When I was looking to study abroad, I decided to first choose a general location, and then choose a program. I really wanted to visit Australia or the U.K. My choice was simplified through Australia's different semester schedule, which didn't work with my summer internship. I chose IFSA's program at the University of Edinburgh since I have been obsessed with Scottish literature (think Sir Walter Scott, Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson). Edinburgh was the perfect city size for me, with access to an airport (for travel!) and English as the main language! The University of Edinburgh also was a perfect match, with its famous medical school and Science and Technology Studies department. It allowed me to work towards my degree while exploring a different culture!
Rachel is a 2018 graduate of Vanderbilt University with a degree in Medicine, Health & Society and a minor in Corporate Strategy. She studied abroad at the University of Edinburgh in 2017 with the Institute for Study Abroad (IFSA).
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Vanderbilt University and IFSA were an incredible help in planning my abroad experience. Vandy has its own "GEO" office, that helps you choose and apply to programs you are interested in. They help you compare costs, search for courses and figure out housing. IFSA also has a similar support structure, which worked in tandem with my university.
I used their online resources and portals to set everything up before leaving for the UK. Once in Scotland, IFSA's Edinburgh Team helped us pick classes and make our schedules during their opening retreat, where they also went over guidelines and safety for the semester. It really helped assay any fears my parents had about sending me halfway across the world and helped me know what to expect!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
I have to pick just one!? I think for Europe, the key is to pack light. Take just 5 or 6 outfits, and budget to buy more clothes there! The university styles and fashions are different from your home institution, so be ready to try some new clothes! I definitely overpacked, and had to part with some of my things to make room for souvenirs and gifts! Just remember to bring a camera! Definitely tops my "can't travel without it" list. I took 30,000 photos all over Europe!
don't be afraid to make new friends and go to different places.
I traveled to 16 countries in the 6 months I was abroad!
The friends I made still keep in touch- some of them have even visited me at Vandy! It's the adventure of a lifetime- make it memorable!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
With IFSA's program, you are taking a full course load, which for me was three classes. I also audited a class on Scottish history and culture, just to give me a better understanding of the country. I had class 4 days a week, which gave me ample opportunity to travel on the weekends and explore Edinburgh in depth.
I also joined one of the many clubs and societies at the University of Edinburgh- I was active in the Edinburgh University Christian Union and the Crafting Society. I also popped by the Tea Society, the Whisky Society and the Ballroom Dancing Society! These extracurriculars meet about once a week, and give you a chance to meet other local students!
I also took time to study, workout, explore the museums and other cultural attractions, and hang out with my new friends- whether it was hitting the clubs, going on a pub crawl or just grabbing dinner!
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
My biggest fear was navigating a new city. Even with today's technology (hello Google Maps!) I have been getting lost since I was old enough to walk. Just thinking about moving to a new city alone and trying to find my way to classes, grocery shopping and just about anywhere stressed me out! As soon as I got there, I downloaded a map of Edinburgh (or wherever I was traveling to!) offline - so I could always have a map, even if I didn't have WiFi or data. This was a huge step towards my peace of mind!
I also decided to embrace "getting lost" as part of the adventure. I think my openness to figuring out navigation step-by-step really helped me become more directionally equipped. This past year, I've hardly gotten lost at all, and have a much better spatial awareness than before I moved to Edinburgh.
Guide traveling abroad?
Make friends. Stay in hostels. Talk to locals.
These three phrases guided my experience abroad, and I wouldn't do it any other way. Really immersing yourself in the culture is the best way to combat homesickness or FOMO. But remember, you are forging your own path. You can travel as much or as little as you like. You can talk to as many people as you like. You are in charge of your own growth. So make the best of it! Try something new - if you don't like it, try something else! Find the road less traveled, the hidden cities, the unknown museum. There isn't one universal "abroad experience" so choose your own adventure, and live for yourself, not instagram! You won't regret it.
Ps. Bring a Camera!
Anything you'd like us to know?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my experiences! Was life changing, to say the least!