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Overjoyed with the experience

Written by Sian David, BA History

I had the life-changing opportunity to attend University of Florida for Fall Semester 2017. University of Florida is situated in a college town called Gainesville. UF is a top-10 public research university in America, meaning it has a high academic reputation, similar to Russell Group universities in the UK.  I lived in an on-campus international accommodation block called Weaver Hall, which was shared equally by American and international exchange students. I had wanted to study abroad since I started looking at universities in my first year of Sixth Form; UoR had been my top choice because of a conversation I had with an individual who had had a fantastic time studying in Rhode Island. Attending University of Florida and living for four months in Gainesville far exceeded my expectations of studying abroad, and I highly recommend the experience for anyone wanting to push themselves academically, whilst also improving themselves internally.

I had originally intended on studying abroad solely for the opportunity to study History from a different international point of view. Since starting university, I have been interested in studying perspectives I have previously not had the chance to explore. This has expressed itself in terms of studying through schools of gender and race. The idea of studying America from American academics and interacting with American students about their country’s history was so exciting. At UF I chose the classes ‘American History before the Civil War’, ‘American History after the Civil War’, ‘History of Human Rights’, and ‘Nuclear History’. These classes challenged me, and I enjoyed studying topics that that I had never considered, or only touched on before. The education system at UF was different to the UK system that I am familiar with. My grades were compiled from the results of pop-quizzes, class participation, midterms, and finals. In two of my classes I also had the opportunity to gain extra credit by attending and reviewing events, such as ‘Mississippi Civil Rights History, Personal and Political’, a ‘Mississippi Freedom Project’ presentation associated with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. University was very important to my experience of being abroad, but I also took many non-academic opportunities to explore my surroundings and make the most of my time in Florida.

Fall Semester was very eventful. I wanted to make the most of my time abroad because I have had very little opportunity to travel before. One of my favourite things I did whilst in Florida was volunteer at and attend an annual three-day punk rock festival in Gainesville called ‘The Fest’. I cannot stress the importance of taking risks and trying new things; I found out about this festival through a band I had seen once in the UK, and learnt about volunteering (which granted access to the entire festival) through a woman I started talking to in a line in a thrift-store. ‘The Fest’ was an amazing experience and I met many like-minded people and discovered new up-and-coming bands. Some other notable things I did was visit a butterfly rainforest, went tubing at Ichetucknee Springs, saw UF college football games, visited the historical town St Augustine, and was scared stiff during Halloween Fright Night at Busch Gardens. I also stayed in New York City over the Thanksgiving holiday, and saw the Macy’s Parade, Statue of Liberty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Museum of Sex. I overcame Hurricane Irma, as well as white-supremacist Richard Spencer hosting an event at UF and subsequent campus protests regarding him. I made friends from around the world whilst living in the international hall, as well as American friends that I miss incredibly. A great thing about studying abroad is the doors the experience opens to travel again in the future.

I wholeheartedly encourage students considering studying abroad to take the opportunity. I now consider University of Florida and Gainesville my second home, and I’ve made friendships that I’m sure will last my lifetime. The prospect of moving to America had made me anxious as my departure from England drew closer, but I am overjoyed with the experience I had; it has been absolutely life-changing. Living and studying in a different country has greatly increased my self-confidence and attitude towards new opportunities. I networked with inspiring professors, whose teaching cemented my interest in American history and in turn has shaped the initial plans of my dissertation. I’ve made friends who live around the world, and discovered a desire to continue travelling. I’ve also found out some of my core values, which I think is very important. I’ve learnt how independent I can be and how I can use my strengths to overcome difficult situations that inevitably come in life. Ultimately, I am proud of myself for living and studying in a different country and meeting literally hundreds of new people. As much as I enjoy being at University of Reading, I know that I would love to live in Florida again, and my study abroad journey has enabled me to see that.

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