What do you associate with autumn? Halloween? Bonfire Night? Festive drinks appearing in coffee shops, or panic studying for fast-approaching exams? For many students, autumn is time to apply for a semester or year studying abroad. With deadlines looming, The Saint discovered what is involved in study abroad selection and why it is such a brilliant opportunity.
The University of St Andrews has a long tradition of sending students abroad. Studying abroad is an opportunity not only for students of modern languages, but also for those studying a variety of different disciplines. Students can spend time away in places like Europe or the US as well as New Zealand and China.
Students can participate in two main types of study abroad programmes: St Andrews Abroad (applications are due 11 November) and school level exchanges (applications are due 2 December).
In the first instance, students should contact their school’s study abroad coordinator before accessing the online application form under the “My Applications” tab on MySaint.
Maxime Seguin, a fourth year international relations and management student, has spent time abroad in both Paris and Singapore. He believes that communication is an essential part of the application process, saying: “Be very clear and communicative with your school. Professors here want you to succeed and have the best study abroad [experience] possible, so they will try and make things happen, but the more open and honest you are, the more things can happen.”
Mr Seguin said the programme gave him an invaluable opportunity to immerse himself in a different community: “I think St Andrews is such a unique environment. [Although] it’s a Bubble and I’m happy to be back, the main benefits [of study abroad are] learning that there is a life outside this Bubble. I think our identities as students are closely linked to the existence of the town. By going abroad, you realise there are lots of different areas outside here that matter and can matter to you.”
The idea of travelling outside of your comfort zone was echoed by Saskia Llewellyn, a fourth year who studied abroad in both Paris and Melbourne. Ms Llewellyn said: “I really wanted to have a completely different university experience. I was seeking out a bit of contrast, and I think with IR especially, studying abroad complements your study because you’re learning from a different perspective.”
There are many reasons for the University’s continued support of the study abroad scheme. Bronagh Crosse, a collaborations and study abroad officer, said the skills gained on exchange can significantly enhance a student’s future prospects.
Ms Crosse added: “I think it’s really good in terms of employability. It really does give you something that makes you stand out, transferable skills. You become a lot more independent, you have to think on your feet a lot more [and] you might find yourself in more challenging situations. I think those are the types of things you can really benefit from in terms of going forward in your career development.”
The opportunity for self-development is one of the aspects of study abroad that students find most appealing.
Mr Seguin said: “Employers like to know that you can interact with people from different countries, and if they want to send you somewhere for a six-month assignment, for example Hong Kong, they need to know that you’ll be able to handle it. If you have experience of adapting to a new environment, then you can show them.“
Ms Llewellyn has also benefited from her exchanges in terms of planning for the future. She would like to undertake a masters next year and believes that meeting new people from many different institutions has made her consider, and even apply for, courses she otherwise wouldn’t have.
She said: “Through being in different places, I was starting to think about different institutions to apply to. When meeting friends who go to different universities, you sort of chat about it, so I think your horizons expand. You create your own options, and the options become bigger than you had thought they were.”
However, the process is not quite so easy as picking somewhere and jetting off. For anyone unsure of where to start when making their choices, Ms Llewellyn suggests that students “pick a place that they really want to live in as well as a place where they really want to study.”
She emphasises that this can help whittle down your choices, adding: “I think it’s important to filter for yourself, because otherwise you might end up doing something or going somewhere that you’re not totally happy with.”
Studying abroad is an academic experience, which means that academic attainment is essential to the selection process. Your academic and personal references hold significant weight.
Ms Crosse pointed out another deciding element, saying: “Your personal statement is really important in outlining why you want to study abroad and showing us that you have done some research into the partner university and understand what will be involved with study abroad. You need to know it is not just a semester away and about what will be expected of you. We are looking for students who will be good ambassadors for the University as well, because ultimately students abroad are representing St Andrews, and on a school level they are representing their subject as well. “We’re looking for students who will be able to embrace the experience because it is a challenging experience as well.”
Further explaining what is expected from applicants, Mr Seguin said: “In your application, show that you are going to be a good ambassador for St Andrews. That could mean that you are part of societies or a sports team. You may even be a student ambassador already, showing people around on open days. It is important that you are aware of the academics so that if you are invited to a talk, you can talk about St Andrews’ multiple aspects.
According to both students, the academic concerns associated with participating in a study abroad can be overcome by good time management, strengthening one’s ability to adapt to different teaching styles, and the support of student services. Financial worries are something many students believe can hinder their chance at a study abroad exchange.
Outlining the support available, Ms Crosse said: “Make sure you’ve thought about the financial implications, what you might be able to get from your funding body and what scholarships are available. We have the Bobby Jones scholarships, and this year we’re launching the chance [for science students to] apply for the Moncrieff travelling scholarship based on academic merit and also on financial need.
“We also have another scholarship called the First Abroad scholarship, which is for students who otherwise would have thought that they couldn’t participate in study abroad because it would cost too much. The University wants to promote study abroad and to open it up to as many people as possible.”
The students interviewed agreed that studying abroad is more than worthwhile. Ms Llewellyn said that the best thing about the experience was “knowing you’re going to have really cool experiences but having no idea what those experiences are going to be.”
Mr Seguin, on the other hand, loved that the unknown could become very homely and thinks his favourite thing was “creating a feeling of home in such a different place that you would not expect.” He said, “It’s so unique. You’re with people just for one semester, the classes are very different, the whole environment, the weather, everything is so different, and yet you can make a home of it.
“For me, that was so liberating. In a way you feel comfortable because you went out of your way to take a chance.”