Name: Sonny Regis
Degree: American and English Literature
YA Institution: University of Arizona
Graduation date: July 2013
Careers I’m Thinking About: I have successfully applied for a Masters in American Literature, but after that I am considering taking a PGCE and pursuing a career in teaching, specifically English at a Secondary School level.
Upon arriving in Tucson, Arizona, it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by the vast differences to our wet and windy isle. A grubby desert, densely populated with a swarm of cacti, trails off to the distant mountains, which grew darker and more dominant as the glowing orange orb set. With the oven-like dry heat suffocating me immediately as I left the airport, I thought is this where a Literature student with a habit of overblown writing wishes to study? After having left Tucson for almost a year, and wishing every day that I could return to study there, the answer is a resounding maybe. (Obviously it’s a yes.)
After a string of meetings, introductions and registrations, I was familiar with about a quarter of the campus (which is a miracle since I ended up at the football stadium on the first day while looking for a building nowhere near it). As we were nonsensically required to be present two weeks before the Americans arrived, it gave us internationals a chance to scout out Tucson, giving us even more of an upper edge (more on that below) than our US peers. The most memorable experience was riding Tucson’s public transportation. Unless you have an itch for meth, seeing questionable people muttering to themselves while their gun swings unsettlingly in their jackets, or be told about someone’s cousin having their throat slit, I’d probably avoid the bus.
Once the Americans arrived any ennui that built up was dispersed immediately. Meeting new, enthusiastic, fresh-faced people is always fun, but when your accent makes you the most interesting part of their introduction to university, you know you’re in for a great year. Seriously, the Elephant Man should’ve travelled to America, because looks become irrelevant when you talk with that charming accent. Am I ashamed to say I had a brief fake phone call in Starbucks to attract the attention of the girls queueing in front? OK, a little; but for this one year you’re going to stand out like never before, so it’d be mad to waste your superficial individuality before heading home and getting lost in the crowd. In all seriousness, the year abroad can provide a major confidence boost for anyone lacking in that department; and with the ice instantly broken thanks to your accent (and the surface amicability of most Americans), the year is a great training course in effectively communicating with others.
The variety of courses available was simply outstanding. As a literature student, I applied for a wide range of relevant modules, including World War Two Japanese Literature, Gay and Lesbian Literature, 16th century Literature and Classical Greek Literature, to name but a few. Furthermore, with two free choices per semester, there’s a subject suited for every taste, whether it’s film, theatre, philosophy or physics. (The last one was purely for alliterative purposes. I know none of you are interested in physics.)
The method of teaching is very different in American universities, where each modules is generally broken into five equally weighted departments: two exams, two essays, and class participation. A 100/100 is attainable, and anything over 90 is awarded a 4.0, the equivalent of a First. At UEA, I averaged a respectable 65.5 in my second year, but achieved a 4.0 in every module by the time I finished in Arizona. Although the workload is higher, the difficulty is certainly lower, but that’s not to say you should scoff at it. Putting in the hours isn’t essential, but is certainly beneficial. Using the academic side of the year abroad as a means to hone your writing skills for your third and final year back home is invaluable. With my developed toolset (and the indispensable aid of my dissertation supervisor) I achieved a 76 on my dissertation, which seemed an impossibility during my second year.
At the time of writing I have just revisited the University of Arizona two days ago, surprising my friends with an unexpected visit. The trip solidified how much my year abroad meant to me. The integration into a foreign culture is an experience many are not lucky enough to have. The year abroad has given me a developed appreciation for the diversity of attitudes and sensibilities which we often shy away from. The broadened understanding I received from my year abroad has helped in so many ways since leaving Arizona, whether it’s in academia, social circles, or simply my outlook. Don’t squander a second of your year (I had an 18 year old girlfriend for five months – bad move), and try and enjoy every moment. It’ll pass by before you know it, but oh the memories you’ll make.