Studying in 'the land of opportunity'
Why did you decide to study abroad at the University of Texas?
I can’t say for certain why, but as soon as I heard the opportunity existed, I became set on going abroad. It may have been the weather, the sense of adventure, and I suppose the permanent fascination I’ve had with America, a country which remains slightly unknowable despite always trickling into our culture.
What were your studies like?
At the University of Texas, my usual subject area 'Politics' became 'Government', which meant that rather than studying modules around tricky theoretical or epistemological questions, I instead focused on what you could call the raw stuff of statecraft: lawmaking, economics and data analysis. I also had the privilege of exploring outside my field and took perhaps my favourite classes in Latin and Spanish.
What did you get up to in your spare time?
Once the term started, I quickly realised just how great an emphasis the Americans placed on homework. I never did anything as comprehensive as the essays I was writing at Sheffield, but managing the slow drip of weekly assignments meant I wasn't able to get as involved in university life outside the classroom as I'd have liked. I did, however, have fun where I could, and alongside the many friends I made, both Americans and fellow exchange students, I stole the odd weekend to go shooting or hiking or kayaking down the Colorado River. I also had the opportunity to travel, and over Christmas I bused from New York to Georgia, stopping in a few grand (and a couple not so grand) cities along the way.
How do you think this experience will benefit you in the future?
I’ve thought of doing postgraduate study in America, and my experience abroad helped put into perspective what a decision of that magnitude would be like, for better and for worse. I was surprised by how well I coped being away from my family and my old school friends, how well I adapted to a (mostly) foreign environment without the kind of safety net I’d expect at home. On the other hand I returned generally less enchanted with the American way of life. I’ve also resolved to never spend another Summer in a place with regular 40 ° weather – you’d be surprised by how much you miss the rain.
It did, though, afford me the time and the space to skill up in areas I otherwise wouldn’t. I’m planning to apply for Master’s courses with a focus on development and modern Chinese politics, to which end the language and analytical skills I’ve learned in my time abroad have become fairly indispensable.
Peter's top tips for studying in America:
- Bring some local currency with you; opening a bank account can take longer than you think.
- Don’t pack too much; you’d be surprised by how much you accumulate during your time abroad, and you’ll be stuck paying the baggage fees on the way back.
- Reach out to other exchange students; some of the best friends I made were those studying abroad. It’ll give you a great base of people to talk to who are going through similar experiences to yourself.
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