Study Abroad Stories – Kathryn Kean

During the Winter Break, we asked Study Abroad student Kathryn Kean how she adapted to living and studying at The College of William & Mary in the USA. After spending a whole semester there, she sent us this brilliant blog post detailing what she’s been up to over the past few months:

Kathryn Kean

I have just completed my semester abroad at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and I can honestly say it was everything I hoped it would be and more! It all started in August, firstly with international orientation, where I got to know the other exchange students, with whom I became good friends with over the semester. We then joined the incoming freshmen for new student orientation, which was an amazing week, although a completely different experience to Freshers’ week in St. Andrews. Instead of being predominantly evening events, it was 8am starts for a day full of a mixture of academic workshops, informative seminars and building up our school pride.

After the first day of classes it was our final event as an orientation group – Convocation. All the new students attend a welcome ceremony in front of the Wren Building (the oldest academic building in the USA), before walking through the building to see the rest of the school standing there to welcome us! We then walked down a line of students and high-fived each one, before then joining the back of the line to welcome the rest of the incoming class – it was truly an amazing experience and I really felt welcomed into the Tribe.

Academically, the workload was very demanding, both in terms of difficulty and volume. Additionally, instead of having one exam per class, I had one or two midterms, in addition to the final exam at the end of the semester. It definitely took some adjustment, but I had great professors who were willing to go above and beyond to help me. Instead of the large lecture accompanied by smaller tutorial format I was used to in St. Andrews, our maths classes had between 20-30 people in them and we met 3 hours a week, always taught by the professor. This was much more like the classroom environment I experienced in high school and meant that the professors got to know everyone. I also regularly attended office hours, which is much more common in the USA than here, and it was a great way to get help with my understanding of the material and completing homework assignments. As a result, I felt like I learnt so much during the semester, which I am looking forward to using when I get back to St. Andrews.

Socially, the culture was quite different from St Andrews. There was no students’ union and the legal drinking age is 21, so a lot of the campus would be excluded from it, even if it did exist! Instead my friends and I found ourselves at frat parties more frequently than in bars, which made for a very fun but different nightlife experience. Incidentally, William and Mary was where the first fraternity in the USA was founded and Greek life is a significant part of campus culture – around a third of all students are in either a sorority or fraternity.  I joined the Celtic Dance Society, which offers both Irish and Scottish Highland dancing. I am part of the Highland Fusion performance team in St. Andrews, so it was great to be able to continue Highland while I was there! We also got to dance in the homecoming parade, which was great fun. In Fall Break I went backpacking in the Blue Ridge Mountains through the Campus Recreation Center, which was a truly incredible experience and a great way to switch off and recharge.

The semester flew by and before I knew it, I was in my last few weeks at William and Mary. I had experienced so many amazing things – Thanksgiving, football games, homecoming and Halloween to name just a few! There were still a few traditions left – on the last day of classes I got to ring the Wren bell alongside graduating students and I attended the Yule Log ceremony, in which the school president dressed up as Santa and led us in a school sing-along of Frozen! All of the students then threw a sprig of holly into the Yule Log to bring us luck in finals. The final tradition was walking across the Crim Dell bridge with some of my fellow exchange students – which, according to W&M tradition, means that we will be friends for life. This brings me on to the true highlight of my semester, which was the incredible people I met, both my fellow exchange students and my American friends, who were all so welcoming and made me feel at home so quickly. One last final thing to leave you on – Go Tribe!

Kathryn at Convocation

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