Student life: why I wish I'd studied abroadNews 28.11.2013
In my university grounds there is a hall nicknamed America Hall. Almost all those who room there, share kitchens with at least two American associate students who come for a term – ‘semester’ – and then vanish at Christmas. America Hall is in a permanent state of flux.
In my first year, one of my closest friends was from America. We taught her the rules of hockey; she gave us beer pong. A history major from the University of Miami, she now studies at George Washington Law School. No doubt her, albeit brief, visit to a good University of London college was beneficial on her application to a Law School that undoubtedly receives thousands of applications a year.
Last week, usual agitator of much student grief, David Willetts, is pro-youth experience. In his piece for The Telegraph he details how in 2011/2012, 16,000 US students came to universities in Britain. The number of Brits that went expatriate pales in insignificance at 9,000. He argues that those "who decide to study abroad are embarking on an adventure that could transform their lives": enriched by the experience that studies in a foreign country provide. He’s right.
If university aids independent exploration then we should not be narrow-minded or scared about going abroad. For non-language students who would ordinarily miss this opportunity, it can only improve our education. It’s a bad time to be under twenty-one; we have to take every glimmer of hope offered.
Studying abroad isn’t just beneficial for our personal development, but for our future employment prospects. Employers like multi-skilled, interesting and (truthfully) well-travelled people. Of course they do. I’m not talking about your Gap Yah where you found yahself in the Andean jungle.
Studying at a brilliant red-brick in a small university town probably won’t offer that same experience. Learning in London might offer a glimpse of what international study looks like, but I doubt anything beats the real experience.
And yet I am a hypocrite; I didn’t go abroad. The option was whispered to our post-freshers’ faces, but as my peers will corroborate, it wasn’t pushed. American study, we were told, had limited places, stringent requirements and a selection process as galling as Oxbridge. And no one fancied that again.
That, and the fact that applications had to be in before Christmas. In week three away from home, that information wasn’t welcome. Most people hadn’t sobered up yet. As for European field trips, I don’t recall the world ‘Erasmus’ coming up at all.
Modern day assumptions only abet this misinformation. At eighteen, my only pro-American education ammo derived from genius friends applying to Ivy League schools and Gossip Girl. This combination conditioned a belief that private top-drawer schools – Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth – were the only ones up for grabs. I mean, you don’t hear much about Wichita State University, do you?
Though a year at Harvard will set you back $64,000, my college’s American programme promises not to bankrupt you. Somewhere in the small print it explains the loans system; approximately half the schools offered by my college are private, the others public. The concept of university privatisation is lost on me, but what I do understand is that Ivy League expenses need not apply to associate students.
David Willetts’ announcement that £800m is to be invested in a new Erasmus+ programme is great. If this is a step towards more fulfilling higher education – in some way aimed at improving graduate employment – then Willetts gets my vote. Though it’s too late for me, millions across Europe can benefit from this proposal. Sounds like a no-brainer.