As part of Vanderbilt's engineering program, my main goal going abroad was completing course requirements in order to finish my degree on time. Originally, I chose the University of Edinburgh because of the multitude of classes pre-approved for both Computer Science and Math. I was also looking for an English-speaking program and country. Not having ever been out of the United States before, I was not super picky about the program outside these basic requirements, but I definitely lucked into the best possible program.
Nicholas is originally from Alpharetta, Georgia and studied Computer Science, Chemistry, and Applied Math at Vanderbilt University. He went abroad to the University of Edinburgh during the spring semester of 2017, also his first time ever out of the US.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
IFSA Butler does so many things for you! They help you sort out housing, courses, and travel before, during, and after the program. Whatever you needed help with, they were there to do their best in helping you figure it out.
During the application process, you have a specific contact person who will help you with all the different aspects of the application, from courses to housing. It was incredibly easy to set up calls with them, and I spoke with my advisor 4-5 times during the process. Also, there was a pre-departure presentation at my school where they gave advice on packing, plane tickets, common mistakes, etc.
The program started in the country with an orientation for a few days before the University Orientation. This included a presentation by a police officer, cultural presentations, bus tour of the city, and time to meet other students on your program.
Even after the program was well underway, the program staff was involved, friendly, and helpful. Whether they planned food tours of the city on a Thursday afternoon or you couldn't figure out how to buy a bus ticket for a leg of your week-long trip in Spain (true story), they are ready to assist.
The program also included IFSA-sponsored weekend trips that were included with the original program fee. These were a great way to see and experience my host country Scotland. I participated in a home stay, a trip to a forest, and a bus tour of the highlands. It was great to have some well-planned trips to explore and enjoy time with friends from my program!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
The one thing I really wish I had done more of before embarking was ask for advice. I had an amazing time, but the start of the trip could have been made even smoother if I had talked to program alums. Small things like the best place to buy groceries or get towels/bed sheets. It really is the small things that would have been made easier if I had asked for some advice. People love to talk about their experience abroad, and I wish I had asked for more tips on the best place to live or best things to do so I could have hit the ground running.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
I will say it definitely varies. I had friends in Humanities classes that would meet once a week or for only half the semester, etc. I took two Computer Science courses and two Math courses. I had class everyday for about 2 hours a day, except Wednesday. My housing was about a 15-minute walk from campus. The courses were more exam-based, not assignment based, so I would say I had more free-time than my home institution during the normal semester, save exam period.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
I really did not know what to expect being abroad for the first time. I was worried about meeting people and homesickness. I am very close with my family and friends so it was definitely a challenge managing the time difference.
When I was in Edinburgh for the first few days, I was worried about what was normal to do or making the most of my time or trying not to stand out as an American. However, when the program started, I really got over these worries. I made friends in the program and traveled all over Europe with them. I really became more confident in myself especially on how I handle new situations. I have a much better appreciation for different things that are constant across different countries and others that are different.
I feel more confident approaching all kinds of new situations after really diving head first into so many unfamiliar situations abroad, whether they were countries where I don't understand the language, logistics of travel, traveling alone, etc.
As cheesy as it sounds, going abroad really made me more confident in myself and who I am, and having such amazing support from my program made it so much easier.
What advice do you have about travel outside of the program or outside of the host country?
I did a lot of travel outside of Scotland, and I loved all of them. My biggest advice would be to find the kind of trips, the kind of cities, and the kind of activities that YOU love to do.
Almost everyone abroad is traveling all over Europe because of how easy and cheap it is to get to so many different places. Don't go to London just because your friend is going to London. Go to London because you want to see a cool museum in London or visit a place that has been on your bucket list.
My favorite trips were ones I took to places I wanted to visit for personal reasons, not because it was a place you "have to see". It is amazing to travel all over and have a fun time with your friends, but you really get the most out of the experience when you are spending time doing what you are interested in the most.