Jenna Anderson, a junior Arts Administration major at the University of Kentucky, did a UK exchange program at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England. Jenna was abroad for five and a half months during the spring 2015 semester. While studying abroad, Jenna took classes in Screenwriting, World Cinema, and British Cinema.
How early did you start planning and thinking about going abroad and how that would fit into your schedule/ work with your major?
I started thinking about it when I got accepted into UK as a senior in high school. I didn’t have a major declared going into college so I didn’t think a lot about how it would fit in with my program, but I knew that travelling is a huge passion of mine, and since I was staying in state for college, I wanted to experience a semester abroad.
What were your classes like? Were you with only students on your program or were you in class with students from the host university as well?
I was typically the only international student in my classes, aside from the British Cinema Class. It was really scary at first, I didn’t want to open my mouth because I sounded different than everyone else, but once I got to know my tutors and other classmates I began speaking up in class and it was such a transformative experience to be able to study with British students and teachers.
Did you experience any form of culture shock when you first got to England? If so, how did you adjust/ overcome the culture shock you felt?
A little bit. While I didn’t have to adjust to a language barrier, England is still much different than America. Everything closes at 6 pm – so that meant no late night errands. And their schedules are much more relaxed than they are here in America. Like students would show up to class 20 minutes late and the professor would pay no mind to that – while at UK I’ve seen students kicked out of class for being 5 minutes late. Another culture shock was not being able to drive or have a car at all. I think that was the hardest. I overcame all of these things by finding a group of friends that became more like a family. It made day-to-day struggles so much easier.
Were you open- minded about the culture and open to immersing yourself in the culture in your host country? In what ways did you immerse yourself in the culture?
Yes. It was scary at first because I went in knowing no one. But once we found our group of friends we would be at a pub called the Adelphi every night talking to locals, listening to local music, watching football matches, etc. It was so cool to get to know people from an extremely different culture than your own.
How do you think others view American students who go abroad? Do you think students who go abroad have a responsibility to try and change those views if they’re negative? In what ways do you think we as American students can change those views?
I do think we have a responsibility to change those perspectives. We are there on behalf of The University of Kentucky, America, and ourselves. I think being open in all aspects is a wonderful way to change this perspective. Being warm and welcoming – talking to locals about their cultures, walking out of a store and saying “Cheers” as opposed to “bye”, getting to know people as people, and not as people from a different culture.
How important do you think it is for students to actively reflect upon their program and what they have learned while abroad? While you were abroad, in what ways did you reflect upon your experience? Did you document/ keep records during your time abroad?
I think it is SO important. If you do not reflect on this experience, it is almost taken for granted. When I was abroad I kept a blog where I would write about good and bad experiences. I also took thousands of pictures and videos. I am so happy I did this because now when I miss Preston, I can go back and read my blog posts, or look through pictures and get to go back there for a second.
Did you keep up with your blog regularly? Did you finish your blog? Are you still writing about your program?
Yes, I tried to. It was hard sometimes because I wouldn’t have wifi or internet access but I tried to post a big text post at least once every 2-3 weeks. I would post pictures about once a week though. I still keep up with my blog but I have converted it into a sort of “lifestyle” blog now.
Was there a particular blog post you wrote that had a lot of reactions or feedback, etc? Is there a particular post you made that was your favorite? What was it about?
I got a lot of feedback on my blog post I wrote about grocery shopping. My favorite blog posts was one I wrote the last month I was there about a football match I went to with my friends. The whole day was just really enjoyable and British and it makes me happy.
Would you recommend to other students studying abroad that they actively reflect upon their experience through a platform like a blog?
Yes, absolutely, if not a blog, then a journal.
A blog seems like a great way to keep your friends and family informed about what you are doing abroad. Are there other ways you would recommend keeping in touch for students worried about that?
Yes keeping in touch is important. I had a hard time doing it though. The blog was great – it allowed everyone to see my day-to-day updates. But also face timing, calling, and texting to keep in touch is important. Having a support system back home is important, but having one in your host country is just as – if not more – important.
In what ways has this program helped you with your education and your future? How has this experience been beneficial for you since you have been back here at UK?
It has changed my confidence so much. I came back so much more confident in my social skills and my ability to be independent. It also gave me trials that I used real world skills to fix. This program has allowed me to be more observant and aware. It has helped a lot with my confidence and people skills in interviews.
What is the biggest take away from your study abroad program?
Talking and listening to people is awesome. Making friends is hard for me sometimes but if you step outside your comfort zone you can meet some amazing people and make some wonderful memories.
What is one piece of advice you wish you had received before going on your program? And what is one piece of advice you would give to future students going abroad?
I wish someone had told me to bring a smaller rolling suitcase if you’re planning on travelling a lot. My advice is to do it alone. If you go abroad with your best friend I think it might limit your ability to really step out of your comfort zone and meet new friends. It’s so scary but this was the best decision I have ever made for myself. I miss it everyday and I am so thankful to have experienced something so wonderful.
If you’re interested in reading Jenna’s blog, check out the link below!
Photos courtesy of Jenna Anderson.
Victoria Bailey is a junior at the University of Kentucky studying Environmental and Sustainability Studies. Danielle participated in the UK Sponsored: Energy Tomorrow: An Engineering and Management Perspective program at the University of New South Wales during summer 2014.