I feel some things are just rightly assumed about the long-run advantages of doing a year abroad – yes you become more cultured, yes you’ll gain confidence, yes you’ll view life differently, yes there’s new opportunities… but what actually are some examples of these?
A (by no means exhaustive) post on how my year abroad impacted my life.
By Benjamin Spencer, Arizona State University, USA
Chicago – making the most of being stateside!
I hadn’t even considered the fact that I was in a whole new country with 50 states to explore before arriving in Arizona, but now I see why so many students pick to move stateside.
Chicago, or as my friends exclusively refer, CHICAGO BABY! is a truly magnificent city, especially for those looking for some rest bite from the culture of the West Coast.
THINGS I LOVED:
We picked up flights for only £56 direct return from Phoenix and sharing Airbnbs with a large group saw 3 nights’ accommodation over the weekend only come to about £50 each.
Chicago boasts quite the architectural prowess. Everywhere you look is a huge skyscraper and each is just as impressive as the other. We visited Trump tower (it was free!) upto the 20th floor and used a lesser-known ‘hack’ to avoid paying the $30 charge at the Willis Tower. If one is looking for a view up in the clouds of Chicago then go no further than the The Hancock Tower, once inside there is a bar on the 95th floor which is free to access and provides a stunning 360º of Chi-town.
Oh me, oh my. If you’re a foodie then Chicago is the place to be. Whilst living off the diet I consumed during my weekend would leave you with some type of clogged arteries or heart disease, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t ‘pig out’ when there. I recommend two places specifically for the two key ‘traditional’ foods of Illinois: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for deep-pan pizza ‘pie’ and Luke’s Italian Beef for a classic steak sandwich. Both of these will leave you in a much-appreciated food coma.
Also, they have Nandos which is really cool.
THINGS I LIKED:
I liked the bean, it was cool and attracted a large crowd, which is kinda funny considering it is a bean.
The north of the city has numerous parks, particularly in Lincoln Park, which also has a free zoo. Views of the skyline are superb from here and it’s nice to be able to be at one with nature in a city that has a concrete jungle vibe at times.
Some of the shops we visited reminded me of those we find on Oxford or Bond Street in London. Equally, as Christmas was around the corner (I visited in mid-November) there was a lot of decorations already up, which always puts you in a good mood 😎.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:
There are many tales about the Chicago metro, and whilst you might think that they’re overblown, they’re not really. To put it lightly, there are a lot of ‘dodgy blokes’ lurking about and I wouldn’t want to travel alone at night on it (I’m a rugby prop for reference!). We had to get an Uber for our flight back thanks to a stabbing at a station up the line. During daylight it’s fine and a cost-effective method over taxis – so use this service at your own discretion.
The Contemporary Art Museum.
I love art and history a lot and often visit the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum, IWM North Museum and the like, but this museum just annoyed me. If it was free then fair enough, but the CMA costs $12 as a student and $15 full fare (I think) but it’s not really worth it. We completed the museum in about 45mins and that was on a go-slow… wouldn’t recommend it. Avoid.
This concludes this little summary of my trip to Chi-town, up next? Accommodation advice for ASU.
Now this might just be some anecdotal evidence, and if this is the case you might want to disregard this blog, but it seems as though us Brits (unfortunately??) love a bit of a moan about just about anything and everything.
Two of my Spanish friends picked up on this behaviour of mine quite quickly, and fellow British exchange students have also noted that others have highlighted this too. I mean sure, no one does pubs like us, football, roast dinners, getting sloshed (42s, Factory and 256 seem particularly relevant for Manchester students here), Cadbury’s chocolate, our self-deprecating sense of humour, tea… I could go on and on.
However, there are actually some things (in fact, quite a lot) that I prefer about my experience in Arizona and subsequently the USA.
I think it is safe to say this year has been ✨interesting✨ in terms of applying for a year abroad and also going on one. This post is an application advice one, so if you’re looking for an ASU specific post, then see my next blog.
I noticed that there was remarkably little guidance provided (without asking) about how to pick what university you want to apply to and especially what is expected in your IPO personal statement/top three university choices.
Picking your University(ies)
I wish life was like Disney, going where your heart desires for your dreams to come true… however it isn’t! Whilst academic performances aren’t overly mentioned by the IPO, it is pretty apparent that your academic performances at Manchester form a LARGE part of the decision-making process, so if you’re a first year reading this: work hard and get good grades. If you’re a second/third year student reading this: I hope you worked hard and have good grades if you’re looking at the TOP TOP choices. Canadian universities are particularly over-applied for, as is the University of California so make sure your academic scores are high enough to make it worth applying. I’d also arrange a meeting with your Academic Exchange Advisor to specifically talk through where to study based on your grades – they do matter.
Now, probably like me, the last personal statement you wrote got you into the University of Manchester – so it must be useful for getting you into your dream foreign uni, right? Well I’m not so sure here… I certainly clipped and used some parts of my UCAS statement but unfortunately this was no shortcut, I personally had to write another statement for this process. Firstly, looking at the marking criteria is key in formulating your personal statement and I really used both of these tables as the underlying basis for mine.
I started with a brainstorming process, looking at each of these categories and just formulating a massive list of whatever came to my mind that could be relevant here – some ideas I included were: sports, societies at Manchester, previous work (and work experience), previous responsibilities (e.g in my case being part of a JCR), academic and career plans and how these directly/indirectly relate to your year abroad and hobbies!
From this list, I then ciphered most of my brainstorming into and under five headings: academic, personal, cultural, employability/future plans and ambassadorial qualities. Obviously, some of my examples were able to fit under multiple headings, but this part of the process makes sure you are addressing all the required categories to maximise your marks! I also kept the rest of my list to hand (not all ideas fit) as you can still link them in later on.
With this categorised list I wrote my statement using my UCAS personal statement as a rough reminder of how to write in this style but mainly just letting the pen flow (or fingers type!). As a rough structure I followed this:
Intro Academic Personal/future plans/cultural/country specific (or continent if relevant, I only applied for US universities) mixed together over three paragraphs Ambassadorial qualities Concluding sentence
This is a very brief explanation of what I did but it might help out those who are struggling to find a starting point in their application.
Top Three Universities
This was tricker to write for me because I really felt the need to make myself seem as though I was essentially designed for each of these universities. Here’s some tips for what I researched and wrote about:
The area itself, like the town/city a uni is based in and what there is to see/do The sporting prowess and options at the uni Links between courses offered and you Things offered to you that are not available in Manchester Clubs and societies you might join
NB. It is okay (I think, I got into my first choice so we can assume so) to mention the same thing in each separate university box, for example skiing, rugby and politics were all consistent themes in each of my pieces.
Kind of self-explanatory, all I will say is that ASU is objectively probably the most expensive option in the USA, so you don’t need to look too far if ASU is your choice.
Finally, as I’m studying at ASU, I probably ought to include something ASU-y so have the iconic photo of a palm walk.
If you have any questions about applying or ASU specifically I’ll try my best to answer, find me on instagram @benjaminhspencer or contact my Manchester email which has the prefix of benjamin.spencer 🙂