What Studying Abroad Did for Me

What Studying Abroad Did for Me

I wrote this piece in 2018 and originally posted it on my old blog. I forgot about it, until I found the draft of it on my laptop. I decided it belonged here as well.

In spring 2012, I applied to the University of Stirling for the approaching autumn. By summer, I had my acceptance, and my mind was made up. I was going to a beautiful university in the heart of Scotland. It was perfectly situated for popping into Edinburgh or Glasgow when the desire arose or conversely exploring the glorious Highlands. 

Never has a decision been more important in my life; never has one affected me as greatly; and never have I made one that so many loved ones disapproved of. (Don’t worry; they eventually came around.)

There were many concerns that those around me voiced. They talked about expenses and costs. “Why couldn’t you just attend night school in the US rather than leave the country?” There were concerns about culture differences and even fears of safety. Which is a fair concern. I was a twenty-something single woman traveling alone. What would I do if after all that time and money spent, I still wasn’t able to get a job even with a Master’s degree?

Well, you can’t fault people for trying, and you certainly can’t fault them for having fears. We are human beings, after all, and fear does play a big role in our genetic makeup.

But I didn’t want to live by fear anymore. I’d spent so much of my youth playing everything safe, taking little to no risks. I felt like I’d done everything by the book—the way everyone wanted me to.

Scotland was my selfish choice. It was the thing I wanted just for me, and I made the leap with my full heart and soul.

My story obviously didn’t end when university did, though I occasionally speak as if it did. But the degree opened a lot more doors than I realized it would.

As a student, you have hope for the future, but there’s weariness as well. I was earning my Master’s two years after earning my Bachelor’s, having graduated during the recession and being unsuccessful at finding work in that time. It didn’t take long for all the fears to catch up to me.

  1. Would I be able to handle myself and the workload? 
  2. Would I still be stuck after earning my Master’s? 
  3. Where would I go from here? 

Question 1’s answer came easily after classes started. Like most things, university programmes are all about the effort you put in. While there may be stressful moments, it’ll be well worth it. If you apply yourself and take the work seriously, you can handle it, while still making time to explore and have fun.

Question 2 wouldn’t be answered until after my completion of school. But very soon after, I recognized that things were already different. In November 2013, the same month I had returned to the United States, I had my first job interview. While I didn’t get that position, or the second I interviewed for, it was already an improvement. With a Bachelor’s Degree, I hadn’t even been able to get interviews. But now, I even had hiring managers give me their card to email them directly, as they were interested in my skills. This said I had something special on my resume that I didn’t have before.

Question 3 is an interesting one, as it’s one I still ask myself to this day. But where did I go after university? 

The third interview was the winner. After the holidays (and subsequent hiring freeze), I scored an interview with the company I still currently work with. After a few different interviews, I was offered a position as an Editorial Assistant.

Could I have done this without the Master’s Degree? Maybe, but I’d applied to this company before when I only had my Bachelor’s, and never heard from them. Further, after chatting with some colleagues, all were shocked that I’d had no inside connections to the company; most of them knew someone that worked internally. This was another instance where just my resume scored me an interview and a job in an industry where most need an “in”. I’ll give plenty of credit to my Master’s Degree and the placements I took while earning it for giving that extra boost.

I no longer work as an Editorial Assistant. I’ve moved to digital production within the same company, and have seen several promotions since. I firmly believe that the Master’s Degree helped bolster me and my resume to help me get the interviews, while my dedication and work ethic has continued to push me forward into bigger jobs.

So the Master’s Degree is, yes, about the work and effort you put into earning it, but also the work and effort you put in after you’ve earned it as well. You’ll always have that unique piece on your resume, and it can give you an added boost over the competition in applying for jobs right out of university, but you also have to continue pushing yourself to move ahead.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had this experience in my life. I’d recommend it to anyone who has even had the thought pass through their brain for a fleeting moment. So if studying abroad is something you’re considering, what are some other questions you may be having?

Well, you might be having a lot of the concerns that my family had before I left for Scotland. I think those are important to address.

Fear is a reality in life, and fear can and will hold you back from anything you seek to do if you let it. But often times, fears aren’t actual issues. Well, in that the fears are about the future that comes after; it’s not necessarily about the present moment. And the present moment is exactly where you need to be when making a decision like this.

Sure, you’ll inevitably think about what possibilities the future will bring, but the fear of negatives will halt you before you even send an application.

Time and Money

The first one I’ll address is time and money. Believe it or not, I actually consider the time and money to be a perk of getting a degree abroad. It can take up to two years to earn a Master’s Degree in the United States. That’s not just a hefty amount of time to dedicate to a degree; it also adds up in terms of costs. These time and money expenditures can go up if you’re choosing to do a degree part-time.

I earned my postgraduate degree in a year. This broke down to: taught classes in autumn and spring, with my summer dedicated to writing a dissertation. This saved me time, and with it money. I only paid for one year of schooling, as opposed to two. And while it was not cheap, it was certainly less expensive than most degrees in the United States.

I did pay more for my course than my British and European classmates. You should expect that if you’re an international student. But part of that extra expense is also due to payments to the National Health Service; this allows you to visit the doctor, receive medication and prescriptions, and also visit the dentist if need-be.

*EDIT: Please see my recent entry on the Tier 4 Student Visa Process, which I completed in 2020, that amends the above information. Fees to the National Health Service are paid in your visa application, not included in the price of tuition.

This is a thought that may fall through the cracks when thinking about studying abroad—especially if you’re used to an American health care system. Granted, even in factoring that in, you’re till paying much more than UK and EU classmates. But this is simply because you’re an international student; remember that international students pay more to attend school in the US as well.

Culture and Safety

Another concern that people noted to me was culture differences and safety. Culture differences can be a major thing depending upon where you go—and they are definitely a factor to consider when you’re applying.

For me, in studying abroad in Scotland, there wasn’t too much of a culture shock. Sure, there were different types of food and slang to get used to. But nothing that impeded my ability to acclimate to my surroundings and dive right into my degree and meeting people. There were no language barriers, though it did take some time to master translating the Scottish accent (especially Glaswegian, which is a language on its own).

We’re all different people with a variety of interests and places that call to us; your place-calling might be one that is very different than what you’re used to. In that instance, the internet is your best friend: study, ask questions, and learn everything you can before you break out the books for your new degree.

Safety’s another thing you’ll want to think about. Again, I cannot stress the importance of doing all your research before you leave. I’d even recommend doing the research before you apply. But I’ll also state this: I’m a believer that a lot of safety does depend on you.

Glasgow has a bad reputation for being a dangerous city, and yet it’s the city that I consider home. I adore Glasgow, its people, and I’ve never felt unsafe walking those streets—even in times when I was walking in a bad part of Glasgow.

But equally I always try to be aware of my surroundings. I always pay attention to who and what’s around me, and I stay alert. Growing up near New York City, but never having been a big fan of the Big Apple, I compare any place you’d go in the world to there.

When you think about safety, think about how you’d be in any other city: do you venture in and not pay attention to your surroundings? I hope not! Even if it’s a place you regularly visit, you know there are areas you avoid. Take that mentality with you no matter where you go.

Finally, there was one last concern people had for me before I left for Scotland, and that was on what I would do if I still couldn’t get a job after earning a Master’s degree.

Which is honestly a silly fear. We cannot always be so fearful of the future that it stops us from doing anything in the present. 

Even if earning a Master’s degree didn’t get me a job, I had gained so much from my time there that I would never have considered regretting the decision.

But maybe it is a genuine concern of yours, so I’ll say this to ease your worries: earning a postgraduate degree abroad gives you something unique to add to your resume. Being able to show that you’ve not only been to another country, but lived their for a period of time while earning a degree adds to what you can present at an interview. And it’s likely something that many other applicants won’t have.

Tied hand-in-hand with that idea, earning a postgraduate degree abroad helps you grow. If you’re already thinking about getting a postgraduate degree anyway, why not add a little something extra to your experience by traveling to another country for it? I guarantee that it will not only spice up your resume, but you’ll gain a lot from it as well. You learn more about what you can handle and manage on your own. And you have an opportunity to see the world from a whole new perspective and place—literally! That opens doors not just for your career prospects, but for the person you’re going to be in the future.

Or maybe taking a dare like studying abroad will open up a door you wouldn’t expect: maybe you’ll find the place that you would like to call home. In addition to earning a Master’s Degree, that’s the other major thing I gained. Though I’m still unable to live there, I do travel back-and-forth between the States and Scotland several times a year. I’ve become the go-to person for my friends and family who are thinking about traveling to Scotland; I’m always happy to give them tips for getting by and recommendations of where to see. I’ve helped an American friend find her way to a McDonalds at 2am while she was there and I was Stateside. Even family members who previously questioned my desire to travel abroad have mentioned that they wouldn’t mind spending the holiday season in Scotland once I’m living there.

My point is you never really know what doors could open for you by taking a big leap—whether it’s across the country, across an ocean, or even farther. 

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