Studying abroad as part of a degree programme can be a simultaneously thrilling and daunting process. This proves to be true for the dedicated staff at Swansea University who spend their days creating links with new institutions, assisting with applications, and helping students to make the most of their experiences.
This interview with Leah Hewitt explores her experiences both as a Swansea University graduate who studied abroad as part of her degree, and a member of staff, as the Exchange and Study Abroad Co-ordinator. I first asked Leah how she became involved with the Study Abroad department;
“I spent a year studying in Canada as part of my degree. I think it was because of my year studying abroad that I could see the benefits of it. In my own experience, it really raises your confidence and pushes you out of your comfort zones. When I got back in my final year I became involved in the peer advisor scheme, supporting the next cohort of students studying abroad, and volunteering with them for a year. Following graduation, I worked in the office over the summer, after which I returned to the university to start my masters.”
Leah’s journey from student to staff member is an explicit reminder of the increased employability you can gain through partaking in a study abroad programme. Employability is heavily promoted by the university, and when I asked about the study abroad scheme’s role, Leah had this to say;
“The international experience helps set you apart from others. You will develop your independence and confidence whilst being open to trying new things, all of which are skills and experiences that employers look for. The impact is amazing.”
There are however, a few aspects of studying abroad that can be daunting, which we mainly identified as the financial cost and being so far away from your friends and family. Luckily, the price of studying abroad has quickly become more bearable to students. With the university providing a variety of bursaries to students on all kinds of programmes; including years studying abroad, or semesters learning or working in another country.
Maintaining relationships of all kinds, whilst in another country can also be an unnerving prospect.
“If you are on a four-year degree course then a year abroad means leaving behind the friends you have been with for the past two years, and coming back to them having already graduated. Additionally, you are having to make friends at your host institution and leave them after one year too. You really are throwing yourself in at the deep end.”
It is moments like this that remind you there are good and bad points to every experience, but the worth lies in the good coming out on top. For every negative there is a positive; you will make new friends from all over the world potentially, and meet people you may never have had the chance to otherwise. When a student returns from a year abroad one thing is for certain; they have some amazing stories to tell, though Leah’s has to be one of my favourites.
“Where I was studying in Canada, they had a thing for giant sculptures; there was a giant cow, a giant potato, and an enormous lobster. Obviously, at the time I thought it would be a great idea to get a photo of me sitting on this humongous lobster.”
A decision that inevitably later came back to haunt her when she started working in the office, as said photo has since been printed out and pinned above the door opposite her desk. Although it is definitely a running piece of office banter, it could also been seen as a reminder to both staff and student alike; studying abroad is an amazing, intimidating, and often bewildering experience to have, and not very easily forgotten.