Jasper Watkins explores the differences between life in the UK and the US, and how his time abroad has made him appreciate what makes us unique.
When trying to decide on an undergraduate programme to enrol it, following my gap year after college, I struggled to find a unique aspect of any of the courses that I was coming across that would broaden my horizons in the way that I hoped that my university experience could. It was only once I’d came across the School of English, Drama and Creative Studies at the University of Birmingham that I started to truly become excited and passionate about the prospect of studying again. The main and most drawing aspect was the opportunity to study abroad in North America that was guaranteed by the course. This was largely due to my desire to experience a different culture and expand my understanding of North America beyond the lens of a U.K. resident and deepen my knowledge and connection to a more personal level.
I applied to several universities along the East coast, but ended up at Willamette University in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and my initial reaction was that I hadn’t been allocated a location that I thought I had preferred, but now I am here and at the end of my first semester, I see how wrong I was to have thought my experience wouldn’t be anything like I had desired.
Arriving in the States provided me with an immediate challenge of integrating. I think it is a common perception of America that because the language is the same, the cultural and social experience may be similar. In reality, I have never felt so far removed from life in England. The process of socially acclimatising, beyond just the time difference, was probably the biggest challenge I faced. The cultural expectations of those in American society differ hugely from those in the U.K. These vary from shop etiquette, to interpersonal interactions, and the process of delivering your studies to and from your professors and peers. The best thing about this fact was that the University here are aware of this struggle for incoming international students and as a result have an excellent induction programme for us to become acquainted with each other, the campus, and the wider area.
One of the best things about living and studying in Oregon is that you are never far from breath-taking natural scenery, even when you are in the library. I have gone on hikes to the Columbia River Gorge as well as venturing into Portland for a more big-city experience. That’s the beauty of the United States, in that every kind of experience is usually within reaching distance. Later in the year I will be going to San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York City on flights that do not cost much more than some train journeys in England!
The most memorable experience I have had so far on my year abroad is not only the scenic hikes and ventures into beautiful Oregon landscapes, but also the friends I have made and experienced these things with. The intimacy of the University I am at has allowed to create bonds and friendships that I believe will genuinely be for life, even once I have returned to England. I would seriously encourage everybody to take part in the study abroad programme if they can and immerse themselves in a country that is unfamiliar to them as, even if it initially seems like big leap, the relationships you will build and experiences you have will change you as a person forever.
My year abroad so far has exposed me to so many different types of people, with belief systems and cultural norms that, whilst are different from my own, have allowed me to view the world and those in it in a different way. Furthermore, the mode of teaching and study that is employed here in the U.S. varies hugely from our experience in the U.K., and has allowed me to get much closer to the content and have a much more intimate academic experience as Willamette is a University of only about 2000 undergraduate students, resulting in small class sizes and often closer relationships with professors. This has changed me as an academic as I now feel like I have the tools to succeed in a way I wouldn’t have before when I return to Birmingham for my final year as an undergraduate.
Blog post written by: Jasper Watkin