My name is David Armstrong; I graduated in 2001 in American and English History (BA Hons) having spent a year abroad at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada in 1998-99. I am now the Head of e-Communication and Digital Media for the Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Without doubt, my year abroad was one of the most enjoyable and valuable parts of my degree. Not only did I make friendships that still stand today, but exposure to another university approach to teaching and learning had a positive impact on me.
I remember it wasn’t the easiest of introductions to the country though. I arrived in the early hours of the morning at Vancouver airport having arranged to stay for the first night with a host family, who I had to meet at a hotel nearby. I turned up, they didn’t (or so I believed). Without someone to meet me I caught the bus back to the terminal where I found some similarly stranded Germans to hang out with until morning when we grabbed a limousine – cheaper than taxis given that there were 8 of us – to the university. I don’t think I’ve ever arrived somewhere so dead on my feet, with a year’s worth of clothing, but in such style. My tip would be to make sure you were absolutely sure of the arrangements following your arrival to avoid this kind of farce. Other highlights include my first trip to Walmart to buy a “bed in a bag”, learning to ski each weekend at one of the local slopes, a roadtrip to the Canadian badlands and hoodoos, and taking the opportunity to explore body piercing and hair bleaching!
I believe that the year abroad builds on your sense of self, your confidence, your appreciation of difference and diversity – even within a Western culture such as North America – and academically it provided variety and stretch that I wouldn’t want to have been without. Some of the work that I did in Canada is that of which I am most proud – although I’m not saying that some of my essays weren’t any less last minute than those I produced at UEA – but there was something about writing about English culture and English history while being on the American Continent that either made the subject matter more engaging or made me want to excel in the eyes of my Canadian tutors.
Although my career choice isn’t directly linked to my time abroad, I do recall being asked by one of my favourite tutors, Dr Dyck, what I wanted to do once I had graduated. I replied “the Civil Service” (the Foreign Office to be exact), to which he replied “ah, a noble profession”. In retrospect, I think the esteem in which I held him and his opinion probably did turn it in to a bit of a goal to which I was then committed. I guess it must have been the case if I still think of him now when talking about my job 15 years later.