The US does it better?

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.

NO. 1: THE WEATHER

Let’s face it, British weather, in particularly Manchester’s climate, is notoriously (pardon my French) s**te. Sure, I love waking up mid-morning in winter to witness the 4 hours we are blessed with so-called sunlight, which is actually just varying degrees of greyness and that’s on the assumption it isn’t raining, which as we already know, it is. But I love waking up quite a bit more in Arizona where it started out at a balmy 45ºC in August and still held on around 20-23ºC in December. ASU is sun-seekers’ Heaven.

NO. 2: THE ACCOMMODATION

Whilst this might come across as an unnecessary flex (which it kinda is), student accommodation at ASU is PHENOMENAL.

Forget Oak House and Owen’s Park. ASU sets the bar at all kinds of higher standards. Gone are the dingy basements of Withington, no more are those nasty shared bathrooms, away with the mice infestations and crooked landlords of Fallow.

I am extremely fortunate to live at RISE! On Apache which is just a few minutes’ walk from the Tempe campus and boasts quite the array of amenities. I’ve got access to a 24/7 gym, swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, golf simulator, ski simulator, massage chairs and that’s forgetting the modern open-plan apartment that I live in. I hope the photos below do it (and Canvas) justice.

NO.3: STRANGERS

This is quite a subjective preference, depending on how intro or extroverted one is, but generally the ‘strangers’ in America are a lot friendlier than us Brits. Obviously having a British accent does make me stand out a bit more than others, but it’s pleasant when considering the sheer number of strangers that will just strike up conversation with you.

In the lift (or should I say elevator), at a shop, in class, at parties and just about anywhere you can imagine, at some point you’ll be greeted by someone random. Whilst this isn’t something for everyone (I can picture people reading this scoffing at me!!), as quite a social person, this is great. No more random stares on the tube when someone tries to talk to you.

NO. 4: THE LEARNING STYLE

American universities are a lot more similar to Sixth Form in some aspects than our unis. Once again I am set weekly homework, quizzes and am expected to be present in class most of the time – in which most people contribute during these classes unlike at home. When my timetable says I have 12 hours a week at ASU, it means 12… not 2 tutorials and lectures in bed!

Another reason for my preference here is the spread out nature for obtaining marks. As a PPE student, I often have entire modules decided by marks in just two essays for the whole semester. At ASU, there are lots of components to our marks and ultimately I feel this is a better approach as grades demonstrate an all-around skill set and also don’t punish rare slip-ups as much.

NO. 5: TRAVELLING

I fondly remember family trips to the Yorkshire dales, or the Peaks and some weekends away in London from my childhood. I also am so grateful for the host of European countries that I’ve been able to visit – but travelling (even during COVID) in the USA is a whole new level!

America seems to host almost every climate under the sun and each state can accommodate different tastes for different people. So far, I’ve visited Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Chicago and Vancouver yet my bucket-list includes so many other states. Flights are dirt cheap (I picked up a £56 return ticket to Chicago over the weekend), no currency exchanges are necessary, nor COVID tests (he says with bated breath) and everyone speaks perfect English!

In other words, if you’re thinking of studying abroad in the USA (specifically Arizona…) then do it!!

Study Abroad Application Advice/Help/Guide

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.

Personal Statement

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.

Financial Plan

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 🙂