Every year over 900 Queen’s students take the opportunity to go outside Northern Ireland to study or gain work-related experience. Louis Anthony, a Psychology student is one of them. Read how they got on..
What shocked you the most during your time abroad?
Whenever I went out on the Study USA programme, I never realised how different American culture really was to Northern Irish culture. I think it probably took me the guts of the first semester to really adapt to it. Not necessarily adapt to it but learn about it and really know the boundaries within it. But I think going forward, looking to my career, I’ll be able to reference that in interviews with how I was able to adapt to the culture and interact so positively with so many people from different cultures and from around the world at an American college. You know, I made friends out there that are absolutely going to be friends for life. I love the American culture, I love their humour, I love their optimism, I love the whole vibe you got off them. So, it’s definitely something I’ll be able to use in future job opportunities about how well I interacted with people from the American culture and also other international cultures.
What did you learn about yourself?
During my time in America, I realised I had skills I didn’t initially think I had. I was initially very worried about being home-sick and not being able to adapt to the culture but I realised, actually, I am very adaptable, when I went over there, which is something I was quite proud of. Obviously at the start I was kind of nervous and wasn’t sure how I’d be able to adapt to the culture and had a fair bit of self doubt but I think by just putting myself out there and, like, making myself feel uncomfortable I naturally became more adapted to the American culture. I feel proud of the fact that I was able to adapt and make the most of the year I was given. You know, I look back on it so fondly and I wish I could do it again to be honest but I feel proud that I was able to make the most of it and not let my self-doubt get in the way.
Every year over 900 Queen’s students take the opportunity to go outside Northern Ireland to study or gain work-related experience. Cate Benson, a law student is one of them. Read how they got on..
What skills did you learn during your Erasmus trip abroad?
It honestly taught me so many skills, like it made me a lot more independent, I would say, like, as I said, I’d lived away from home, but it’s not the same if you’re not, you know, coming home every Friday, giving your mummy your washing or something, you know, it’s properly living by yourself in a different country. You don’t know anybody, you have to learn to sort things out for yourself and even, like, on the trips we went on obviously things went wrong. You got lost. You know, there’s always something going wrong. So, really helped problem-solving skills, like you just had to learn to deal with it and move on and be resilient, maybe, even that too
Every year over 900 Queen’s students take the opportunity to go outside Northern Ireland to study or gain work-related experience. Lydia Hossain, a Common and Civil Law with French studentis one of them. Read how they got on..
Tell us about yourself.
Hi, my name is Lydia Hosain and I’m from County Donegal. I am studying Common and Civil Law with French at Queen’s University Belfast and the language part of my degree made it so that I had the opportunity of spending time abroad in my third year.
Where did you go and why?
I travelled to Toulouse for my Erasmus year, spending a full academic year studying in UT 1. I decided on Toulouse because it’s really student-friendly and it has great weather. I took the plane to France with my mum and spent a few days holidaying; getting to know La Ville Rose.
Who was the first person you met?
I quickly realised that Toulouse has a real supportive international student community as, although I felt really nervous in my introduction week, the first person that I met was an Italian student called Leonardo who helped settle my nerves and introduced me to other students who became my friends. I participated in Erasmus student-network events, the SN, which helped welcome newcomers and I quickly realised that everyone was going through the same thing.
What was the biggest culture shock?
Having visited France many times before, I was fairly surprised by the different culture of Toulouse, with its Occitan and Spanish influence and, honestly, how well-dressed French students were.
What was the most exciting part? Most memorable moment?
There were many highlights but the stand out one for me was just having complete freedom and being in a completely different country and having access to fantastic public transport that can take you anywhere around the city. But the most important one for me was making the most amazing friends and just the feeling, not to be cliché, but that the feeling that you can reinvent and truly find yourself. There were many memorable moments during my time abroad but, if I had to pick a few, it would be the one Euro train tickets that I was able to get to travel to towns all around Toulouse, travelling across Europe, experiencing cultural events where I was able to taste wine and cheese from all across the region and I even visited my first rugby match in Toulouse stadium and it was just amazing.
What knowledge and insight did you gain to help your career?
While I’m still studying, I can definitely say that I improved my transferrable work skills through working in hospitality in Toulouse where I learned a completely different work culture and definitely gained resilience to adapt to new situations. Working abroad, it really made me consider working in different countries in the future as well. So, I think that it has widened my choices for the future.
How was your time abroad different to what you had imagined?
One thing I discovered was that it’s definitely not lying when it’s said that France loves its paperwork. Bureaucracy is definitely a thing, however, I quickly adapted to it and realised that as long as you work with it and not against it, you’ll be fine. And I learned how resilient I am as an individual through all the processes and all the procedures that I had to go through. My year abroad was, honestly, better than I had imagined. Although time flew by, I spent it with friends, volunteering with the SN and ‘Les Piafs de la Rue’, helping homeless people and really just getting out and exploring the city and seeing what Toulouse had to offer.
How did you meet people?
I chose to live in student accommodation where I was immersed in the student experience and I made many new friends and met so many new people and I learned, really, a lot of things about different cultures. Through my volunteering role, I met and made really close friends, all of whom were international students just like me. The people that I met really inspired me as they were just themselves. They were educated in different countries, knew many more languages than me and they just had a really relaxed attitude about travelling and living in Europe that really inspired me.
In what ways has the experience built your confidence?
Through my experience, my confidence has really grown. Where I would have said “no” to an opportunity in the past, now I say, “why not?” I know I’ve really grown in myself and believe my outlook on life has definitely changed.
What advice do you have for fellow students who want to experience a similar time abroad?
The advice I would give is to really do your research beforehand and that going solo can be daunting but it’s really well worth it. And I would say to take every opportunity as it comes as the year is so incredibly short, to connect with people, and just have fun.
In what way do you feel you made a difference in your time abroad?
I feel that I made a difference through the friendships I made with others, being there for people when they needed it most and through helping the local homeless charities in my time volunteering; I found it was very rewarding.
What skills have benefited you the most?
The skills that would have benefitted me most is that I’m a people person. I love to communicate with others; I find it easy to make friends. I’m adaptable to new situations in the university and work and I found that having a sense of adventure really helped.
What’s the one thing you will never forget about your time abroad?
One thing I’d love to forget about my time abroad are all those mosquito bites but one thing I’d certainly remember are all the friendships that I made and how they helped me grow as a person. I would definitely recommend taking a year abroad or a Global Opportunity to any student studying at Queen’s.
Every year over 900 Queen’s students take the opportunity to go outside Northern Ireland to study or gain work-related experience. Daniella Timperley, a Queen’s Broadcast Production studentis one of them. Read how they got on..
What was your highlight of your time abroad?
I think the part of the experience that will stay with me the longest would be the community aspect of student life on campus. There was always something going on in campus mall, such as food trucks, volleyball tournaments and even an international DJ came to play a concert for the students. Another part of the community aspect would be sports events, which was one of the parts of American college that I was most excited about. I think I went to almost every basketball, baseball, soccer match there was to support friends and just go with friends on the weekend for fun.
What knowledge and insight did you gain to help your career?
I feel so much more informed about business as I’m a broadcast production student at Queen’s University in Belfast. So, taking all business classes was something I had to adapt to and it was very, very different for me. I got the opportunity to take public speaking, communication classes, marketing classes, survey of management and it was really, really interesting and I feel like I can take that business knowledge with me in the future. I just loved having the opportunity to take classes that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to take at home.
Which of your skills did you use the most?
A skill I used the most was probably listening. I learned a lot about issues in America just from living there such as gun violence, racism and healthcare. I also learned a lot just from talking to my American friends and how their experiences differed from state to state. And it was really, really interesting and really eye-opening for me.
How was your time abroad different to what you had imagined?
I never imagined I would be struggling to adapt to food in the United States, but I really, really struggled with this for the first couple of months. I wasn’t expecting food to be an issue, I always imagined food in America, to be way, way, way better than home, but I eventually was able to overcome this issue with friends cooking me their home cooked meals and driving me to Walmart for groceries.
What were the people you met like?
I met so many great people during my time abroad. I met people from not only the United States, but from the Bahamas, France, Costa Rica, Haiti and Malaysia. I loved how all of them were so proud of their cultures and wanted to cook us meals from their home country. Even the first friend I met at the University brought me home to her island in the Bahamas and brought me to family get-togethers and give me a tour of her Island, Nassau.
In what ways did the people you met inspire you?
The people I met really inspired me to learn more about other cultures, because this is one of the things I enjoyed most about my study abroad. I just like trying new foods, hearing stories about myths and legends, and I want to go and visit more of their countries, this inspiration kind of started when I met my friends, but I was even more inspired after my trip to the Bahamas. I didn’t stay in a five-star Resort. I stayed in their homes, learning about the real bohemian experience.
In what ways has the experience built your confidence?
I overcame self doubt by sticking with it and not jumping on a plane to come home if I was having a rough couple of days. I became a lot more confident in myself. Before I thought I didn’t like change even though I’m an extremely ambitious person. But I found out that I really enjoyed the independence that came along with studying abroad and meeting new people.
Maisie Linford, MA Media and Broadcast Production student joined our Future-Ready Skills for Leaders Global Leadership Programme in Toronto. Here are her ten takeaways.
I was among the 25 QUB students across all subjects from first year to PhD who travelled to Toronto for the Global Leadership Programme (now Future-Skills for Leaders: Go Global). We explored the city, networked with businesses and pitched a smart solution on return to Belfast.
Toronto is known as the city of Immigrants. Over 50% of the cities residents are born outside of Canada. Being such a diverse city means that it’s also open to change and as the site for Alphabet’s proposed first Smart city it was the perfect place for us to learn about leadership and smart city solutions. I can’t cover everything in one post, but here are the top 10 things I learned on the programme.
Lesson 1: How to use Design Thinking
Our learning actually began well before we’d even arrived in Toronto, with intensive training on Design Thinking. We were put into teams with people who thought differently based on personality tests and given the challenge ‘How might Smart Cities solve 21st Century problems?’ Using all of the phases of design thinking we found real problems facing Belfast and devised a concept that would use new technology to find a solution.
Lesson 2 : What makes a Smart City
On our first day of business meetings in Toronto we went to the Sidewalk labs office to learn from legal, policy, strategy and outreach professionals at the Alphabet company. We got a real sense of what Sidewalk Labs wants to achieve in creating a smart city in Toronto and the role design thinking played in coming up with smart solutions. They also shared how they’re dealing with media challenges around data and privacy and the strategy for getting approval from the council.
Lesson 3: Diversity of thought is important
City of Toronto officials gave us an insight into their strategy on smart cities. The representatives emphasised the importance of diversity of thought in public planning and commended the group on the range of ideas we shared with them. It was really interesting to gain both sides of the perspective on city planning from a private and public policy perspective.
Lesson 4: There are lots of ways to be a strong leader
We continued to develop our smart city solutions and learned about the ways AI can influence business strategy, gaining further insight into the different strategies to being a strong leader from Brian McKenna, Linda Blair and Raman Rai, who shared the different approaches to leadership. This session completely changed my understanding of business strategy and leadership, making me feel more confident about the corporate environment and the different ways you can show leadership. I feel more knowledgeable and open to different career paths thanks to the insights shared.
Lesson 5: Leaders need to keep learning
We learned more about how Artificial Intelligence works at Element AI, who shared that although AI is a significant market force it’s not too late to learn and get involved. If you are studying French, Computer Science or Media Production (like me) it’s worthwhile to learn more about how AI works and is changing all industries. We continued to develop our smart solutions, thinking more specifically about the ways artificial intelligence could and is being used.
Lesson 6 : Leaders should listen
John Speers, Managing Director at Bank of Montreal gave us a crash course on how financial services work and an insight into the trading floor. His key lesson was that leaders need to be able to listen. In finance that may be listening to what is happening with the markets, what your manager or your client needs. This works across all sectors, the better we are at listening the more effective we will be.
Lesson 7: Networking is another place to learn
At networking events I met people working in all sectors in Toronto including programming, the Toronto Film Festival, EY and diplomats. This wasn’t just a way to get business cards. It was a chance to meet new people who could give insight into leadership, business and innovation. I also got to know the other people on the Global Leadership Programme and fellow young leaders from Canada who were starting their own social enterprises and could share their experience.
Lesson 8: Do what you love, where you belong
David Walmsley, Editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail explained the importance of finding the right fit for you. He always knew he wanted to be a journalist, but it took a while before he found an organisation that was a perfect fit. He shared the importance of liking the people that you work with. I was most looking forward to this visit, as my course specialises in broadcast journalism but was most engaged by the interest of students from other disciplines; such as astrophysics that could challenge David on the changing media landscape and role of AI in the future of journalism, which makes finding a place you belong to as a journalist all the more important.
Lesson 9: How to pitch an idea
Returning to Belfast we continued to refine a smart city solution and honed our respective pitches, which we delivered to an expert panel at Ormeau Baths, Belfast’s innovation hub. In my team we had developed an app that could connect homeless charities in Belfast and be uploaded onto the new pulse smart hubs. I was nervous during the pitch but tried to stay focused and got positive feedback so feel more confident pitching in the future. The response we had has led to continued conversations with EY on making these projects a reality and continuing to be involved with conversations at home that shape Belfast as a smart city.
Lesson 10: Leaders support each other
The greatest lesson is from all the fellow global leaders on the programme. Whether they were studying law, medicine, business management or computer science everyone in this talented group changed my way of thinking about leadership. It’s not a matter of being the loudest or most confident person in the room. By being open to all of these lessons, leaders in our own field and supporting each other we learned how to be leaders. I have made great friends on this trip with people I would never normally come into contact with and I look forward to seeing the great things they all achieve in the future.
Find out more about the programme go.qub.ac.uk/careersprogrammes
Queen’s Dentistry graduate, Leo Sims travelled to Kathmandu in Nepal on a three-week dentistry elective during his fourth year to see the differences between healthcare in the UK and the developing world.
I chose to study at Queen’s University Belfast because it’s part of the Russell Group of universities with high research intensity.
Furthermore, they’re also well-known for their dentistry course and they have a large international student community, which adds to the vibrancy of the student life!
Student life at Queen’s
My five years at QUB were amazing. I had the opportunity to get involved with different roles and responsibilities within clubs and societies – where I made friends for life.
I particularly enjoyed my time when I was President of the International Student’s Society where I worked with people from all walks of life and provided a home away from home for fellow international students in Belfast.
Finding the right placement
I undertook my placement during my summer holiday at the end of my fourth year. My international elective was not a compulsory component of my dental course, but my clinical tutors provided me with advice on how to organise it.
I chose Nepal as the destination for my dental elective due to its unique blend of South Asian and East Asian culture, its geographical beauty and the positive feedback I’d received from friends who had been there before. I thought it would be an eye-opening experience and it turned out to be more than that – it was an adventure of a lifetime.
Over the two weeks, I was given the opportunity to experience different departments (endodontics, restorative, periodontics and orthodontics) in the teaching hospital, as well as the chance to attend some lectures for the Nepali first-year dental students.
There was a walk-in clinic where patients would be assessed and subsequently given immediate treatment or further appointments depending on availability.
Most practitioners were trained in English hence it was not uncommon for them to use a mixture of Nepali and English when explaining procedures and treatments to patients.
To my surprise, for a hospital service, they put a lot of effort into saving a tooth, encouraging patients who have irreversible pulpitis to undergo root canal treatment. I had previously experienced a dental service in a hospital back in Malaysia, where extraction is the norm and the preferred option among patients.
Challenges in the developing world
While we often try to emulate the best clinical practice according to the latest literature, the lack of resources can prove to be a big hurdle in the developing world.
Disposable consumables and equipment are kept to a bare minimum. Burs, dental probes, dental mirrors and forceps were immersed in disinfectant and washed with soap water before being reused.
There was also limited restorative options – selection of composite shade was restricted to whichever was available at the time, a lack of disposable composite capsules meant it had to be scooped out from a common dispenser for all patients, a lack of matrix bands, transparent strips and finishing burs (only diamond burs were available in the clinic).
During my elective, there was a patient who presented with a class II cavity and required composite restoration. ‘Matrix band and wooden wedges in?’, I asked. The dentist whom I was shadowing at that time, told me ‘Yes we would use them, if we had them’, before proceeding to pack the restoration free-hand.
Insights from practicing in another country
I noticed that orthodontics in Nepal was very technical and particular when it came to measurements. Incisal length at smile, vertical and horizontal facial height, and the length between pupil were all measured and noted. Taking orthopantomogram and lateral cephalometric radiograph for angle measurement was part of the protocol for all cases.
For endodontics, due to the lack of resources, rubber dams and rotary instruments were not readily available. Sodium chloride irrigant and stainless steel hand files were used instead.
In Nepal, unlike the increasingly litigious society in the developed world, patient compliance was simply beyond exceptional. Local anaesthetics were not normally given for restorative and endodontic treatment as they were usually reserved for more invasive procedures such as an extraction (and only a minimal volume was given in these cases). Their pain tolerance certainly deserves credit.
Exploring the country
I did some exploring around Kathmandu during my free time and visited the main attractions including the Swayambhunath temple, Thamel region, and Durbar square. What’s better than having a pint while enjoying the majestic sight of Boudhanath temple at night?
Over the weekend, myself and the others from the Work the World house went to Pokhara on a 7-hour bus journey which was definitely worthwhile. A highlight of the trip was paragliding over Phewa Lake at an altitude of 2500 meters whilst indulging in the lush greenery of the landscape.
Memories to last a lifetime
My two weeks in Nepal was an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate we are compared to other developing nations – what presents to us as an essential may well be a luxury to others.
My experience made me realize how fortunate we are to have vast amounts of resources available when providing care in a secondary setting compared to a developing country. It was definitely an eye-opening experience to shadow different complex treatments being carried out in Kathmandu.
For a future dental practitioner, it is definitely worth taking an overseas dental elective before graduating, it’s a trip you’ll remember for life.
Landing a graduate role
Since graduation, I’ve worked as a foundation dentist based in Berkshire. Compared to previous years, my cohort had less clinical experience due to Covid-19 forcing my final year of dental school to end prematurely.
It was a very steep learning curve in the beginning but I would say it is the year I’ve progressed the most in dentistry thus far.
My experience overseas with Work the World added a different perspective of how dental care is provided in another country. I learnt a lot of transferable skills from my experience, such as communication and adaptability. It has helped with transitioning into different working environments and making the best out of them.
In the future, I hope to undertake further training in restorative dentistry but life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you will get!
Work the World specialise in creating overseas dentistry electives in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Their destinations provide eye-opening insight into the challenges associated with delivering healthcare in the developing world.
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 20 and Nov 3
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:
Who’s ready to shake off 2020? You can start planning the 2021 you deserve at Go Global Week from 12-15 October. Culminating in the virtual Go Global Fair on 14 October, this is your chance to chat to organisations that can offer you an experience of a lifetime to study, work or volunteer abroad during your degree. Here is just a snapshot of some of the organisations you can meet.
Are you a science, engineering, technology or applied arts student? From electronics in Japan to earthquake detection technology in Colombia, an IAESTE placement is a guaranteed way to boost your career.
As recruiter Jordan Hendricks recently told us at an Employer Panel: “Our graduate recruits have gone to New York, London, Australia, Munich – you can go anywhere where we have clients. There is a big social aspect to it as well.”