​My year as a US college Student

​Who are you and where do you come from?

My name is Nicky Butler and I am the Country Manager at MyEducation (UK). I grew up in Surrey in the UK and I now live in Hampshire. Since leaving school I have been lucky enough to live in the USA and also Australia and it is my travels overseas which inspired me to work in the exchange industry and encourage other students to travel the world.

What made you do a year abroad?

I completed a year abroad to the USA during the second year of my university degree. My UK based university offered some students the chance to travel to the USA for one year and attend a college. I studied History and Politics at university and I had a real passion for American history and politics, with a focus on the 20th century. When the opportunity was offered to me to travel to the USA I couldn’t say no, because the time overseas would allow me to study a broader spectrum of subjects and I would also be lucky enough to study in the country where it all happened.

​I went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) which is about 90 minutes inland from Boston in a rural area. The campus has almost 30,000 students enrolled there and we were spread across a beautiful area of land, near the little town of Amherst. I went from a campus university in the UK to a campus university in the USA but the size was very different and everything felt bigger and was much more self-contained and the students were catered for really well.

While at UMass I studied for two semesters and completed 10 different units across the year. I didn’t get to choose all of my classes because there were mandatory classes I had to take in order to meet the academic requirements for my UK degree. However, my other UK exchange friends were able to study anything they wanted and they had such a variety of subjects to choose from. They all really enjoyed the opportunity to study subjects that were unrelated to their chosen degree, which they would not have been able to do in the UK. I enjoyed the classes so much and each class had a different style. Some were large lectures while others were small discussion groups and others had a more formal classroom style of teaching. Grades were assessed by exams, both written and multiple choice, by essay writing, attendance and even by participation or a presentation. It was all quite different to the style I was used to at home.

What did you do out side of study?

​On the campus there was a lot to do. I made many friends from the dorms that I lived in and also from the sports and clubs I joined. Many of my friends were other exchange students (both foreign and American) and we all mixed together really well and formed a little family. I joined a choir and a softball team (but we were terrible), I also joined one of the campus gyms. At weekends we would always go to some form of sports game and the atmosphere was incredible. I have to say that I did enjoy the American football games but I never lasted for

the full 2-3 hour game. I preferred the half time show! I loved Ice hockey and also watched a lot of Basketball games. The stadiums and sports facilities were fantastic and I have never seen anything of that scale and quality at a UK university.​

During weekends and term breaks we also took the chance to travel. We often hopped on the Greyhound bus and went to Boston for shopping and sightseeing. My friends and I also went to Montreal, Martha’s Vineyard and New York. I joined the Ski Club and went to Québec and during Spring Break we went to the Bahamas. I was also invited to spend Thanksgiving with my American friend’s family so it was great to experience Thanksgiving with a ‘native’.

​Describe your overall experience?

Having lived away from home during my GAP year I had a good understanding of what being overseas would be like so I found it quite easy to settle into life in the USA. UMass presented so many opportunities to keep me busy and I met so many wonderful people that there was no time to be bored. The staff at the International office were really helpful and guided us through the arrival and enrolment process. They were friendly and welcoming which made the first few weeks really simple. The campus facilities were excellent and the teachers were so kind and helpful and knowledgeable. It was a little overwhelming to be on such a large campus but I got used to it quite quickly.

​The food that was included in my accommodation package was excellent. It was not surprising that so many freshmen students put on weight after joining university because there was so much choice of food. It was a common thing for freshmen (first years) to succumb to the Freshman Fifteen, which referred to the pounds that they gained in their first year. There were several canteens across campus as well as cafes and restaurants that we had access to. For breakfast you could have continental or full cooked breakfast or an omelette that was cooked to order or choose from a full fruit salad bar and much more. Lunch and dinner ranged from a full salad bar to burgers, to made-to-order sandwiches or ice cream. You could eat as much or as little as you wanted. It was great!

Did the experience change you?

The experience definitely changed me because I grew up during the year and had much more confidence about myself and my abilities. I developed some strong friendships and saw some wonderful places and I even survived sharing a room with a room-mate which was a difficult because sharing your personal area with anyone can be testing at times!

I am pleased that I took advantage of both the educational and travel opportunities that were available to me. I was also lucky enough to make the most of my visa and work during the summer in Hawaii.* I was a scuba diving instructor for 4 months during the holidays and it was just the most incredible opportunity and it topped off one of the most memorable and fun years of my life.

When I returned to the UK I had a definite focus about the subjects I wanted to study in my final year and I also had a better idea of what I wanted to do at the end of my degree. I was more focused and driven than I had been before the exchange and I was excited to take on new opportunities either in the UK or overseas.

I highly recommend that students take the opportunity to travel and seek education and work opportunities in a foreign country (as my choice of career confirms!) I know that my time in the USA was significant in making me the person that I am today and I am so grateful to have had the chance to study in the USA.

*Please note that the visa rules have now changed and students can no longer work off campus during their summer holiday.

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