Businesses Management student Rosie Alexander completed a virtual internship with Mourne Dew Distillery as part of our Working Globally from NI programme. Here is how she got on.
In June, I started a marketing internship with the local spirits company Mourne Dew. I was excited to get started as I knew the experience was going to be insightful and beneficial. As a first-year student, this opportunity has afforded me the ability to discover where my passions lie and gain experience in an area in which I have an interest.
Researching the company
Before beginning my internship, I was impressed to learn about the story of Mourne Dew and the multi-award winning gins, whiskeys, vodkas and poitíns they produce. Based in Warrenpoint, Mourne Dew is inspired by the essence of the Mournes, infusing their drinks with botanical flavours to create a unique taste. I was really interested in this company due to their values of tradition and pride for the island of Ireland, as well as their commitment to quality. Working for an up-and-coming local company interested me greatly and I was excited to be gaining some insight into the marketing side of things.
My first campaign
The majority of my internship has been remote as I live quite far from the distillery. In my first week, I was introduced to the team and learnt about the different projects Mourne Dew have been working on. I got stuck in with tasks such as finding new accounts, working on current campaigns, such as the Fathers’ Day competition and communicating with partners to help promote Mourne Dew’s products. I was especially interested in social media marketing and took charge of the LinkedIn account. This responsibility allowed me to be creative and I really enjoyed thinking up different campaigns and posts. Another task that interested me was looking into the distillery’s international presence, as they are beginning to expand into Europe, the USA and Asia. It was exciting to progress on international plans as I could see the business’ growth.
On the road
A few times I got to go on the road with Neil Fleming, the Sales and Marketing Executive. This allowed me to see how sales and distribution works and I enjoyed meeting Mourne Dew’s contacts. It was great to see the products physically and I learned so much about how a small but growing business is run. I especially enjoyed our sales pitch at the Northern Lights Bar, as I was able to find out a lot about the different types of drinks that Mourne Dew produces and what makes them so unique.
Visiting the distillery
In addition, I was able to visit the distillery itself in Warrenpoint. It was fascinating to watch the distillation process of the gins, vodkas, whiskeys and poitíns, and I loved smelling all the botanical ingredients that infuse the drinks. It was interesting to see that each batch is made by a recipe by hand, and each part of the process, from distilling to bottling and packaging, happens in the one place. It was also lovely to meet all the team, including Donal and Noel (the owners), Lydia (who does social media and photography) and Donal and Tag (who work in the production process). I also met the other intern Claire, who I had been working with remotely for 3 weeks of my internship.
An amazing insight
Working with Neil these past 4 weeks has been invaluable, and I have learned so much about both marketing and how a local distillery is run. I have thoroughly enjoyed every second of this internship and would encourage anyone considering a programme like this to go for it! It has truly solidified my future vision of working in marketing and I have made some friends and connections along the way. I have gained amazing experience and insight and will miss my time at Mourne Dew greatly.
To find more internship and work experience opportunities, visit MyFuture.
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.
Olivia Anderson, an International Business with German graduate completed a four-week internship with Queen’s International Office as part of our Working Globally from NI Internship Programme. Here is how she got on.
This summer I had the great opportunity of completing a 4-week internship with the International Office at QUB. I applied for this at the end of my final year as I wanted to gain some experience in this area over the summer before moving on from university. When I saw the opportunities available in this internship programme I wanted to apply as I thought it would be interesting to be able to work on projects with a global perspective right here from Northern Ireland.
The application process involved an application form and then a video call interview which already enabled me to develop my skills in these areas.
Although 4 weeks sounds like a very short time, and I was wondering how I would be able to get involved in projects within this timeframe, there was no need to worry. The internship was very much tailored to my interests and skills and the projects that I was involved in were genuinely interesting. I got to work on some research projects and do some competitor analysis as well as write blogs and think about how QUB is being marketed to students internationally and how this can be improved. It was so valuable to gain these skills and insights into how to carry these out and how the university attracts students from all over the world.
Working in a virtual team
I also got the opportunity to connect with two other interns who were international students from China and India, and we worked on reviewing some of the university’s marketing material together. This was great to understand each other’s perspectives on how Queen’s is perceived.
Before beginning my internship, I was unsure how it would be structured as I was working from home, however there were multiple calls per week with my supervisor with clear guidance on the projects and what they would like to be achieved by the end of the internship. This helped to clear up any questions and give some interaction where it could have been quite isolated.
What I really enjoyed about this internship programme was that the projects that were given to us were challenging enough that I was being pushed and developing new skills while also being given guidance and help and being able to change the scope of the projects along the way to suit my interests and skills.
I am so glad I got accepted to this internship programme and would encourage anyone to apply and gain some great experience over summer which you will be able to carry forward with you into your future studies and career.
Keep an eye on our events website for details of upcoming internship opportunities and funded programmes.
Daniel Tunstall, a Liberal Arts Master’s student completed a four-week summer internship with the British Council, analysing feedback and data from the International Schools Exchange Programme. Here is how he got on.
Did you know that the transferable skills gained on an Arts degree can lend themselves to a career in data analytics? Just ask Daniel Tunstall, an MA Liberal Arts student from Queen’s who recently completed a four-week summer internship with the British Council, analysing feedback and data from the International Schools Exchange Programme. His communication skills and eye for insight helped him visualise the data to uncover the story. Read his blog to find out how he got on:
What did the internship involve?
Over the course of four weeks, I have completed an internship with the British Council where I developed skills in analysing and displaying qualitative data so that it can be effectively used in the future to understand the successes and weaknesses of the programme.
What soft skills did you develop?
This internship introduced me to the processes of working within a team of a global organisation where people are focusing on different tasks and how these teams work together to ensure that all tasks are done efficiently to the required standard. This opportunity provided me with an insight into the specific skills needed to work well in a team and allowed me to develop my understanding of adaptability and resilience in collecting feedback of my work and using it to improve it and fulfil the expectations.
What practical skills did you develop?
This internship has also developed my ability to analyse data due to the requirements for me to look at the feedback for the programme and identify gaps in the data which need to be further explored in the future. Within this process, I conducted thematic analyses of the data and identified the possible improvements that could be made within the programme to ensure success in the future. Through creating two further questionnaires to collect more data, I had to use the knowledge from my analysis to isolate these improvements and allow participants the opportunity to offer recommendations.
How did the experience develop your understanding of workplace culture?
The British Council invited me to attend global events that they were holding such as Windrush Day, a celebration of immigration to Britain. By being invited to these events, I was able to understand how they host global events and the extent to which the organisation runs on an international basis.
How has the experienced influenced your future career plan?
I have thoroughly enjoyed working within this organisation as an intern because I have developed valuable skills in data collection and handling which are specific and difficult skills to develop. Furthermore, this opportunity has provided me with a unique experience into understanding how international organisations operate which will influence and impact my future decisions when it comes to employability considerations.
If you are wondering what you could do with your degree, and where your transferable skills could take you, catch up on our Industry Insight series and explore what industry are growing and how you can ride job market trends.
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!
Thinking of spending your summer at a camp in the USA? Ruairi McLarnon, BA Drama, participated in the Americamp Summer Scheme. Here are his top memories from an unforgettable summer.
THE FLIGHT AND BOSTON!
Flying to America and Arriving in Boston was one of the most unforgettable experiences! Having only met some of the people I’d be spending the summer with (who would soon be lifelong friends), there is always the fear that you are going to arrive and realise ‘oh no what have I done’ and believe me there were a few of those moments but the positives far outweigh the nerves. Arriving at our accommodation in Boston and meeting other people who would be attending the same camp and other camps was incredible. Meeting people from the rest of Ireland, Mexico, Spain, England, Greece meant you really didn’t have time to get overwhelmed!
ARRIVING AT CAMP!
After taking the bus from Boston to New Hampshire we arrived at camp! After a welcome talk in the dining Hall we were assigned our cabins. As we arrived in the evening it had gotten dark earlier than it does here, and one of my vivid memories was walking through the forest to our cabin in the pitch black, narrowly avoiding frogs and rocks. The cabin was brilliant but very rustic. No locked doors or glass in the windows just a screen to keep out the bugs, no bathroom. That night we got to know each other and meet more people who we would be working with. I distinctly remember sitting under the stars chatting with everyone!
Depending on your camp, you may have staff week which is the week before kids arrive, and you have time to settle into the camp. This was one of the best weeks of my life but also one of the hardest. You spend much of your time training in the necessary skills for camp such as first aid, and depending on your activity, lifeguarding or high ropes etc. One of the highlights of staff week is being with the most amazing people from all over the world, getting to experience Walmart for the first time, getting trips off camp to see New England and nights off where we got to visit the nearby lakes and towns! I can honestly say I have never laughed as much as in that first week!
Over your time at Camp you’ll meet so many different kids. Some of them I miss and some I don’t miss as much! My Camp had 4 sets of kids over the summer. One of my favourite experiences was with my last group of boys, the ‘Pawnee Boys’ as we were known after the name of our cabin! We would often have evening activities where we competed for ‘Monkeytown’ Money. Our cabin’s rivals were the Blackfoot cabin, who in a treasure hunt- stole our Monkeytown money and we had to devise a plan to get it back… the kids absolutely loved it especially when you really get into it.
As fun as camp was, we always looked forward to our days off each week. Our days off started from 6pm and ended at 6pm the next day so you had the whole night to have fun as well! We would often book hotel rooms that were split between us and that kept the cost down. It was always so nice being able to get dressed up before heading on your day off usually going somewhere nice for dinner. We would often go for food, shopping, the beach, drive in Movie theatres (my first experience of one was amazing) waterparks as well as taking the day to discover other states such as when I went to Maine for the day! We hadn’t anything booked we just went and hoped for the best… one of the highlights of the summer! One of my favourite places to go for days off was Weirs Beach, a lakeside beach about half an hour from camp with an Edwardian Promenade and Arcade and Ice cream!
DAY TO DAY LIFE AT CAMP!
Much of your time at camp will have a similar routine, 7:30 wakeup bell, breakfast at 8, cabin clean up until 9, activity teaching until 1, lunch, rest period, General swim, last activity, dinner, evening activity with the entire camp (treasure hunt, capture the flag, barn dance etc.) followed by Friendship Circle where the entire camp would stand in a circle and sing the Friendship circle song before ‘shower hour’ which I got a lot of stick for my Northern pronunciation of ‘shar arrr’; candle pass and then bedtime. Then we got our two glorious hours to ourselves as Counsellors.
AFTER CAMP TRAVEL!
After some very tearful goodbyes we travelled to Boston before flying to Miami, travelling up to Orlando, flying north to New York, and then heading back to Boston. These experiences are completely different to camp but equally as incredible. You will no doubt have a group of friends you have made over the camp experience that you will be travelling with so have a rough idea of each of the destinations you’ll be travelling to and your first two destinations settled. They will no doubt change as you work your way through America and meet others along the way but embrace every destination as you go along!
If you haven’t heard already, all Queen’s students are being given the opportunity to take a course at Queen’s Language Centre for free in Semester 2 – all the details including how to apply can be found here. There are so many benefits to learning a new language. Here are just seven of them.
It Boosts Your CV
Having another language is seen as a major plus by employers, particularly in today’s global job market.
2. It’s Good for the Brain
The cognitive thinking and problem-solving skills required to learn a new language rivals Sudoku when it comes to giving your brain a workout.
3. It develops a global mindset
Learning a new language gives you a greater global understanding of the world and how it works.
4 It allows you to experience other cultures
Learning a new language exposes you to new cultures. You will have the chance to see new things from a different perspective and be able to connect with people across the world. You get to learn what’s fashionable within a culture, including music, style, history and literature. This, in turn, will help you grow as a person and appreciate things that you wouldn’t have noticed before.
5 It helps you multitask
Switching between languages outs extra demands on your brain – those that can manage it are better at multitasking and managing stress.
Forget dreaming of a white Christmas, we’re dreaming of summer adventure. If you are planning ahead for 2021, come along to our USA SUMMER CAMPS – INFORMATION SESSION on 26 November to see where you could be spending a blazing hot season of lake swims, campfires and friendship.
Need some celluloid inspiration to get you in the mood? Check out our pick of the best summer camp movies to watch now. It’s amazing what a group of adventurers can achieve when they bandy together, huh?
The Parent Trap
Tiny Lindsay Lohan squared + hijinks at camp = Disney classic.
Wes Anderson + picture perfect Camp Ivanhoe = sweet ode to summer love.
Wet Hot American Summer
Bradley Cooper + Amy Poehler = satirical comedy genius.
Demi Lovato + Joe Jonas = summer of song.
Addams Family Values
Wednesday + cheery camp = her personal nightmare.
If you want to star in your own real-life summer adventure, register for our USA SUMMER CAMPS – INFORMATION SESSION on 26 November at 12pm via the link below:
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: