Posted by: Students Worldwide
Published on: 04/07/2021Back to Blog
In 2018 I chose to do a study abroad year in between my second and final year of
studies. I was intrigued by the opportunity to study abroad from the moment I heard
about it because I just love travelling and exploring new places, fitting for a Geography
student! However, before coming to uni I lacked independence and confidence so I
was unsure if I would really enjoy the experience or just be homesick the whole time.
I was also scared about the prospect of making friends and also what would happen
when I got back from my year abroad. This constant questioning made me think ‘I’ll
just do a semester abroad’, so I started looking at those options, however, after
speaking to students who had done a semester abroad, virtually all of them said ‘I wish
I had just done the full year abroad, just do it because you will love it that much’. After
getting that comment from so many of the older students at my university I just decided
to apply for the full year. Honestly, now I am one of those older students who would
just say don’t worry about any of those questions and just do it, you will never have an
opportunity to move to a foreign country as freely and easily as this and the experience
is so rewarding and fun.
As for why I chose Florida State and America more generally, I have always loved the
US; US culture, TV, sports, politics, food, honestly everything, so I knew the US was
where I wanted to go. Florida was a random pick from what was an extensive list of
US colleges I had never heard of. I knew Florida had nice weather, I googled the
campus and it looked beautiful and that was that. But I loved FSU, it is a great campus,
very friendly, the weather was great and as I will mention, the sports and campus life
was amazing. I made a lot of Floridian friends, but one thing I would say about FSU,
at least when I went, is that there are a lot of exchange students which makes it easy
to make friends who relate to you and understand your experiences, they really share
the highs and lows with you and I loved having that group of friends around me.
It is important to note that study abroad is a really good life experience, but at the end
of the day you are there to study and it has to contribute something to your degree.
Studying in the US is completely different to the UK university system, but a change
that I really enjoyed and that challenged me at the same time. Where in the UK you
choose your degree and often have core modules or a very few select modules to pick
from, in the US I was able to pick all my classes as long as 50% related to the degree
I study. At Sussex I studied Geography and International Development, but at Florida
State I was able to pick virtually anything from biology to music. I personally have an
interest in US politics (one of the many reasons I chose the US for my year abroad)
and so I picked modules in International Relations, Terrorism, US Foreign Policy and
Political Geography amongst many others.
As for assessments, I would say the American system demands more in terms of
workload, in some classes you might be doing weekly pop quizzes, in others there
might be presentations or simulations. The main difference for me was the midterms
and finals. In Sussex, and in most UK universities I expect, my course is primarily
assessed through essays and long academic pieces of writing at the end of every
module and very occasionally a shorter essay in the middle of the term. However, in
the US all my classes had a ‘midterm’ test in the middle of the semester, and then a
final at the end. These tests were pretty much all multiple choice. The work was just
as challenging as my studies in the UK, but this type of assessment asked much more
of you, requiring you to know the whole syllabus rather than one essay topic.
Nonetheless I actually enjoyed this type of assessment and I really did feel like I was
learning things and using all the knowledge I had gained.
One of the main reasons I picked the US in general, and Florida State specifically, was
because I really wanted to get the ‘college experience’. I’d seen so much in films and
TV shows and I wanted to experience that myself, and it did not disappoint.
I lived on campus in a dorm for the whole year, I really wanted to immerse myself into
the US experience and also wanted to be as close to everything as I could be, so to
me it made the most sense. The dorm experience was interesting, I did have an
American roommate in my first semester and in my second semester one of my friends
from the UK on a similar exchange programme moved in. The roommate experience
is different, especially having not ever had a roommate before, but it was the
experience I was after, I was never lonely, had easy access to everything on campus,
there was constant support and always some dorm activity going on which meant I
was never really bored.
Another typical US college experience I wanted, and something that specifically
attracted me to FSU, was the sports culture. I love sports, playing sports and watching
live sport, and I loved the American college sport. The football atmosphere was like
something I have never experienced before, everyone gets so into it, so passionate
and is so proud to support their school, even if they do loose most games! The
basketball season was just as spectacular and an atmosphere and crowd turnout that
you wouldn’t even get at most elite level games in the UK. Other sports I watched
included women’s soccer, tennis and baseball. Sports is a huge part of the college
experience and I encourage anyone going to the US on a year abroad to go to the
events even if you don’t like sport! As for participating in sport, the opportunities are
endless; I tried out rowing, swimming, running and it was so easy to get involved and
participate in something different that you’ve never tried before.
The US college experience is so expensive, especially domestically for US citizens,
so there are a lot of freebies you get included as part of your experience. At FSU this
included free tickets to all the sports games that I mentioned, a free gym membership
to the biggest gym I have ever seen which had a running track and a pool inside of it,
a free cinema on campus, a free circus on campus (FSU is one of just two US colleges
to have an on campus circus), free entry to a beautiful lake which had paddle-boarding,
canoeing and kayaking, and the list could go on. In short, US college can be expensive
but there are some great perks and all the free experiences and events kept me busy
One of the best perks of studying abroad anywhere are the opportunities for travel.
The holidays between semesters, or the mid-term holidays or long weekends were
pretty generous and gave ample opportunity to travel. Some of the breaks included
thanksgiving, labour day weekend, spring break and then the really early finish of US
college gives you a great chance for some summer travel. I got to go to some of my
dream destinations in the US including Miami, Washington DC, Chicago and San
Travelling the US can be super expensive, but there is no better time to do
it than when you actually live there, internal flights are significantly cheaper and so
easy to navigate. I travelled with a lot of my friends that I met who were also on
exchange programmes who were just as excited to explore the US as I was and I
would recommend to anyone going on a year abroad in any country to explore where
you are, use that opportunity to travel as much as you can.
Credit – Elizabeth Alexander