad, you’ll meet A LOT of new people – flatmates, classmates and more. There’ll always be ways to meet others – you just have to find the right way for you!
Rose explains: “There was a social group at my university that organised day trips and events such as beer pong and quizzes – it was a great way to meet other students.”
My host university in Belgium told us about the Erasmus Student Network, a group which organised loads of trips and events for Erasmus students throughout the year. These fun get-togethers were where I made some great pals!
Rose and I both agree that going away by yourself really pushes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to get to know new people. And you never know – these people might become your best friends!
Let’s talk: Confidence
Heading to a new country by yourself for the first time sounds daunting, right? But imagine how you’ll feel when you take this jump – capable of anything, that’s what!
Rose says: “Going away by yourself and being faced with a completely new system gives you the confidence to adapt to new environments more easily.”
Since going abroad, I’ve definitely found it much easier to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities, when in the past I would have been hesitant. Giving new opportunities a go will boost our employability – and we have Erasmus to thank for that!
Phoebe Craddock-Bligh, Queen’s History and Politics student spent a year at William Peace University Raleigh, NC, as part of the Study USA programme. Here is how she got on:
I applied to take part in the Study USA programme after hearing about it at the Go Global Fair two years ago. I also attended other talks but decided that Study USA was the one for me. In a very boring and practical way Study USA was the most economical way for me to take a year out and to be honest that was my driving factor in applying (that and REALLY wanting to go to America). – Getting accepted was just the biggest rush and it just goes to show you, if you don’t apply you won’t ever know- so why not take the risk?
Learning a new subject
I was placed by Study USA in William Peace University in Raleigh, NC with the primary goal of studying business classes and gaining an understanding of American culture. As a History and Politics student I was initially nervous about taking business classes, especially as I hadn’t taken a maths class since 2016! There were moments where I did struggle (especially in micro and macroeconomics) but I quickly realised that it wasn’t just me who was finding the content hard- the whole class was, which was quite the relief.
Through some hard work, a bit of mentoring and wonderful and caring teaching staff, I ended the semester with a distinction from the Dean and a 4.0 GPA! I was also pleasantly surprised at how interesting I found the business classes, plus I was able to take 1 elective per semester, so alongside organisational behaviour and marketing, I tried out completely new classes such as creative writing and women’s studies. In short – don’t rule out applying for Study USA just because you’re not a business student. The business skills I gained made me feel stronger in my position going forward into my career, and I’m grateful I had the chance to learn more about business in such a unique way.
A taste of the USA
Now for the fun stuff: living in the States was amazing! I loved every second, even when I wasn’t loving it. When I was presented with the reality of returning home pre-lockdown, I was distraught to be leaving so soon and not getting to finish the year on a high. Of course, I’m still incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity and the experiences I did. I got to visit NYC, explore Washington DC, take a Spring Break road trip to the mountains, and even a 9-hour drive to Florida (and back- we should have flown). And, of course, explore plenty of North Carolina. One of my favourite parts of being in The South was the BBQ! I can’t even write this without thinking about North Carolinian chopped BBQ, coleslaw and vinegar based hot sauce – and then there was the Mexican food! Sorry Boojum, but I’ve seen the light.
Joining the frat pack
Ultimately though, my favourite memories of my time in the States are less to do with all the cool places I got to see, and more to do with my friends and experiencing American college life. I thought I was prepared for the ‘American college experience’, I’d seen the films I thought I knew the craic. One thing I was not ready for was the sheer level of enthusiasm I was met with. From day one I became a Pacer, embroiled in college tradition and part of tight knit, caring community. I loved all the free merch we got to show off our ‘Pacer pride’, the welcome dinners on the front lawn and the events put on for students. Weekdays were always so busy with sports games (I’m now an avid basketball fan), ice cream socials or movie screenings, not to mention several failed Zumba classes. It was great being so involved.
My friends made my year though. I met some of the most fantastic people (and of course some not so great ones – but that’s just life!). I got particularly lucky with my suitemate Shawntez though. We met in the bathroom, where so many great female friendships begin, and were pretty much inseparable after that. What I miss the most from my time on Study USA is the people. It’s cringey but it’s true. It was my friends who made 8am classes bearable, or broke up the tedium of cafeteria food with weeknight trips to Wendy’s for burgers. My favourite memory with Shawntez was the NC State Fair. We accidentally parked 2 miles away, refused to wait for the shuttle bus so walked down a highway in the rain only to queue for 40 minutes just to get inside. But you know what, we still had the best time. Our night ended at 1am with a giant turkey leg, chocolate dipped cheesecake, and an entire deep fried onion. An initial disaster turned into the best memory.
Your main reason for studying abroad might not be to meet amazing friends you will inevitably have to leave, but it’s these people who end up making the day to day life, classes, homework and missing home enjoyable.
Sometimes I scroll though my camera roll looking at my photos from last year, and it still doesn’t always feel real. The experiences I had genuinely changed how I look at and approach the world in the best possible way, and my resilience has increased 10 times over. It wasn’t all plain sailing. Naturally there were times when I longed to go home and see my family, but I would do the whole thing all over again in a heartbeat if I could, the bad and the good.
If you’re even the tiniest bit considering that you might like to spend some time studying abroad, I would encourage you to take the plunge and apply. Start the process and you never know how far you might get.
Find out more about Study USA by joining our information session on Oct 21
Queen’s Philosophy student Ryan Lavelle spent a year in North Central College, Illinois as part of the Study USA programme. Here is his diary.
I had always dreamed of one day moving to America, and on 12 August 2019, I finally stepped on a plane bound for Chicago to make that dream a reality. I remember standing wide-eyed in Dublin Airport with a bag-load of dreams, nerves and expectations.
I worked so hard for this moment: in the months leading up to my move to America, I worked three jobs so that I could save enough money to enjoy my time in Chicago. Unfortunately, I also suffered a close family bereavement shortly before my date of departure, but there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be able to go ahead with my great American adventure and have the best time possible. My goals? To propel myself further in life by meeting new people and making new connections, seeing new places and learning new things. I did all of this and more, and though the year came to an abrupt end, there has been a remarkable difference in my levels of confidence, resilience and knowledge as a result.
Touching down in Chicago
When I arrived at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, it was hot and humid, and very rainy outside. For some reason I expected to walk out of the gate and see someone with my name on a sign waiting for me. That wasn’t the case. I instantly felt the fast-paced American culture all around me, with lots of people shouting and rushing around. I was no longer in Dublin. I did not panic though. In fact, I kind of liked it. Luckily, I happened to see this bushy blonde-haired woman with a sign that read ‘North Central College’ walking around, so I approached her and said “I think you’re looking for me.” Little did I know I wasn’t the only person she was looking for as she had about seven other students due to arrive any minute.
The first night
This woman was Kimberley Larsson, Executive Director of the Center for Global Education at my college for the year, North Central College. One-by-one, the other students were found. French. German. Spanish. Bosnian. Australian. Russian. Japanese. Right away I was in the thick of cultural diversity, and I loved it. We then crammed into the red North Central shuttle bus and headed to Naperville, about 40 minutes from O’Hare. I was in awe of the massive highways, billboards and buildings that surrounded us. I really was in America! Because we arrived late, we pretty much went to our rooms after being given bedding and pillows by staff. I thought about how previous exchange year students spoke of an immediate feeling of dread when that bedroom door shuts for the first time. I couldn’t have been further away from feeling dread – I was thriving. In terms of culture shock, nothing ‘shocked’ me per se, but I loved the challenge of adapting to a new environment as I had never taken up such a drastic transition in all my life until then. With that said, I was at ease. Thankfully, this feeling persisted all throughout my experience and homesickness never really became a thing for me.
Making friends from all over the world
From the next day onward, all international students partook in orientation week. The international students all became very close in the first semester. I made some of my best friends within the group of international students, and I plan on visiting them one day. What’s nice about getting close to other internationals is that they are in the same boat as you. They’re far away from home and adapting to a new environment, just like you. The sad part about getting close to other internationals is that so many of them are only there for one semester. Going back after Christmas break was somewhat daunting as I knew some of the people I spent a lot of time with would no longer be there, but this just meant I got much closer to the American students I was already friends with. The cultural diversity at play was, at times, astonishing. It was great to experience people from so many different backgrounds. Whilst enjoyable, it was also challenging. At times certain people would get frustrated with one another because they were misunderstood for saying or doing something that would be so normal in their home countries. I was once explaining Brexit to a fellow classmate when he interrupted me and asked the following: “wait, what’s Brexit? Is that a country?” You just have to laugh in those moments!
Chasing the American dream
America is a highly diverse country, but it’s also competitive. This is what makes it such an exciting place to be. People are always going somewhere or doing something. They always have a goal in mind, a meeting to be at, or money to earn – even if they’re the most zen person you could ever meet. It’s hard not to get caught up in this lifestyle. I developed better practices in the States because of this, such as keeping a good routine, waking up early, studying more regularly, drinking less and exploring the world around me more. Thus, I think the cultural diversity has been good to me. I’ve taken things from each culture I’ve befriended and used these lessons in my own daily life whilst remembering how alike we all can be in some sense, too.
Living in a college movie
Within a week of orientation, I was right into classes. It felt surreal being in an American classroom given that my childhood was consumed by American television shows centred on the American high school and college student experience. For the fall semester I took classes in marketing, international business, environmental economics and an elective called ‘people and nature’ which was a socio-political look at humanity’s relationship with the environment. In the spring, my classes were social entrepreneurship, an introduction to computer programming, business law and another environmental studies elective.
Finding my niche
North Central College has an amazing focus on sustainability which drew me to the college in the first place, and I knew I wanted to take as many environmental classes as I could. This aspect of my college life has been one of the highlights of my year abroad. I am interested in the dynamic between business and the environment, and my year abroad allowed me to focus my studies on just that. Now I feel better informed and prepared to complete my dissertation in final year, which I hope to do on environmental ethics. The environmental field is growing and the jobs market for candidates with this kind of knowledge and experience is only going to get bigger in the future. I have since decided I wish to steer my career journey in this direction and hope to pursue postgraduate courses and jobs in environmental law, policy or management.
A new life outlook
Moreover, the social entrepreneurship class I took has also changed my outlook on life. It involved me coming up with a fully-fledged social venture plan to address a social issue I am passionate about. The result of my work was a business plan for a social enterprise that addresses the link between our environment and mental health in the context of climate anxiety. This is something I would love to one day work on again, perhaps even at Queen’s! Thus, my classes have meant a lot to me and in the grand scheme of things. I was gifted with a renewed entrepreneurial spirit during my time studying in the US, which in itself comes with an eagerness to take every opportunity that presents itself to you.
Flexible study model
I very much welcomed the differences between the US and UK education systems and appreciate both in their own ways. I recognise what makes the system I am used to at Queen’s so great, but preferred certain elements of the system at North Central College. In regards to the latter, I especially liked the flexibility of choosing classes and electives, and found it interesting how American students do not apply to colleges per course they want to do, as they can declare their ‘major’ well into their studies. I think I would definitely benefit from this back home as I enjoy so many fields of study and found it hard settling on just one. That being said, courses at home are more rigorous. The flexibility in the American system gives room for lenient teaching and grading, more varied and school-like assessments and having classmates that find they don’t really want to be there (if they’ve taken your class just for credit). That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything – I actually learned a lot, and regular homework was common in the US! University in the UK, however, holds you to a higher standard in terms of independence and responsibility, especially when it comes to researching and essay writing.
It seems American students have a much heavier focus on extracurriculars in conjunction with their studies, with many of them receiving scholarships for sport, music or acting which then take precedence over their social and academic lives. Having said this, I myself got into the routine of taking part in extracurriculars such as Enactus which was a nice contrast to my social life in Belfast which mainly consisted of either working or going out. In a way, I think studying in the US has helped me develop a more balanced mindset when it comes to student life – it’s not all about partying hard and spending obscene amounts of money every week. Since coming home, I already feel much more positive, healthy and fiscally responsible than I was before.
Highlights I’ll cherish
I will be ever grateful for my year abroad. I look back on my time at North Central College fondly and I tend to think about specific moments or people I met along the way every day. I think my favourite moment was attending the Global Climate Strike in downtown Chicago with some of my best friends in September 2019. That moment exuded everything I learned throughout the year – friendship, reflection, Chicago, passion, activism, confidence, strength and resilience. I have an almighty appetite to return to the States one day (maybe next year?), but for now I am quite content in Belfast.
I have realised that all of these places I had been so used to are now new to me again as I step back in old environments with a new persona, a new being and a new sense of direction in life. That’s all thanks to my global opportunity and the additional opportunities it created along the way. It goes without saying that the 2019-20 ‘year abroaders’ won’t be forgotten about any time soon. Being abroad during the unravelling of a global pandemic is a life lesson in and of itself. However, it does not take away from the fun and enjoyment I had in the last few weeks before my departure, but also the whole year. I can confidently say that I left Chicago having made some small difference in people’s lives, but the difference in my life is much greater and more profound. So, if you’re reading this and considering giving a year abroad a go – there’s no harm in at least applying! Attend workshops, work on your application, go to the interview… And if you’re lucky enough to get the chance to go abroad – take it!
If anything this year has shown us, it’s that life is full of risks. I can confidently say that studying abroad was the best risk I’ve ever taken (even when my personal life was a bit chaotic). That said, I’d do it all over again.
Fancy studying in the USA like Ryan? Don’t miss our Study USA information session. 21 October 12pm. Register here:
Meet Michael Downey, one of our Go Global Ambassadors 2020. If you are thinking of following in his footsteps and spending a year or a semester abroad, he’s here to share his tips, tricks and wisdom with you.
“New York City has an energy like no other – it’s fast-paced and full of life! Certainly, when you compare it to the countryside in Dromore, Co. Down.”
As a Business Information Technology student, I made the decision to do a placement in one of the greatest cities in the world, New York City. The experience of living and working on NYC was a rollercoaster (and included a 4-month quarantine in Miami) but it’s been a life-changing experience. Here are just some of the reasons why….
I worked as a Software Developer for a SaaS start-up called On The Stage, and I joined at a time when the company was experiencing high growth – this was super exciting! My office was located on Broadway & W 54th St and my apartment in Amsterdam Ave & W 107th St, both in Manhattan so this was only a 20-minute subway ride which was super convenient.
What can I say about the concrete jungle of NYC? The energy of the city is like no other – it’s fast-paced and full of life! Certainly, when you compare it to the countryside in Dromore, Co. Down. There’s too much to do in NYC and it never stops. Luckily, if you’re on an intern budget NYC has tons of FREE events to offer, I mean 100’s each day and it can be overwhelming deciding which event to go to.
If you’re worried about surviving financially on an intern salary in NYC, I’d advise you to create a budget and stick to it and you’ll be fine – this is actually a great learning experience as you learn how to manage your personal finances.
Part of my routine involved running around the 1.58-mile Reservoir Loop in Central Park before work. This run at 7.30 am in the morning was a beautiful start to the day as you could escape the mayhem, relax and enjoy the ambience. There were always thousands of people running and this really fueled my motivation to push harder and improve my run time
The beauty of living in a major city is that historic events are commonplace. Luckily, I was able to attend two notable sporting events: the 2019 US Open Tennis – Women’s Singles finals (Serena Williams was playing) and the PGA Tour National Trust Tournament (Rory McIlroy was playing)
On two occasions I also travelled to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch the Brooklyn Nets vs Miami Heat play in the NBA . An NBA game is an awesome experience, they really know how to put on a show. The game comprises 4 quarters with each quarter lasting 12 minutes but the whole show lasts 2 hours!
Escaping the city
In the winter, I travelled to Hunter Mountain Ski Resort with a group of friends for a weekend of snowboarding. This was just over a 2-hour drive from Manhattan which is like driving from Dublin to Belfast, so it’s not far, at least for American standards.
New York City is among the world’s most dynamic culinary capitals.
Sampling new cuisines became a weekly routine. After trying Peruvian at a restaurant named Pio Pio on the Upper West Side I quickly fell in love with this amazing cuisine! Another favourite would have to be Japanese, the ramen from Totto Ramen in Midtown East and the sushi from Sugarfish in Soho were hands down my favorite. Totto Ramen was located within walking distance of my office which was perfect, especially on a chilly winter’s day, the warm broth was an excellent meal to get the blood flowing.
One of the J1-IWT visa requirements is to experience American culture and I believe this was fulfilled by attending a variety of iconic Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. Fortunately, the CEO of On The Stage is also a Broadway producer so one of the perks of the job is to occasionally be offered free or discounted tickets. In 7-months I attended nine shows including Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hamilton, Slava Snowshow, The Rockettes, The Lion King, Tina The Musical, The Inheritance, Little Shop of Horrors and Riverdance.
Exploring the States
The United States is a huge and diverse place, every state is like its own country in terms of legislation, culture, people and the way of life – that’s what makes the country so special! I experienced this firsthand by travelling to multiple US cities, for example, Miami, Marco Island, Naples, Orlando and Tampa, FL, Houston, TX and Chicago, IL. Each city has a different flavour, culturally, Miami and Houston are extremely different compared to New York and Chicago – it’s interesting to visit and experience these diverse cities. Another fascinating comparison is the political views of the majority; Miami (Republican) vs New York City (Democratic). Here are just a few of my highlights:
Speaking Spanish in Miami
During quarantine, I spent 4-months living in Miami, so I truly experienced the Latin culture. The majority of people speak Spanish so if you want to practice your speaking and listening skills make a trip to Miami. Since 1st year I’ve been taking Spanish classes at Queen’s, so this was the perfect opportunity to improve my skills. I also enjoyed exploring the Latin cuisines; Cuban, Venezuela and Colombian. Miami is a cool city and its growing at a fast rate.
I also got the opportunity to visit Marco Island on the west coast of Florida, it is situated right on the Gulf of Mexico, so the ocean is beautiful as it is calm and warm – just a few degrees hotter than Portrush.
Houston is a modern city in terms of infrastructure and buildings. Everything is BIG, the houses, the cars, the food portion sizes etc. The locals are super friendly, you receive pleasant greetings when out and about. In Houston there is a huge Indian and Vietnamese community, so you see a lot of these restaurants around the city.
The highlight of this trip was visiting the NASA Johnson Space Center, which is home to Mission Control and astronaut training. The behind-the-scenes Tram Tour was amazing, I saw the Saturn V rocket, which is the tallest, heaviest and most powerful rocket ever flown. NASA used the Saturn V rockets during the Apollo program to send Americans to the Moon.
Chicago is a pretty city and the most significant characteristic for me was the architecture. It’s like a mini, cleaner New York City. The three days in the city were crammed with tourist activities, these include; the Architectural Boat Tour, Navy Pier, Riverwalk Walking Tour, 360 Skydeck & The Tilt, Deep Dish Pizza and Portillo’s Hot Dog. I loved learning about the history of Chicago.
During my last week in the US, I spent some time at Disney World Orlando which was amazing! I visited Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Highlights were Star Wars land, Avatar Land and Toy Storyland. The new Star Wars and Avatar attractions are so immersive, you truly feel like you’re in the movie – Disney has created an incredible experience.
Michael was supported with obtaining a visa and moving to the US by the Rian Immigrant Center. More details here:
Meet Michael at our Go Global Canada/USA info session on October 12.