There are now more opportunities to study abroad than ever before, and the programs can vary immensely. Some immerse you in a foreign language, others emphasize academic attainment and still others combine study with opportunities to travel and experience more than one country.
The benefits of spending a period of time studying in another culture are many: to see the world, experience different styles of education that will enrich your own approach, increase your career opportunities, find new interests, make new friends, become more independent and gain new interpersonal skills, to name but a few…
For those of you who don’t know me, I work for LogicPrep out of the UK, heading up our software project and working on user experience. In the UK, many universities run “visiting student programs”, where partnerships with schools in the US enable a number of students to come across the pond to study each year. There is a very wide range of programs available, covering all kinds of universities and subjects. I used to work as Communications Designer at Oxford University and so it is Oxford’s program that I know best.
Oxford is a world-renowned university made up of 38 colleges. It is known in particular for its tutorial system, where two or three students regularly meet with a tutor who is a leading specialist in his or her subject, to discuss a topic or a paper. It is this system of individualized teaching that is celebrated as it allows the student to develop valuable critical analysis skills.
Pembroke College, the college where I used to work, has a long-standing visiting student program, partnering with the following US colleges:
Bryn Mawr College
George Washington University
Illinois Wesleyan University
University of Pennsylvania
While I worked there, I met some of the visiting students and was always struck by how much they were involved in college life. They are not treated as “temporary” students in any sense, but live alongside the other undergraduates in college, taking the same classes and tutorials, using the same university libraries and having exactly the same opportunities open to them. While it takes some people a short while to adjust to the Oxford academic program, the tutors are aware of this and are on hand for help and support. Certainly all the students I met relished the challenge of academic life at Oxford and the opportunity to develop their academic abilities. Many spoke of the independent learning that they were not used to and that they had found very liberating, allowing them to return to their schools the following year with a new-found confidence. One spoke of losing his fear of papers, and how the tutorial system had helped him develop critical thinking skills. All spoke of how Oxford students know how to study hard and combine that with playing hard too; they took part in many traditional student activities such as frequenting the college bar, sports, music, theatre and also many traditional Oxford activities, such as rowing and debating.
Here are two short videos by previous students who share their impressions of the Pembroke Visiting Student Program:
At Pembroke College, visiting students must spend a full academic year studying. There are other colleges of the University of Oxford with shorter programs, and detailed information about this can be found on the university website.
So is it worth it? From my experience talking with students, all found it an incredibly enriching experience. My advice would be to find out as much as possible about the academic course offerings at the host university, since you will want to make sure that they match your interests. Of course, once you get to college, you can track down students who have participated in the program already and get advice and inside information from them.
Radcliffe camera: By Maupertius, via Wikimedia Commons
Videos courtesy of Pembroke College, Oxford