Pros and Cons of Experiencing College Outside the US

Have you always wanted to study at a foreign university?  Some students choose to take on their college journey in a foreign country as an international student.

Many international students come to American universities, but we rarely hear about American students studying abroad permanently.

More recently, the economy has deterred many students from considering their study abroad options. Universities around the world suffered declining numbers of international students, like Australia who saw a 40 percent decline in 2010.

Helen Murphey, originally a Michigan resident, is a student at University of St. Andrews in Scotland where she double majors in Arabic and Social Anthropology.

“St. Andrews is composed of [about] 30 percent international students and it really shows,” Murphey said.

While Murphey notes that being abroad sometimes causes homesickness, she also recalls the many benefits she has enjoyed at a foreign university.

She is drawn to the diverse and international population as it makes for more interesting class discussions.

“I was so struck by how many languages people spoke, and the countries they have lived in. I’ve reconsidered some of my views since I came here.’

I talked with Murphey about the rewards and also negative aspects of being an international student. Murphey shares some of her experiences.

  • What is your favorite experience so far at St. Andrews? “It’s hard to narrow it down to just one experience! I guess one thing that’s very St. Andrews is staying up the entire night of April 30 with some of my best friends to jump into the freezing cold North Sea at sunrise on May 1st. It’s a St. Andrews tradition–if you step on a cobblestone with the letters PH, commemorating the martyr Patrick Hamilton, you’ll fail your exams unless you swim in the North Sea the morning of May 1st. Half the entire student body was out that morning jumping into the ocean–it was definitely something to remember! On an academic note, this year I had the chance to do a small fieldwork project from Anthropology which was really, really rewarding and a great way to put all that I’ve been learning the past couple years into practice and to prepare me for the next two years of my degree.”
  • What are some opportunities you have encountered overseas that we do not have in America? “Studying here really gives you a chance to specialize–your third and fourth years, you only take classes that are part of your major. (The first two years actually don’t count towards your degree, so you do have a chance to experiment with classes you want to take then, although you don’t have quite the range of choice you do in most U.S. schools) This system is really good if you know what you want to do, and I’m really excited about the classes I’m taking next year. My class sizes have all been really small–occasionally six person seminars–and that’s been extremely helpful. Students in Scotland also have the opportunity to write a dissertation during our final year, which I’m really looking forward to.
  • How did you adapt to language barriers, if any? “Well, my flat mates this morning were just making fun of my accent, and telling me not to corrupt my flat mate next year (who is Russian) into speaking American English, so I can’t say that there’s absolutely nothing there! Overall though, besides the occasional teasing, there haven’t been too many difficulties. I’ve definitely picked up a few Scottish words though, and I’m still working on being able to do a good Glaswegian accent on command!”
  • How well did your high school prepare you for life at a foreign university? “I think my high school did a pretty good job preparing students for a college education in general. I don’t think that the culture shock from college in the UK is too different from that which a U.S. freshman would experience. There were a few things to get used to–the grading system is different, for instance, my school uses a 20 point grading scale, the mathematical intricacies of which I don’t even fully understand–but for the most part I felt well prepared.”

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Madeline Fetchiet

Madeline Fetchiet

Madeline Fetchiet is a sophomore at Michigan State University, studying journalism and philosophy of law. Aside from reporting, Madeline enjoys tae kwon do, reading, writing, researching and traveling, and can be considered a music enthusiast. Madeline currently works as an intern for thecollegehelper.com, and is a banquet server at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor, MI. Perfecting the storytelling side of reporting is something she looks forward to in her future career as a journalist.
Madeline Fetchiet

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