Why Study Abroad: A Student's Perspective

12 August 2019

Alan Newnham, a second year BA (Hons) Fine Art student took advantage of the University’s worldwide exchange programme to undertaken a term studying on the Fine Art course at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Canada. Here he tells us of the highs, and lows of the experience and what he gained from it.

What were you motivations for studying abroad?

I grew up with very few chances to travel outside of the country, prior to this experience I had only left the country once on a field trip to Paris during my A-Levels. And as far back as my memory can reach, I’ve always wanted to visit the states and/or Canada, though I simply never had the finances or confidence to actualise this desire. So, during my first year, when I heard about Erasmus and the chance to study abroad, I figured it wouldn’t do no harm to at least attend the talk and to my surprise I discovered Canada was one of the options for my specific course for second year. This pleasant surprise was enough to prompt me to apply figuring I most likely had no chance to being accepted, but I couldn’t see the harm in trying. Before I knew it I was accepted by the institution.

The motivation to study abroad was never really fully developed prior to me applying, it grew and formed as the reality of this experience became a possibility. If I had to pinpoint one motivation, I guess it would the desire to prove something to myself, to prove that I could see something through and venture beyond and out of my comfort zone.

Why Kwantlen Polytechnic University?

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) was only one of two institutions in Canada that I had the chance to apply to, the other was a university in Saskatchewan. After some research it seemed fairly obvious to me that KPU, being located just outside of central Vancouver, would hold more opportunities. Plus KPU had a wide variety of classes, a chance for me acquire some experience outside of the classes and courses I had taken up until now. This was especially important as over the summer I had come to realise that pursuing a career as an artist wasn’t specifically what I desired, preferring the idea of working around art but maybe not as the creator of art. Classes in Art History and Film Studies leapt out at me as prime chances to experience these topics briefly but in enough detail in order to gain a better understanding of them as viable paths after my undergraduate degree.

Did the experience meet/exceed your initial expectations?

This is a difficult question to answer! I don’t believe it exceeded my expectations, but that in itself was a beneficial and self-defining experience. Studying abroad is an expedition into the unknown – sure we have ideas of what the country will be like, ideas of the people, the university, and how we’ll fit into this new landscape – but we have not experienced it before for ourselves. Media-curated assumptions and childhood-dream fuelled conceptions of such a country are quickly dissolved and a new understanding of said country arises, one formed by actual first hand experience. In a way I don’t believe there’s much importance in what I now make of this place, what’s important is that I had the chance to experience it for myself.

What were the highs and lows of studying abroad?

Money is what I would define as the low of studying abroad. However rich in experience studying abroad is, it’s also rich is expenses. The impact of currency exchange rates, having to discover new go-to stores, flights, studio fees, accommodation, and most importantly the desire to actually travel and explore whilst there, will rinse your pocket dry fairly quickly. Though I’d argue that if you prepare correctly and save up a good amount to fall back on, you should be okay. Plus it helps to not be as bad with money and finances as I am!

Another low is time. Studying abroad seems like the perfect chance to experience a new country, travel around, sight-see, socialise with locals and make new friends etc. But in my experience, most of my time was attending classes, lectures, attempting to keep up to date with my work and generally being stuck indoors studying. Academically this is great and, well, expected I guess, but my hopes of personal downtime in order to travel and enjoy the country quickly dwindled.

Now the sorrow is aside, the high point of studying abroad is simply the experience because no matter how the experience develops there is something to be gained: confidence, independence, and a new perspective. In my opinion, that alone is enough to rewrite the aforementioned low points as only minor dips.

How has the experience impacted you, personally and professionally?

I believe the experience has impacted me the most in the way of confidence. Knowing I managed to apply for this, experience my first ever flight, organise all of my accommodation and finances, juggle my classes and work, cater to my well-being, meet new people, and gain new experiences, and all of this, for the most part, by myself. Having this knowledge has helped me become more confident in my own abilities as an individual.

Another impact has been my growing appreciation for home and its privileges. Never before have I been so grateful for being a citizen of the UK. Our proximity to mainland Europe and a vast array of culture and history, our own lengthy history, it’s modest size, the familiarity, the broad opportunities that I was previously ignorant to, and of course my family and friends.

One other impact is my now stronger idea of my future. Being able to take a variety of classes and form relationships with tutors who can relate to my interests and have been unbelievably helpful in highlighting career paths, opportunities, and the vast array of choices, especially on a global perspective.

I am genuinely not sure of where I’d be heading if I had not applied for this experience.