Study Experience Essay

               I got to set off on the adventure I always wanted. This trip, studying abroad in the United Kingdom, has been the fulfillment of a dream. The chance to study in a foreign country as well as travel around a continent I have never been to before has introduced me to ideas, concepts, places and people I otherwise probably would not have encountered anytime soon.

               The courses I studied here introduced me to fields and analytical techniques, many of which are not covered by my course of study back in the States. A lot of the new perspectives and concepts I have learned have been thanks to the broad array of classes available to students on exchange programs. They allow students to take courses in different majors and many of which are not offered at their home institutions. Before I applied to study abroad, I carefully examined programs to see which courses were available where. When I was accepted to the international academic program at the University of Hertfordshire, I was surprised to find out my courses were chosen for me. I had written an essay about my academic interests and goals. The tutors here decided what I would study while abroad based on that my transcripts and that one personal statement. At first it seemed like there was a lot of variety in amongst the modules they selected for me. As I near the end of my studies here, I have come to realize that plenty of the material covered in each course overlaps.

                        Thanks to one module I took, I now have hands on experience administering ECG examinations, and bloodletting. In another course, we studied the essential nutrients and protein precursors found in the blood and pumped throughout the body by the contractions of heart tissue that results from the same electrical impulses that an ECG records. Yet another course went over how toxic chemicals like mercury that can accumulate in the environment and enter the same blood stream. Despite each course being from a different major, or “course” as Europeans say, I found myself most interested in topics of each course that happened related to each other. I then realize that parts of each course that most garnered my attention where those that overlapped with my main academic interests, the lectures and workshops that I most enjoyed were those most based in chemistry. I was particularly interested in the study of toxins that enter it into the body after accumulating in the environment and exactly how they affect us. This subject appeared in three of my four courses, sports health, environmental management, and biochemistry. The library here has been a great source of books on work in regulating chemical accumulation in the environment. Without realizing it at first, my semester abroad helped me confirm what I am most interested in perusing in graduate school and hopefully my own future research and work.

                        So my future, or the future that I hope to pursue anyway, is a bit more clear to me. However, I wouldn’t say that I found myself on my trip to Europe. At most, this all just reminded me of what I already know about myself and gave me a new perspectives to view myself. The only cliché thing that I can say about what I’ve gained from this trip is that it did broaden my horizons. I mostly used the time here getting to know the other international student who provided endless conversation comparing every little difference between our respective nations. They view much of daily American life as foreign and different. I showed the English what a Thanksgiving dinner was about. Friends shared Kings’ Cake and Malaysian coffee with me. When one of the French friends I have made here even visited New York as a tourist for Christmas whilst I visited France we were able to compare the tourist versus local perspective when we reunited. In general, I feel like I have a better grasp of how foreigners view American as well as how the world outside of the States differs. I have also made connections with countless people from England, Europe and the rest of the world that may be helpful in my future endeavors.

                       From a practical perspective, I have actually accomplished a lot here. Besides the few credits and the academic knowledge I gained along the way, all the wishes I have crossed off my bucket list was my next biggest major accomplishment whilst here. I kissed the Blarney stone, saw Stonehenge upfront, made pilgrimage to Lourdes, spoke Spanish in Spain, and explored Ireland, the home of my ancestors. I’m hopefully also going to get to see the northern lights when I stop in Iceland on my way back home. I am having adventures I never would have imagined before as well. I tested an actual patient’s blood and explored London on bike. I spent an afternoon in a castle that doubled as a space observatory. I took a road trip to Barcelona. I swam in the Mediterranean and I saw the most amazing sculpture park in Norway that I never even knew existed before. I’m having a blast collecting currencies along the way. I have made memories and new friends to last me a life time.

                       My life has changed. I was an independent person before, but by managing to studying abroad I have demonstrated this. Now I have all my experiences to cherish and learn from as well an accomplishment on my resume establishes that I am capable and mature enough take the initiative to relocate, adapt to a new environment, and learn from new resources.

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View the overall results of the 2017 Student Experience Survey

The University of Sheffield is rated second in the 2017 Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey when it comes to “societal experience” for students. Anna Goldman, a first-year French and Hispanic studies student, talks about just how much there was to do upon arriving at Sheffield.

“Sheffield’s social opportunities have massively improved my confidence; particularly in sport. At school, PE was incredibly elitist: you were either on the A team or a waste of everyone’s time. I was certain that university would be exactly the same, if not worse.

“However, during Freshers’ Week, I stumbled upon what are called ‘Resident’s Life’ sport sessions, which were free and designed especially for beginners. There is a huge range: I could try everything from quidditch to Ultimate Frisbee. I decided to give zumba a try as I had done it previously. On arrival, everyone was friendly, welcoming, and not the least bothered about what level of fitness you were. The focus was on participation and enjoyment. I went home from my first session grinning from ear to ear, and I knew I was hooked. I went on to try yoga, fitness class, bouldering, spinning and beginner’s mountain biking.

“This city has felt like home from the beginning. It has the leafy feel of a large village, while still retaining the conveniences of a city. Sheffield has it all: diversity, culture and stunning surroundings. Deciding to study here is a decision I will never regret.”


Student Experience Survey: Sheffield Union holds the key to student satisfaction


Although accommodation is one of the lowest-rated categories overall, some universities are trying to turn that around through an accommodation overhaul. The University of Reading ranked in the top 10 for accommodation satisfaction in the survey, and is investing in its halls of residence. Second-year English literature student Vienna Michaels discusses what she loves about her accommodation there.

“My experience of studying at the University of Reading has been wonderful. When I started my first year, I was apprehensive about moving away from the comfort of my family and friends.

“Then I arrived on campus and got settled in to halls. I stayed in accommodation that was on campus, and I had to cater for myself. I stayed in Child’s Hall, which was premium accommodation, and I certainly wasn’t let down.

“The kitchen was an adequate size for the 10 of us in the flat, with amazing views out on to the greenery by the lake. All the rooms were en suite and very comfortable, with a four-foot-wide bed, a large desk and a pinboard to put all my photos of my family and friends.

“I felt at ease as soon as I had unpacked all my things and packed the fridge and cupboard in the kitchen full of food. There was plenty of space for all of us to have a cupboard each, a shelf in the fridge and freezer space. Living with 10 other people sounds as though it may be cramped, but we had more than enough space.”


Student Experience Survey 2017: Home comforts on campus


The University of Oxford’s academic experience is rivalled by few other universities, having come second in the academic experience category. Alannah Burns, a second-year philosophy and German student at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, discusses the course structure and the support that she is offered while studying. 

“The University of Oxford has eight-week terms, and for the first two terms of my second year I have had two essays a week for half a term, and one essay a week for the other half, then one translation a week, with some essays and worksheets written in German, plus a few presentations. Diving into such a workload is daunting at first, but one gets used to how long an essay takes, making the workload manageable.

“In my first year, the university got everyone on my course to the same level, which meant that we all covered the basics of German grammar and language. In second year, I chose from a varied and exciting range of finals papers.

“In my experience, tutorials are hour-long classes with either just myself and a tutor, or with up to two other students and a tutor. My tutorial essays are independent explorations of philosophical texts or German novels set for an essay. The tutorial is my chance to discuss mistakes in my essay, or things I do not understand, so I leave a tutorial much more confident in my knowledge than before. The report readings at the end of each term with my personal tutor allow me to discuss my academic progress or problems straightaway. The university has been very supportive through every stage of my studies.

“The support the university offers students whose studies are affected by personal problems or an intense workload is fantastic, as the tutors are very understanding. The university has its own counselling service and colleges run welfare events, and so on. Time is available for extracurricular activities with excellent pastoral support from the university.”


Student Experience Survey 2017: Expectations are high for learning resources


Loughborough University consistently ranks highly for its sporting facilities and for its union facilities. Luke Starr, a sport and exercise science student from Loughborough, says that the students’ union deserves just as much recognition as the sports services.

“When someone thinks of Loughborough University, sporting success and sports facilities often spring to mind. But there’s one facility on campus that towers (metaphorically speaking, as it’s only two storeys) over any of the sporting arenas: Loughborough Students’ Union.

“I still can’t quite fathom the transformational properties of this building. From the delightful hustle and bustle of cafes, shops and acoustic music during the day, to the lively nightclub for 4,500 lively students, three times every week.

“But the SU extends far beyond the Tardis-like properties of the building. It is an organisation run entirely by students, for students. Whether you want to broadcast on Loughborough Campus Radio, volunteer at local care homes or join the Real Ale Society, the SU is the place for you.

“Rag [student-run charitable fundraising organisations] is the perfect example of this. Each year the students travel the world for projects like the Uganda Gorilla trek and the Mount Kilimanjaro climb, raising more than £1 million for charities in the process. This summer I am entering ‘Dash to Dubrovnik’ – a Top Gear-style challenge that entails driving a £500 car to Croatia, via the minor obstacles of the Alps and the Nürburgring, all in aid of the Royal Society for Blind Children.

“Each student who spends time studying at Loughborough will leave with their own personal and unique experience of the SU. A lot of students agree that the SU really is the beating heart of life here, and it certainly wouldn’t be the same without it.”


Student Experience Survey 2017: The shape of things to come in higher education


Ulster University has been the most-improved university, year on year. The university recorded improved scores for social life and catering for personal requirements, the students’ union and good support/welfare this year. Colum Mackey, Ulster University Students’ Union president and a law student, highlights the best things about attending the university.

“It’s great to know that the people teaching you are leading in their subject area. The facilities on campus are outstanding, with two campuses located on stunning greenfield sites and two in the heart of their respective cities. Outside the course, there are plenty of sports clubs and societies to join and lots going on in the local area. There are opportunities through the students’ union to help you meet new people and make loads of friends from across the four campuses.

“The thing that really stands out about Ulster University is the people – the staff are so helpful and want to see you succeed, and the students in your class will make you feel at home.”


Student Experience Survey 2017: Bright stars of Northern Ireland


Harper Adams University tops the Student Experience Survey results table this year, with students rating it highly across academic experience, social life and student welfare. This is an impressive feat as this is only the second year that the specialist agricultural institution has received enough responses to be eligible. Charlotte Bolton, a final-year agriculture student, discusses exactly what makes Harper Adams so special.

“Harper Adams University offers students a balance between academic work and practical skills. There is always the chance to put into practice what has been learned in the lecture theatre, be it in the field, the labs or with animals.

“The placement year offers a year-long break from academic studies and enables you to gain insight into the world of work, putting into practice both the academic and practical skills taught at Harper Adams. Lecturing staff are at the forefront of research in many disciplines, so you are being taught the most recent scientific developments in your field. Staff are friendly and approachable; the open-door policy shows their willingness to help you understand or to further your passion.

“Guest speakers feature regularly both in lectures and at the Harper Forum on a Thursday evening, informing students about a wide range of subjects and sparking inspiring discussion. Both the staff and students at Harper Adams come together to create a warm and inviting community. It is clear to see that ‘work hard, play hard’ applies to the whole Harper Adams community.”


Student Experience Survey 2017: Down on the farm at Harper Adams


Maintaining the safety of students is crucial for any university. The University of Surrey was voted as having the best security, but has also continued to improve its overall rating in the survey. Leo Blanchard, an English literature student, discusses the best things about going to the University of Surrey. 

“From day one, the academic staff on my programme have been very good at explaining complex ideas and texts. They have frequent office hours, which make it easy to see them at a convenient time and discuss topics related to the modules they teach. The seminars they conduct have been particularly engaging as they provide the opportunity to have an open discussion of the themes in the texts we study.

“I lived in university accommodation during my first year at Surrey, which was a really positive experience. I lived at Manor Park, which was a nice introduction to Surrey as it meant I lived in essentially a small village of first-year students; this gave it a real sense of community. My room was clean, well furnished and well maintained, plus it was nice to have my own shower (all the rooms in Manor Park have en suites). I’m still close friends with many of my flatmates, too!

“One of the best things about Surrey is how safe it is, I have never felt personally in danger during my time here, even when walking home later at night. It also has good transport links to other towns and cities, as it only takes about half an hour to get to Waterloo, which I’ve found very convenient. Also, the town centre is nice, too, with lots of little shops and really nice places to eat and drink (most of which are on Deliveroo).

“I was a contributor to The Stag student magazine in first year, and then I was the Literature Editor in second year. This was a really valuable experience for me as it gave me the opportunity to practise my writing skills and have my original pieces published on quite a large scale. This experience was useful when finding placements, as it gave me a number of skills that I likely wouldn’t have gained otherwise.”


Student Experience Survey 2017: Build the facilities and the students will come


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Student Experience Survey 2017: methodology

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