Staff who studied abroad

Samantha Lister
Monday 9 January 2017

Many of our academic and professional staff spent a semester or year of their own undergraduate programmes on exchange. Here, a few of them share their experiences and what they valued most about the opportunity to study abroad.

‘When I studied in France in the early 1980s, everything seemed different there. There were traditions I’d never heard of: marketplaces filled with chrysanthemums for Toussaint in November, chocolate fish at Easter, lily-of-the-valley for 1 May. There were surprising debates going on: politics, literature and philosophy certainly didn’t stir up such passions among people my age in Britain. The food was strange, the road traffic was mad, the music was dreadful, the language wasn’t anything like the one in my textbooks…and it was all wonderful. All year, every day, from morning to night, I learned. Among many other things, I learned to open my eyes and ears, to accommodate other norms, to change my mind, to adapt and, above all, to begin understanding one of the world’s great cultures together with its beautiful language. Those lessons undoubtedly helped me land a job in HM Diplomatic Service on graduating from University – but it was already too late. An addiction had been formed and if I returned to academia after four years of diplomacy, it’s partly because I couldn’t stay away from Study Abroad.

If you decide to spend time studying in a country other than your own, and if you truly open your mind to the differences you will encounter, you will be transformed by the experience. Of course you’ll be taking a certain risk. That’s the great thing about it.’

Professor Lorna Milne, Vice-Principal (Proctor)

‘The year that I spent as an undergraduate at the University of Strasbourg undoubtedly helped shape my decision to become an academic. During that year – the third year of my joint Honours French and History degree – I became fascinated by the lively and often troubled history of France in the twentieth century; in a city like Strasbourg where that history is ever-present, it would be almost impossible not to think differently about the recent past. That interest was to lead, after a few more years spent teaching and researching in France, to a PhD in French history. But – perhaps more important than the academic interest – my year abroad also gave me the language skills indispensable for my chosen career, and the confidence to know that I could work effectively in a second language; and that, in turn, brings with it the confidence to embark on all sorts of things that had previously seemed too challenging. Little more than a year after my first experience of study abroad, I was back in France, at a different university, but this time as a teacher rather than student: another direct result of my study abroad experience, and one that set me on course for my academic career.’

Dr Stephen Tyre, School of History

‘As an undergraduate in Belgium, I spent a few months as a visiting Erasmus student at the University of St Andrews. The following year, I returned to St Andrews as a PhD student and today, I am still here as a lecturer, encouraging students to take the opportunity to spend time abroad. My Erasmus exchange opened my eyes to the fact that there is more than one way to teach and understand a subject, something I now try and keep in mind in my own teaching. My time in St Andrews also left me with some amazing friends, whom I am still in contact with, 15 years later.’

Dr Ineke De Moortel, study abroad coordinator, School of Mathematics and Statistics

‘Having studied in Paris as part of my degree in French and Art History, I found that employers were very interested in this experience and it significantly enhanced my career prospects. In my first role with multi-national advertising agency JWT, because of my time spent in Paris, I was given a client, Elida Faberge, whose head office was, at that time, based there. Now, in my capacity as a career adviser at the University of St Andrews, I regularly meet with top graduate recruiters who feel that a period of study abroad on a candidate’s CV is a particularly desirable feature, demonstrating a willingness to explore new cultures, develop understanding of the importance of being a ‘global citizen’ and form an international outlook, key ingredients if they are to reach the top in their chosen field.’

Helen Scott, careers adviser, Careers Centre

‘Studying abroad was the best decision I made and has never been a regret. I feel it has given me an insight into other cultures and other academic traditions that I would otherwise not have experienced. As an International Relations person, it is also an advantage to have, well, an international experience!

I studied abroad at the University of Hong Kong and at the University of Stellenbosch. Living and studying in these places has put me a step ahead of my peers in terms of insight and knowledge. It is the sort of comprehension you cannot get from books. It also made for a more interesting CV, opened up all sorts of doors to me, was a great personal travel experience and I gained a whole bunch of foreign friends. If you choose to study abroad as part of your degree programme, I believe you will similarly benefit and, more importantly, your time overseas will undoubtedly complement the education and insights you gain whilst at St Andrews.

Many people may be hesitant to study abroad because they are afraid that they might not cope. Trust me, you will discover how adaptable you are and within a few days you will be so busy making friends, learning about your new home and exploring all it has to offer, that any such doubts very rapidly disappear. You will come to appreciate what is new and foreign, even strange, but in the process you yourself will change, how you perceive others and especially how you view the world.’

Professor Ian Taylor, study abroad coordinator, School of International Relations

‘For me, study abroad was truly a leap into the unknown. It was the first time I’d spent longer than a few weeks outside Fife and I had to consult a map to find where exactly in the former GDR Leipzig was located! In many ways, it was a challenging year: the exhaustion in the first few weeks as I adapted to communicating in German all day, every day; navigating the bureaucracy; delivering my first English lesson to a class of ten year olds. But as the year progressed I felt myself becoming more independent and confident that I could cope with the challenges, and the highs far outweighed the lows. Above all, my year abroad opened my mind to new intellectual interests, which not only shaped my Honours years, but also influenced my postgraduate study. Moreover, it instilled in me a belief in the value of study abroad which has naturally motivated my career path.’

Samantha Lister, Head of Academic Partnerships and International Experience

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