Across the Pond

A student perspective on study abroad

Madison Schmid

Madison Schmid at Stonehenge between classes at Queen Mary University of London in spring 2015. (Photo provided)

I have maintained a dream for studying abroad since I lived in Europe for two years as a young child. I was more than ready to travel throughout the continent and meet new friends, but I encountered some challenges that were clearly not in my line of sight when I arrived in London. These experiences included adapting to the education process and methodology in the United Kingdom, managing my newfound independence and managing my time effectively, embracing the plethora of cultures and diversity, and acclimating to the academic rigor of my new school.

The learning process in London introduced several major differences from my experiences at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. At Queen Mary University of London, I had only two hours of class a week (a lecture and a smaller break-out class) per subject and I was expected to study outside of class for approximately eight hours per class per week. I have had to complete readings as well as develop my own opinions on these topics. A critical part of the learning experience in London is the expectation that students develop a high level of multilayered, independent thinking. I have enjoyed reading not only textbooks but also recently published articles about the contemporary topics we discussed in class. We were able to examine theories that are generally accepted in the academic world as well as theories that are highly controversial.

While in England, I learned how to be more independent and self-reliant. In the United States, my professors stress office hours and offering assistance during class lectures. In London, however, it is assumed that you will reach out for help if you need it. Attendance is not checked in major lectures, but if you miss class, it is a given that you will make up all the work on your own time.

I also learned independence in a nonacademic setting. For example, being from the Midwest, I found the public transportation system quite new. Unlike in the United States where everyone has their own cars, it is extremely common in London to use the underground, buses and other forms of public transportation. I felt incredibly empowered the day I was able to go from the East End to the West End without asking for help. Though it may seem a small hurdle to overcome, the sense of liberation and accomplishment felt fantastic!

Having lived abroad at a younger age, I thought I knew a lot about cultural diversity, but going to school at the university level in an international city such as London shed a new light on my historical perspectives. In all of my classes, at least five different countries were represented. This was an invaluable experience that I don’t think I could have had without studying abroad. With various global socio-political and economic events occurring in real time, the cultural differences between Western and Eastern countries represented by my classmates made it interesting to talk about different business topics. For example, I learned there are significant variances in how discipline is managed in the workplace and how companies approach globalization and business strategies. As a business major, these diverse cultural experiences have provided lessons that I will leverage for years following graduation from the Krannert School of Management.

Finally, studying abroad taught me to be more mature academically. Traveling and exploring a new environment provided a natural distraction to focusing on academics. I learned how to prioritize my goals. I developed the ability to be more productive with my limited amount of time to assure I allotted the appropriate amount for studying and classwork. I learned how to self-sufficiently teach myself topics that were introduced in class.

Instructors at Queen Mary’s expect you to not only know the theories, but also how to apply them. We were expected to use our insights and critical thinking to identify when a theory might fall short or be limited in certain situations. Academics in the United Kingdom are driven by more than just memorization. The definition of academic success is more about learning to think for yourself and to fully develop your insights as to why you think the way you do. At the same time, emphasis was placed on the practical application of the lessons to real life and how we will implement them as future managers.

Overall, this experience has made me grow as an individual and a student. Studying abroad has affected me in more ways than I can express and has helped me learn hard and soft skills that will be priceless in the business and managerial setting.