In all honesty, it was merely by chance that my attention was drawn to them and decided on a whim to apply, after all it would look great on my CV, allow me to study something new, give me an extra year to figure out what I wanted to pursue, personally and professionally, and a year in America sounded absolutely fantastic!
The application process involved a comprehensive online application form which asked about previous travel experience, volunteering experience and extra-curricular as well as educational experience. I was then invited for an interview which took place in the main Lanyon Building at Queen’s. It was a thorough and challenging interview that built upon the questions presented in the online application form.
Several weeks of intense waiting later and I received an email informing me that I had been successful in being placed on the programme waiting list. Soon after that I received another email informing me that I had been successful in obtaining a place on the programme and that I would be attending Hastings College, Nebraska for the 2015-2016 academic year.
Heading to Hastings College, Nebraska
I must admit that before I travelled to Nebraska, the only thing I really knew about it was that it was where Penny from The Big Bang Theory originated from – so not a lot! That in itself was a daunting but exciting prospect: here was the opportunity to experience something entirely new with absolutely no preconceptions or expectations. A rare opportunity in this day and age.
For keen geographers, Nebraska is right in the centre of the United States
I was paired up with Hastings College as a result of my interests, preferences and what the college itself had to offer me. One of the main reasons behind this partnership came down to my love of theatre and music. Hastings College has fabulous Music and Theatre departments and I was welcomed into both with open arms.
Each department became a home away from home for me and I cannot thank the British Council enough for basing their decision to send me to Hastings College on my love of theatre and music.
Studying at Queen's vs. Studying at Hastings - what's the difference?
There are some differences between studying here and studying in the USA. The first main difference I noticed was the structure. Here, you choose a degree path and you follow it – there will be modules later in your studies that you will be able to choose for yourself but, ultimately, there is a pre-designed course laid out for you.
In the USA, however, you choose a major (or a number of majors, should you wish) and there are compulsory classes that you must take to major in a subject, however the rest of your credits can be made up from any classes you wish to take – elective classes.
I did more than just sit in a classroom during my time at Hastings; I even helped build houses with Habitats for Humanity
This means that although you may decide to major in Business Administration, you have the opportunity to take unrelated classes that may prepare you in additional ways for your future or merely provide an opportunity to de-stress while adding to your GPA (some of my friends majoring in Religious Education took glass-blowing classes!)
Another significant difference is the teaching style. Undergraduate education here tends to take the form of lectures (sometimes with 200 people in each) and tutorials. In the US, undergraduate teaching tends to resemble our secondary level classroom-style teaching. It is extremely intimate and professors know each and every student and take a register at every class.
It was definitely comforting as an international student, however, compulsory attendance at 7am classes proved to be a real challenge for a Northern Irish university student like myself!
An experience of a lifetime
There were so many things that I enjoyed about my Study USA experience. From making some of the most incredible friends in the world, to living in Taylor Hall with thirty other girls. From studying a new and exciting course to travelling around the USA on my time off.
Just recovering from a casual campus paint war / My home at Hastings, Taylor Hall / The ultimate American experience; Homecoming!
One of the things I loved the most, however, was how welcoming everyone was, especially in the Music and Theatre departments. There I was, an International Student only there for the year and yet I was welcomed as one of their own.
I performed at numerous events and concerts with the Hastings College Choir and Musical Theatre Arts Ensemble: a highlight of which was singing Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Hastings Symphonic Orchestra. I took to the stage in three Hastings College Theatre productions and was given the opportunity to write, design and direct my own one-act play focusing on the issue of mental health awareness: something that had been a dream of mine for quite a long time! An experience that I will forever be indebted to Jim Fritzler and Annette Vargas, the Theatre Department professors, for.
One of my performances at Hastings
The biggest lesson that I have learned from my Study USA experience was that some of the best experiences will only be gained from stepping outside of your comfort zone. It is called a comfort zone for a reason! But if you take the plunge, no matter how daunting or scary it may seem, chances are it will pay off and, if it doesn’t, there will definitely be experiences that you can look back on and learn from. There are lessons in every opportunity.
Challenging. Rewarding. Unique.
The three words I use to describe my time Stateside. My advice for anyone thinking of or interested in applying to this programme, first and foremost, is to simply do it. Do not think about it. Just do it. I applied on a whim and, 2 years after my journey began, I can tell you that it was the best thing I have ever done.
While you must remember that, if successful, you will be living in America for an academic year and that there will undoubtedly be challenges to face, it will be the most rewarding year of your life and an opportunity that you will never come across again. And, as Tony, the Study USA US Student Support Counsellor reminds each cohort every year, your experience will be unique. It really is too good an opportunity to pass up!
My Study USA experience has prepared me for my pursuit of a career in a way that no other experience ever could and for that I will forever be indebted to the British Council. And now, at the end of my Study USA journey, I can look forward with anticipation to the future, safe in the knowledge that I am well-equipped to embrace every opportunity and challenge along the way!
Find out more about Study Abroad opportunities at Queen's University belfast