April Gray – Film & Media – Level 3

Central Connecticut State University, USA

Ready, steady

My study abroad experience started way before I jetted off for the USA. I knew I wanted to go on a semester abroad when I was still in academy, it was something that really made me want to study at QMU. Once I started at QMU I kept this potential study abroad trip in mind and it gave me something to work towards, it encouraged me even more to keep my attendance and grades up. Surprisingly when it came to applications in second year I didn’t apply at first, I had convinced myself that it would not be financially realistic and I didn’t want to leave my flatmate on her own for a semester. My mum however reminded me of how much I wanted to go and encouraged me that the technicalities have their ways of sorting themselves out in the end, which they did. Furthermore, once I had learned about the Lisa Persdotter Simonyi Fund that I could apply for, I couldn’t make any more excuses. After being accepted for this new adventure my organisation skills were tested with the documents I had to get into order. While I found it bit stressful at times, I really believe it gave me new initiative to be proactive when faced with a work related “to-do” list. My visa application also took me to Belfast where I had my interview which I turned into a weekend break as I had never been to Ireland before.

Image of train journey

Lisa Persdotter Simonyi Fund

When finding out that I had been granted this fund I honestly couldn’t believe it. This money did so much more for me than just allow me to afford the visa fees, flights and other expenses of my trip. It affected my life before and after the trip too. I know that if I was funding the trip on my own, I would have become work obsessed up until the day I left in order to make as much money as possible, and while I worked and took as many shifts as I could during the summer, the reassurance of the fund allowed me to give most of my energy to my third year studies in semester one.

It gave me such peace of mind while I was away as well, knowing that I had had help with the costs of the exchange it allowed me to use the money I had earned for extra experiences such as trying new foods and going out with new friends.

Just as significantly, the fund affected my life post-trip as well.  Due to Covid-19 I was unable to work at my usual summer job and was unemployed for five months which I found very difficult. Due to my early returns to the UK I felt that I had only gotten half the value of the many of the expenses such as my visa and flights. It was a great comfort to me however that even with these expenses and the fact that I was no longer earning to replace what I had spent, the Lisa Persdotter Simonyi Fund had helped me feel like I wasn’t on my own financially.

Jetting off

After some very emotional goodbyes with my mum and my boyfriend at the airport I hopped on a plane to take on the big bad USA. In my Uber from Bradley International Airport to Central Connecticut State University “Party in the USA” was playing on the radio which I couldn’t believe and made me feel like I was in some teen coming of age movie.

Image of plane in air

I arrived at a huge campus at night time and got very lost on my way to my student accommodation, a good half an hour later I found it and was greeted by a lovely group of students who showed me around and to my room. I had my orientation the next day.

Colour or color

I actually found the first couple of days quite difficult, as I arrived before classes started and had no roommate for the first few days, I was quite worried I wouldn’t make any friends (I was very wrong). I bit the bullet and knocked on my neighbour’s door where two girls from Sweden (Sara and Julia) were living who had just arrived for their semester abroad as well. Best decision ever, we ate every meal together in the canteen as a trio for the next two and a half months, spent evenings watching tv in the basement, going on trips to the shops and playing basketball in the reck centre. I also formed a great friendship one of my classmates. She introduced me to her best friend and we did many things together including nights out at the local bar and I even joined them on her 21st birthday getaway at a casino resort. I made a number of other friends through classes and via other friends and got to experience American house parties at our friend’s house next to campus. I also joined the university cheer team just for the experience and to compare it to my time with the Sapphires at QMU. They were far too good for me to join competitively but I had a lot of fun training with them and it gave me a new social layer at CCSU.

In terms of Uni work I found it fascinating how different it was from the UK. Where we have a couple essays or projects that require a lot of work in each module, they have more constant homework and you can even get credits for just attending class. It was considerably easier to get an A in America, for my course at least which is something I shall definitely miss when it comes to fourth year here. My professors were all very curious about what things were like in Scotland, I took intercultural communications in which I was asked many questions to compare Scottish and American culture which I too found very interesting. I also found many of my professors to be so friendly, one even offered me to stay at her house when covid-19 started to kick off and the campus was closing.

Not going to lie it was great being Scottish in the US, the amount of people I met who asked me where I was from after I had started speaking, I began to feel all interesting and loved to answer people’s questions.

Wee global pandemic

I remember sitting in the Uni canteen with my friends discussing this new virus that was on the news, it soon became a dominant discussion within my classes and I even received homework on it. I watched the cases grow, while I had little fear for my own wellbeing as I am a young healthy person, I did start to feel scared for my family when I learned it had reached Aberdeenshire.

It seemed that things started happening so suddenly, we had booked a hotel in the Dominican Republic for spring break but were unsure whether we should go or not. We decided to go as everyone around us at CCSU was going on their holidays and coronavirus was still a mystery however the morning of our flight we found out that the Uni and campus was closing and when we returned, we would be put up in a hotel.

On our second day of spring break, Trump declared a national emergency and started closing borders. We couldn’t face the idea of being stuck out of the US, somewhere we had spent so much time and money getting into so we booked an early flight back the next day but we still managed to see enjoy the beautiful beaches.

After a mistake at the airport that led us being put into in a queue of Europeans who could not enter the US, it was resolved and soon we were travelling back to CCSU, sad our holiday was cut so short but relieved to be back in the US.

Luckily me, Julia and Sara were put up in the same hotel and could spend the next very uncertain and tense two weeks together. We did manage to have fun however, we made good friends with students at this hotel from CCSU and managed to check out some local shops like Dollar General. While the stress that came with covid-19 was not desirable it definitely bonded us as friends in a way that may have not happened usually.

Future horizons

While I am of course very sad that my trip was cut so short, with my dream of going to New York and standing in Times Square taken away and many other trips ruined, I am still left with a feeling a gratitude. I am so glad that I got to spend those two and a half months experiencing university life in America. Most of all however I am so happy about the links I have made with people there, I already have plans to visit my friends in Sweden next year and meet up with my friends in America when I go back to visit. This is very exciting for me as I didn’t have any ties to either of these countries before this trip. Also, thanks to social media I can stay connected with the friends I made.

In terms of employability I feel a lot more confident about my future career since having this experience under my belt. My dream job would be to work within cinematography while travelling and therefore studying film and media while abroad is going to look great to future employers.

I really appreciate the opportunity that both QMU and CCSU gave me as I know it was a once in a life time experience. I am also so grateful for the Lisa Persdotter Simonyi Fund for all the support and freedom it gave me on my travels. To anyone thinking about studying abroad in the future, I can’t recommend it enough.

I also made a video of my time in America.

Semester Abroad Experiences

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