Studying Abroad at the University of North Carolina – Amir Rezaei

This blog is for those of you who want to do a study abroad in America. I’ll be going over some of the key aspects of the experience and what you can expect. I myself did my study abroad at UNC Chapel Hill so there’ll be some content specifically to do with that University but anyone who’s going to be studying abroad can learn from these experiences no matter what University they’ll be heading to. I’m going to cover some of the basics and then give my overall take on it.

The People and Culture

Put simply, it’s a whole another world out there. You’ll find yourself re-learning basic social behaviours and manners from scratch. People communicate differently, move differently and interact differently. Some things we would consider socially acceptable isn’t considered so over there and vice versa. You’ll find that the majority of people at your university will be from the state it’s located in. This is thanks to a law which makes it cheaper and easier for residents of a state to attend its universities than universities in other states. In a place like North Carolina, people have different attitudes and habits, about pretty much everything. Living in London for most my life I thought everyone is as sarcastic or sharing as a Londoner is. But you quickly realise that that is not the case. This is not to say people in North Carolina are not at all, just not to the extent of Londoners. And they will have personality traits that we won’t have as much of. This is one of the most eye-opening things you’ll learn on your study abroad experience. That people around the world are so different from each other. It lets you clearly see the habits and ideologies that you live by that were brought upon you due to the place that you grew up in. People dress differently, address one another differently and see each other differently. What you and your best friend are willing to do for each other won’t be the same as what 2 North Carolinian best friends would do for each other. And that’s where you learn what’s unique about the ideologies you live by. The personality of people will be different depending on where you attend. For instance, people in California will be different than those at Michigan. There’s no ‘better’ personality, it’s just that they’re different. But no matter what they’re like, you’ll learn that they are very different to you and you’ll ultimately learn about yourself.

The sports

It’s impossible to write an article on American schools without mentioning sports. King’s is in London. London has multiple major football teams. But you’d never know if you were a tourist just looking around. America is the exact opposite. Sports is everywhere and is dearly loved by Americans. In order to play professional sports in America, an athlete has to go through the sports system at universities and schools. Professional sports and universities are very closely tied. This makes universities care greatly about their athletics department. I believe all the universities KCL has a partnership with are Division 1 schools. Meaning, they’re the best of the best in terms of their athletics. No matter what university you go to, the university will have immense sports facilities. I’m talking an American football stadium the size of Wembley, countless basketball courts, free gyms, swimming pools etc. You will run into athletes on campus who will become professionals in a few years and you even get to see them perform for free. UNC in particular is a huge basketball school. Michael Jordan played there, so you can imagine the basketball facilities they have. I was able to attend a few of their games and got to see some players who are currently in the NBA. The best part about this is that they are very inclusive. The American football stadium is open most the time for anyone to go in, the gyms are free, the basketball courts are free. The perks are endless. It’s probably a good thing you have all that access to sports facilities because you’ll find yourself gaining a little weight. Thanks to the incredible food.

The Food

Since I have returned from my study abroad, I have not spent a penny on food in London. Why? Because it’s ‘trash’, as Americans call it. Honestly, the food there is so much better that you won’t want to spend your hard-earned money on English KFC and Sams Chicken ever again. You’d rather save it for when you go back to America. The food options are endless. All the food chains you hear about on the internet are there, and yes, they are very good. Chick Fil A, Wendy’s and a ton of other places you won’t have heard of but are very popular. The food quantities are substantial, and the prices are very fair. Every area in the US has food which is unique to it too. For example, North Carolina is considered ‘The South’ and so there’s lots of southern food floating about everywhere. North Carolina ice sweet tea is a thing, it is served everywhere, and it is utterly wonderful. Every state has some exclusive restaurant chains too which are always worth exploring. North Carolina has a place called Cookout where you can get a massive burger, fries, hush puppies, a quesadilla and an enormous milkshake for $7. That’s basically £4. Imagine all the meal deals you’ve had for £3. Throw in an extra quid and you’ll get all that. Unbelievable Jeff. I know most of you won’t have heard of hush puppies before. Take note that you’ll have lots of food there that you wouldn’t have had before. All the universities will also have a dining hall which is basically a buffet. The students there are so spoiled with good food that they don’t think it’s all that great but the food in the dining halls is easily comparable to the quality of food at Wasabi Sushi and Bento or other semi cheap options in London. It will have burgers, pizza, ice cream machines, unlimited cookies, and so much more. Don’t hesitate to spend money on food there because there are so many more options than in London and you’ll rarely regret the food you end up buying. There’s also a lot more Mexican food and emphasis on dishes that aren’t so big in London. The same way London doesn’t have many burrito places, American cities won’t have so many Thai food places.

American Universities

The universities out there are a textbook definition of what a university should be. Fun times, big campuses, loads of people, great weather, good food etc. Everything you’ve seen in the movies is real. It’s not a façade. Those massive campuses you see with an American flag planted in the middle of a park size courtyard actually exist. All those frat parties and stories you hear about actually happen. And this is your opportunity to go out and see it close up. You might even realise you like it way more than what you currently have going and alter your life to end up there one day.

It’s very important that I emphasise that the experience depends on you too. If you go there and only talk to other English people, only play ‘soccer’ and eat beans on toast everyday you’re not going to learn much and won’t have much fun. In order to get the most out of the experience, you need to be willing to try new things and join in their society. Eat their traditional food and play their sports. That’s how you get to learn new things and get the most out the experience.

Ultimately the saddest part about the experience is that you can’t properly express all your new learned knowledge and experiences to others. You can read this and pick up that people have different social norms in other parts of the world, but you will not nearly grasp the extent of it until you see it for yourself. I can sit here and tell you that you’ll learn new things, but you won’t truly understand this until you go abroad yourself. This is one of the few chances you’ll have to go abroad and be a fully functioning member of that society, as opposed to a tourist. And as a result, you’ll learn so much. Not only will you learn about the world more and what different places are like, what different people are like. You’ll learn about yourself more. You’ll come to realise what you truly like and don’t like. I’ve lived in London for 15 years and so I’ve never experienced not living in a big city. But now that I have, I’ve realised that I like the quiet life way more. I prefer the nature and scenery to the hustle and busyness of London. You’ll learn about yourself and what you give priority to. On top of that, you’ll learn about the world. What different people around the world are like and the ideas they have. How they approach problems and their outlook on life. And that’s a type of knowledge you can never have too much of.

Top Tips for creating a stand-out Study Abroad application

  1. Become familiar


First thing’s first – you need to familiarise yourself with the application process, the universities available to you in your department, and think about your options.


  1. Research, Research, Research!


We can’t stress this enough. Make sure you’ve really researched the universities you are interested in studying at to make sure you are a match for each other. The application will ask you about things like the modules you are interested in taking and the accommodation options available to you at the host university. This is all for your benefit! We want you to show us that you really want to study abroad, not just go to California because it’s sunny there…


  1. Preferences


The application asks you to list four preferences. Make sure you do this! Listing just one destination won’t increase your chances of studying there, it will decrease them.


  1. Be open-minded


Like it says above, you need to list four destinations in preference order as part of your application. We would love to give everyone their first preference institution, but unfortunately it is not always possible. Be open to the idea of studying abroad and try not to become too focused on just one destination.


  1. Enthusiastic


Be enthusiastic! The process can be pretty competitive, and we want to make sure we send students away who have put the effort in, and really do want to go.


  1. The academics


Try to remember that you will be studying abroad. Yes, you can take weekend trips, make new friends from all around the world, and embrace several new opportunities, but at the end of the day you are there to study. Make sure the modules available to you fit with your interests, and be open to new academic systems, teaching and assessment styles.


  1. Personal preferences


Think about YOU. Would you be happy to share a dorm room with another person? Would you prefer to stay close to home, or do you want to go further afield? Are there societies at the university that mean you can keep up with your hobbies and pursue your passions whilst away? Think about what will make you happy and be realistic with yourself.


  1. Think about funding


Make sure you look into potential scholarships and funding opportunities that are available to you. You will also be asked about how you expect to fund yourself whilst away, so think about things like visa and insurance costs to make sure you don’t get caught out.


  1. Be honest


Like we mentioned in number 7, you need to be honest with yourself and with us. Part of the application asks you about the challenges you expect to face whilst away. This isn’t a test! We want you to show us that you’ve thought about things like homesickness and the fact you might spend your 21st away from home, and how you will overcome these things whilst you’re away.


  1. Use your resources


Finally, use the resources available to you. Whether that’s through reading the various blog posts we have, getting involved with social media Question and Answer sessions, or popping into our office to speak to a Peer Advisor, use what’s out there to your advantage.

Broadening Horizons and My Time at the University of Sydney – Lily-Maria Baraclan-Smith

When applying for universities in Year 13, something I took into consideration was the chance I could get to spend some time during my degree abroad, as I knew at that point I was not going to take a gap year and travel, like a lot of my peers. For BA History, King’s students have the opportunity to spend their second semester of their second year abroad, but upon my move to London, I wasn’t so sure anymore that I wanted to move away, because I was enjoying the city so much. I applied for study abroad rather randomly a week or so before the deadline with no real expectations that I was going to be accepted, but I thought that it was worth a shot. I applied for universities in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Hong Kong, and Singapore, as I knew that this would be one of the best chances for me to travel further than Europe. Although the University of Sydney was my second choice when applying for study abroad, after my experiences there I am very happy that that is where I was allocated to go.

Once I was accepted, I had the panic of thinking: how am I going to afford flights to Sydney and back? Is it going to be too difficult being that far away for such a long period of time? (I had never traveled abroad alone before this!). After weeks of weighing up the pros and cons, I decided to accept my place at the USyd, as this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that, frankly, I would be stupid to miss out on.

The Broadening Horizons Award is a fantastic funding opportunity awarded by King’s for students who are looking to embark on an overseas experience, whether this be for part of their degree or other short-term placements. I was awarded £400, which put my nerves about not being able to afford this opportunity at ease, as I put this money towards my flights to Sydney and back. Being from a single-parent, working-class background, I know without this award, it would have been difficult for me to fund such an experience. Once my flights, visa, and health insurance were all sorted out, the excitement (and nerves!) began to kick in.

I arrived in Sydney on 15 February, and the only real shock that I experienced was that of the weather. After months of snow and single-digit degree weather up North during Christmas and New Year, the immediate heat when stepping out of the airport was shocking, but it was not something that I was at all angry about (every Brit loves the sunshine, don’t they?).

Australian culture was easy to settle into, as I didn’t find it to be that different from British culture; the warm weather called for constant trips to beer gardens and the various beaches in Sydney – the relaxed atmosphere of Sydney called for a well-needed break from the hustle and bustle of life in London. I also did not find university life to be that different than what I have experienced at King’s, though it was different to experience university as an international student. It was almost like experiencing freshers again as there was constant events and nights out organised for international students – trips to Manly, party cruises on Sydney Harbour, and the constant barbies on the roof of our student accommodation were all definitely highlights of my time away.

Overall, despite the fears and nerves I experienced before going to Sydney, I am incredibly glad to have had this opportunity as it was definitely one of the best experiences of my life. Australia is such a beautiful country, that perhaps without the Broadening Horizons Award I would never had been able to visit. Even USyd’s campus is incredible, and I often found myself having to stop and pinch myself in between lectures because I couldn’t believe I was actually in Australia.

Though I admit that it is rather cliché to study abroad and come back feeling like a ‘changed’ person – but this is definitely true. Travelling alone and being on the other side of the world for such a long period of time gave me a new sense of independence, and my time abroad gave me a lot of new friends from all around the world, who I hope will be friends for life. There is a big, wide world out there, and I have learnt that fears and anxieties surrounding new experiences cannot (and will not!) hold me back from doing things I want to do.