Columbia College Chicago in the USA
Elizabeth Markey, BA (Hons) English Literature student studied at Columbia College Chicago in the USA in the 2018/19 academic year. Here she tells us what it was like and what her recommendations are for other students considering studying overseas and in particular, at Columbia College Chicago.
Hi Lizzie, can you tell us why you decided to study/work abroad?
Whenever I tell someone that I studied abroad in Chicago, they’re shocked. “You really did that?!” “What was that like?!” “What made you do it?!” For me, the shocking thing is how many people are surprised that I would take up such an amazing opportunity. So it got me thinking and I thought I would share with you my top ten reasons for studying abroad.
- I have always loved travel. I had travelled around Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia before starting university so being able to study abroad seemed like a logical way to keep that travel bug alive whilst studying.
- There was a time that I was adamant that I wouldn’t go to university but as I got older, I started wondering what I wanted to do with my life and that’s how I ended up at university. I was what they call a ‘mature student’; I started university at the age that most people finish their studying. So it felt like a daunting task and there were times that I questioned whether I had made the right choice or whether I was there just because it was the ‘done’ thing. But finding out I was able to study abroad made the experience less daunting and motivated me. I was still able to do what I truly love, travelling, whilst I was studying.
- As I have already said, I love travelling, you get to explore new cities and cultures. But studying abroad is a truly unique experience. You’re not just a tourist in another country, that place becomes your home and you get to experience it like a local would. Not only that, you get to experience it as a student.
- From an educational perspective, studying abroad meant that I had a whole range of different classes open to me. I was really able to study whatever I wanted during my time in Chicago and some of the classes that were available to me I would have NEVER had the chance to take at home. For example: I took a Fantasy Literature: Harry Potter class. It was amazing. A whole class based solely on Harry Potter! Those who know me will know just how excited I was by this. I was able to take classes that diverted from my typical English Literature course at Salford as well. I took a Social Sciences class where we studied comedians and their role in social justice.
- Another reason I studied abroad was because of the career opportunities. I know this seems like a reason that unis give you to spur you on but it’s actually the truth. It’s so competitive applying for jobs and putting ‘studied for a semester in Chicago’ made my CV stand out. Every interview I had I was asked about my time abroad, why Chicago, what I did there and what it was like.
- Everyone likes to joke about people travelling and ‘finding themselves’ but the truth is you do learn a hell of a lot about yourself, more than you would at home. Two of the main things are how adaptable and resilient you are. I think this applies even more to study abroad. For example: if you’re travelling and don’t something, you can simply change location be done with it. You can’t do that whilst studying abroad, if something isn’t working for you then you have to adapt the situation and make the negative and positive.
- Following on from 6, you also become independent. Whilst abroad you make your own decisions, everything from what to have for breakfast to where you go on the weekend is all up to you. The beauty of this is that it comes so naturally and you probably won’t even realise it until you’re home. You value your time and space a lot more and you use it wisely. It brings with it a sort of freedom.
- When you’re studying abroad, you don’t just have to stay in that city. You can use your weekends and holidays to travel further afield. I went to visit friends in Florida that I hadn’t seen for the longest time. If I hadn’t misread my visa ending, I would have gone to Canada after my studying was finished. For anyone studying in Europe, you can hop on a train and within a few hours you’re in a completely different country.
- I promise you now that you’re going to make new friends, whether it’s a whole bunch of new people or just one really great friend. You’ll make friends for life. I met so many people and there’s one friend in particular that I now couldn’t imagine my life without. She’s already come over to visit me and I can’t wait to go and visit her again.
- The most important reason anyone needs to remember when deciding whether or not they should study abroad is that it is going to be the most amazing, unforgettable experience with priceless memories. One thing I know I’ll probably never experience again is the polar vortex that happened whilst I was in Chicago. We were advised not to leave the house for about 3 days. It was so cold that if you threw boiling water in the air, by the time it hit the floor it was ice!
So there you have it, my top ten reasons to study abroad. I sincerely hope that they’ve given you itchy feet! My advice to anyone that is thinking about studying abroad is to just do it. I promise that it will be the best thing you ever do.
How was studying/working at your host institution/organisation different?
- Classes aren’t split into lectures and seminars – This, for me, made it feel a little more like you are in school. I like that because it wasn’t just a lecturer talking at you and you trying to understand/saving your questions for the seminar, it was all covered in that one lesson.
- Homework – We were given assigned tasks to complete on a weekly basis, which is a lot when you have 5 different classes a week. This again made it feel like school. I was used to just having to read books on a weekly basis at Salford, not necessarily given an assignment to complete. However, all the assignments went towards your final grade. It wasn’t homework for the sake of homework.
- You effectively create your own timetable – I really liked this idea as you picked every single class. I know some people that were able to organise there schedule so that they were only in 2 or 3 days out of 5 and had the rest to finish work. There were also so many options to choose from.
- New faces in every class – This was a huge difference for me. At Salford I was mainly with my course,and we just split into groups according to our options. Whereas in Chicago, none of my classmates from one class would be in another.
- Attendance – Again, another huge difference. If you missed a class 3 times, whether or not you informed the teacher that you were unable to attend for whatever reason, you automatically failed the class.
What would you say to someone considering studying/working abroad?
- My first tip would be to just go for it. It will honestly be the best thing that you ever do and it may be one of your only opportunities to do something like this
- Make sure you have enough savings. There would be nothing worse than having this amazing opportunity but not being able to do anything whilst you’re there. It would be a waste and you would probably end up hating the experience. There are travel options from student finance to help with this.
- Don’t leave anything until the last minute, especially not your visa or flight! Getting ready to move abroad for however many months is stressful enough without the panic of whether your visa will arrive in time. The earlier you book your flight, the better the deal tends to be.
- Don’t leave as soon as your studying is over. I made this mistake and I regret it. I read my visa wrong and thought I had to leave straight after the semester had finished but I actually could have taken an extra month to explore the rest of America.
- To begin with, say yes to every opportunity. You’ll get to meet a whole range of people and make lifelong friends. You may end up discovering a new hobby. You could find a suburb you find cool and want to explore more. Saying yes helps you discover things and the great thing is that you can always change your mind if it’s not for you.