Studying in the UK: One US Student’s Perspective

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Aiysha Whitfield

There are more than 17,000 US students pursuing college degrees in the UK, a number which has grown by 17 percent since 2009.

Many are attracted by the possibility of broadening their international experience without struggling with a language barrier. Others relish the chance of learning at world-famous institutions older than the United States itself.

For others, it may also be an opportunity to get back to one’s roots as it was for Aiysha Whitfield, a student from Portland, Oregon, who has just finished her combined bachelor’s degree in film studies and communication, media and culture at Oxford Brookes University (UK).

I asked Aiysha about her experience here.

Why did you choose to study abroad?
I decided to take a break after high school. I was not ready to continue my education quite yet, but I knew eventually I wanted to do an undergraduate degree. After taking a year off, I still did not know what I wanted to study, so I explored all options before taking the huge step of applying to a degree program in the UK. I chose the UK because of its reputation of having a multicultural environment. The UK seemed like the best option for me to be around a diverse range of people and learn various languages. I also have some family in England, so I wanted to be closer to them.

Why did you choose to do a foundation course first?
I was happy to discover foundation programs, which are designed to help students who might not have the SAT scores to get onto a degree course; who need a little extra support; or who do not know what they want to pursue. The main benefit of doing a foundation course at my university is the academic skills and confidence I’ve gained. My research, referencing, and writing skills improved. When it came to my first undergraduate assignment I already knew how to reference and research effectively. Even though a foundation course requires an extra year of study, British degrees last just three years so my total studying time was the same as it would have been in the US.

How did you feel when you first arrived?
When I first arrived I was extremely nervous! I thought I would be the oldest student in my course and I was only 19 years old. I didn’t know anyone and I was also worried I would not meet people or fit in. However, it was the opposite; I met so many people in the first week just by putting myself out there and joining in. I am still very close with my foundation friends and have also met lots of people within my degree course.

What do family and friends think about you studying in the UK?
My parents are incredibly happy with my experience here. They love hearing about the fun and crazy stories of my past four years here and have been impressed with the academic standards. I always tell them how I’ve met people and made friends with people from all around the world, which is exactly what they’d hoped for.

What are the best (and weirdest) things about British students?
I think the weirdest thing about British students is the British slang, but you get used to it very quickly. For example, “Are you having a laugh?” was really funny when I first heard it because the person I was talking to was completely serious when saying it (it means “that’s unbelievable”). Also the word “knackered” (meaning “exhausted”) is something I hear a lot.

What is your favorite thing about the UK?
My favorite thing about the UK is how very accessible everything is. You can hop on a train and in a few hours you could be in Scotland, or down to London; it is great. You get to see different parts of the UK you probably never thought you would visit.

Why do you think Americans should consider a UK degree?
I think it is important to travel and immerse yourself in other cultures. A cool thing about Oxford Brookes University is that it has the GPA system. This is a bonus because the qualifications I obtain are recognized in the United States, which is something you should think about when considering a UK degree.

What do you plan to do next?
My plan next is to continue with my studies by doing my MA in London. I am also getting a part-time job in the industry I want to work for.

Learn about foundation courses in the UK.

NACAC member Matthew Leake is a pathways marketing officer with Oxford Brookes University in the UK. You can reach him at mleake@brookes.ac.uk.

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