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‘Should I stay or should I go?’ Year abroad dilemmas

ByTamani Jayasinghe

Sep 23, 2014
image courtesy of on the danforth

With the start of each new year at The University of Edinburgh comes a wave of new students to the city. While many of the unfamiliar faces belong to first year students, the university draws visiting students from international partners around the world. The appeal of spending a semester or even a full year in Edinburgh is clear – but what is there to be said about leaving?

Full-time students have a variety of options when it comes going abroad, whether it be through a traditional third-year international exchange or with the Erasmus program. How are students to choose from over 40 of the international partnering institutions?

Many who choose to go abroad feel drawn to a certain country or region, and then choose the aligning institution. Mikhia Clarke-Wills, a fourth year Philosophy student who has just returned from a year’s exchange at the University of British Columbia in Canada, based her decision on the city of Vancouver itself.

She said: “I went to the study abroad fair in my first year and liked the sound of the lifestyle [in Vancouver], mostly the mixture between the city and outdoors […] plus it is close to the US, so there were a lot of opportunities to travel around.”

Students will typically work with an exchange coordinator from the university’s International Office, but as each exchange partner has its own process it is up to the student to handle all applications and logistics. Before departing, students attend a pre-departure preparatory meeting with the International Office, which Clarke-Wills described as “really general, but it was helpful”. Although the office is always contactable if necessary, studying abroad is primarily a self-driven process. Theo Cadbury, a recent graduate who studied Sociology at the University of California Santa Cruz in her third year, described the support she received from the International Office as follows:

“They answered all my questions, but my Director of Studies was changed during my year abroad […] so I was left in a panic a few times about course options.”

With so many students from the University choosing to go abroad, it is not uncommon to find fellow Edinburgh students abroad at the same institution during a period of exchange. During Cadbury’s year at Santa Cruz there were “two others, but none of us had much contact with each other.” Still, any form of familiarity in a new and foreign place can prove to be a source of comfort for some students. Even when travelling to another English speaking country, it is normal to experience a culture shock. Clarke-Wills found it surprising “how difficult it was to adjust at first. Because the culture is similar [in Canada] I expected to settle right in but it took me a while to properly adjust.”

Students planning to study abroad should not only prepare themselves for a different culture, but a different academic style as well. Cadbury was pleasantly surprised not only by the “incredible openness of people” in California but also by “how much more hands-on teaching makes a difference.” Those concerned about taking degree-relevant courses should research the individual programs and course transfers; Clarke-Wills found that “of the ten I took, eight courses were directly related [to my degree].”

As international exchanges typically occur in third year, third year students who choose to remain in Edinburgh will also have to say goodbye to many of their friends. Third year English Literature student Sibylla Archdale Kalid chose not to go abroad this year, explaining: “since Edinburgh is not my home city it made sense to stay here, as this is where I’d initially chosen to spend my years at university”. She added: “I felt that I’d like to make the most of my time here and thoroughly get to know the city, as I can do as much travelling as I like after university anyway.”

Ultimately, deciding to study abroad is a personal preference with its own unique advantages and challenges. Students who have gone abroad admit it can be difficult leaving, and just as difficult readjusting upon returning. However when asked what the main disadvantage was to going abroad, Cadbury answers candidly, “genuinely, I can’t think of one.”


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