I’m in my mid-twenties, so it’s safe to say I haven’t made many life-changing decisions. However, studying in the US is the best one I’ve made. Without a doubt. Sure, there are plenty of posts out there citing the reasons why studying abroad is beneficial, but I wanted to add more of a personal spin to the topic. Below you’ll find my reflections on studying abroad, the background to my decision and a Brit’s insight on attending campus in the US. Let’s go!
The experience gave me better insight into what I was studying. Since I was a teen, I knew I wanted to study American Law, Literature & History so what better way to understand my course content than having first-hand accounts of the topics covered in class? I credit my time in the US for giving my papers and dissertations an edge. Since then, I’ve graduated with a Masters in American Legal Practise and a Bachelors in American Studies and Spanish.
I met people who are now my best friends. This may sound mega cheesy but for this reason alone, my memories of UMass were unforgettable. I find Americans to be much more open in comparison to Brits, which meant making connections with everyone was incredibly smooth. 5 years later and I still regularly speak with people who shared a dorm with me. Yes, you could argue that any student tends to form friendships-for-life during university years but for me, I seemed to gel more quickly with students at UMass than I did with students in the UK.
I wasn’t spending too much more than what I would in the UK. One misconception about studying in the US is that living costs will go through the roof. I can’t speak on behalf of everyone but personally, a standard yearly student loan from the UK was enough to fund my time. Some students, who were also from the UK, took up part-time jobs which aligned with visa requirements so that was always an option if I felt I was running out of money. I didn’t need to worry too much about food, as I paid in bulk at the start of the academic year. The same goes for my accommodation.
The logistics of meeting my online best friend were easier. I wrote a post about how I met my online best friend in Arkansas, which I’ll link for you, but in summary, travelling to Arkansas from Massachusetts was a lot more reasonable than travelling from London.
I picked up a new skill which I couldn’t find in the UK. One of my electives at UMass was Catalan. Yup, really. I was so surprised to see this language being taught at Amherst so absolutely jumped at the chance to put my name down, as I visit Catalunya frequently. To my knowledge, none of the UK universities I visited had even acknowledged the language. It turned out to be one of my favourite modules, both for content and for classmates.
Studying abroad enriched my CV. So far, every interviewer I’ve ever had has asked me to expand on my time abroad in the US. Naively, I assumed it was because employers wanted to hear about my stories in the US (lol), but I swiftly found out it was due to transferable skills gained from abroad. Adaptability was a big one for me.
Now, What About UMass?
Where I stayed:
Before I selected my room at UMass Amherst, I came across an extensive language program held in one of the accommodations. Thatcher Halls. As someone who enjoys speaking other languages, I was keen to sign up. This meant I was automatically assigned a room on the Spanish-speaking floor. The actual dorm is located in a quieter area of campus but this didn’t bother me too much, as everywhere I needed to go was within walking distance.
How I got around without a car:
There was no way I would even attempt driving in the US, with a British license, so relied on the local buses. UMass has a few taking you around campus, driven by students. It’s also worth knowing you can grab a ‘Peter Pan’ bus to head to Logan Airport directly from campus. In fact, this is your only real option if you need to go between the two spots. Be warned though, there aren’t any night buses. I know this all too well, as I’ve had to stay overnight at the airport many times. Oops.
Where I went for leisure:
Downtown Amherst was where I went to unwind. You could find me at ‘Glazed’ for doughnuts all the time. I was virtually sold on the fact there were vegan options here, and trust me guys they didn’t even taste vegan. I couldn’t tell the difference between regular doughnuts and the vegan-friendly ones so that’s a good sign, right? I’d also recommend checking out ‘Pasta E Basta’ for the most sensational Italian food and ‘Monkey Bar’ for dancing into the early morning. The closest supermarket, Big Y, is about ten minutes from campus and can be found directly on a bus route. A little further, you’ll get to various fast-food spots and Hampshire Mall, which holds ‘Target’. For those of you who don’t know, it’s essentially like ‘Tesco’ in the UK.
Things I wish I knew before studying in the US:
If you need a Sim card for your phone, consider using AT&T network. I found them to be one of the few companies to function with phones from outside the US. Speaking of cards, if you have a ‘Barclays’ account in the United Kingdom, open up a bank account with ‘Bank of America’. I wasn’t charged for withdrawals from my British card, which was useful as Amherst didn’t have any places to exchange foreign currency in cash. Finally, take digestion tablets with you. Seriously. Some of my friends and I suffered from intolerances due to levels of artificial foods. Yikes. This was actually the only downside to my time in the US, as I was in and out of the doctors for sickness. Having said that, studying abroad was still the best decision I’ve made. I’d be back in a heartbeat if I could do it all over again!
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post, which will be on comparisons between student life in the UK and USA. Yes I’m no longer a student, but I sure do have some stories for you.
Until then, see you in the next post!