Having recently returned from an amazing year abroad at The University of California, Riverside, I wanted to share some of the key differences I noticed between UK and U.S campuses. Hopefully I can pass on some things I wish I’d known before studying abroad.
- Arriving at University of California – First Impressions
One of the first things I noticed upon arriving at UC Riverside’s Southern Californian campus was the vast size. Not only was the actual space that made up campus huge compared to QMUL, but the buildings, social spaces and classrooms seemed large too. From the other campuses I visited while in America (UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Denver), I gained the sense that large campuses were common and this came with both pros and cons in contrast to University life in the UK.
Firstly, finding classrooms in America was a lot harder and it took weeks to get used to the route to be taken to find myself in the right place. It was not unusual to spend up to 15 minutes walking just to make it from class to class. Paired with the incredibly hot weather in Riverside which reached highs of 112 degrees Fahrenheit at certain months of the year, walking was tiring and I missed the ease of walking less than 3 minutes from halls to my lessons at QM in first year. Having said that, the huge expanse of Riverside’s campus came with many positives which now as a final year back at Queen Mary I am missing constantly!
The campus was very green, spacious and beautiful making the walking far more bearable even on the hottest of days. It also fulfilled a lot of positive American stereotypes for me in terms of the sorority and fraternity groups campaigning for new members around the central bell tower and weekly society fairs making for a bustling, lively and friendly campus.
- Teaching styles – Contrasts between UK and USA
Another aspect of college in California that was very different to QMUL was the teaching style, the grade boundaries and the general level of work. For me personally, I found the academic level of the work easier than what I had experienced in London. The workload however was much higher. Brits could possibly expect easier work in larger quantities while Americans could face less work that is more challenging.
The grade boundary system was something I struggled to get my head around as instead of 70 being an A for UCR students, 94% was needed in most of my classes to make it. Be prepared to get your head around these conversions if you’re thinking of studying abroad!
Finally, the experience of midterms and finals week is one that I do not miss. Whereas my course in London tends to spread out deadlines, or perhaps allows reading week for their completion; the American system meant every 5 weeks I found myself being expected to fit in 10,000 words and several exams after 4 weeks of 0 deadlines. I did find the first quarter quite stressful as I got used to this, but it did get easier each time I experienced it!
- Socialising on campus
The social life aspect of America was something I was worried about as I knew being 20 in America would mean my Fresher’s experiences of nights at Drapers and across London’s clubs would be a distant memory. What I found was that due to the drinking age being higher in America, house parties and evening socials were somewhat more of an event. UK universities certainly have more opportunities for an evening social scene, particularly due to the fact that we have venues such as QMUL’s Drapers on-campus. At UCR I was attending events such as sober silent discos and movie nights with the main school events being the huge festival-like concerts held at the start of each quarter. Having friends over for drinks before going out in the evening is also forbidden based on the fact that alcohol on-campus is banned completely. All in all, University in the U.S simply came with a very different idea of the fresher’s experience and enjoyment of either campus, QMUL or UCR is certainly down to personal preference.
- Location, Location, Location
Let’s talk location. Riverside was a huge surprise for me and I can compare this to the way East London sometimes comes as a surprise to exchange students.
Firstly, I wish I had researched the area more than I did because it was not until I arrived that I discovered just how close amazing locations were to this Inland Empire City. With Los Angeles close by, the Pacific Ocean and various Orange County beaches just an hour away, San Diego and the Mexican border just 90 minutes drive and even Las Vegas less than 4 hours – Riverside was the perfect place for a study abroad student wanting to travel on weekends. It is however the hottest place I have ever encountered and at times the heat was overwhelming, especially on days where I had to rush around to go to class.
Another thing to bear in mind is safety and feeling secure when studying abroad. For me personally, I felt that this area of the US felt less safe than London. I felt I had to be more cautious of being alone at night which is something that needs to be taken into consideration when moving abroad. Every city comes with safer and more dangerous areas but it is wise to research and move about with common sense, especially if you’re walking alone.
With regards to QMUL, exchange students can expect to find central London practically on the doorstep, with the nice addition of a campus to feel homely at the same time. London is so vast with so many places to explore that it wouldn’t be too surprising if you rarely ventured outside of it. But, if you do want to explore the rest of the UK, London and the UK benefit from excellent public transport if you choose to travel around the country.
- Top Tip – Living expenses
One thing that I think incoming study abroad students should be aware of are the higher costs of general living in London than some US cities and anticipate that eating, drinking and socialising may cost them more than at home (depending on where you are from).
Overall, I wouldn’t change my study abroad experience for the world and I have come back feeling like a more independent, well travelled and world-ready person than before. So much so that I am hoping to move back to California after graduation!
The differences between studying in the U.S and UK are vast, but it’s without a doubt a worthwhile experience whichever way you do it!