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Home  > Article

Matriculating at a UK University

By Jane Gagnon

Kristen Hofflander called her semester in Leeds "fun, expensive and eye-opening."

Some people say that college is all about hedonism. Drinking too much, sleeping too little, eating Hostess cupcakes at 3am. And in the true spirit of college hedonism, what better way to enjoy a semester than traveling the world? Study abroad programs provide that perfect blend of education and excitement for thousands of students each semester.

For Kristen Hofflander, a junior at the U. of Minnesota, the Butler study abroad program at the University of Leeds Business School offered a new opportunity in education, as well as an excuse to spend six months in Europe. Leeds has a population of approximately 700,000 and is located near Manchester, England, about a two-and-a-half hour train ride north of London. Program costs covered an orientation weekend in London, tuition, housing, weekend trips around England, and an all-expenses-paid weekend trip to London with 150 students studying at various Butler University programs around England. Board was not covered by the program costs, but students could elect to pay extra to eat at the University of Leeds dorms.

Although the basics of university life seem about the same, Hofflander found the academic experience slightly different across the pond. "[In the U.S.] you really are taught in class by your instructor. At Leeds they are more of a guide and you teach all of the material to yourself in the library. There are really no homework assignments, quizzes, or participation," said Hofflander. The teaching methods provided a new experience, and Hofflander found the grading system equally surprising. "Unlike in the US where you basically start with 100% and lose points for things you do wrong, in the UK you start at 0 and add points for the things you do well. So to get an A you need 70 or more, a B is 55-69, etc."

As far as classes were concerned, Hofflander's schedule didn't seem so different from what you'd expect at your average American university. She took two politics courses, Debating Europe and International Politics. In addition, she took two business classes, Macroeconomic Policy and Performance of Britain and Organizations of Business.
"My favorite class was Debating Europe," said Hofflander. "I had this great, dynamic professor who took current topics and made them really engaging. In lecture he would do a formal debate with another professor, and afterwards we were allowed to grill them on their position. Being oh-so-typically American, I knew so little about many of these important and interesting issues that I found the class very unique and informative."
While many college students opt to go abroad junior year, Hofflander chose to break tradition and spend the second semester of her sophomore year abroad, a decision that she highly recommends. "By doing it my sophomore year I was able to take some general courses. You know, your English, humanities, arts credits that you need to take before you graduate but aren't in your major. That way when I got back I was able to jump right into my major course work and not miss a beat or have learned something slightly different in a different university's equivalent course."
Hofflander advises students to look ahead and plan their semester abroad early. "By starting early I was able to not only get into the program I wanted but also you can plan your current and future schedules around what you will be taking abroad. If you don't plan, then studying abroad can definitely put you back a semester, so get your classes approved before you go and see what kind of credits and requirements you can get."
Of course, it wouldn't be college if it were all about academics, and Hofflander found the cultural experience in Europe to be equally exciting. "If you feel brave enough, don't do London, Paris, etc. Try someplace a little more unique. I was really glad to not be in London, which is so big, touristy and hectic. By going somewhere a little smaller you get to really know the area and the people better and you can always visit the big cities on the weekends."
Her habit of planning ahead helped a lot outside of the academic realm. For St. Patrick's day, Hofflander and friends found $50 roundtrip fares to Dublin. Hilarity ensued. "We were homeless for a night and randomly met five other international students. We bummed around the streets of Dublin, took over a convenience store, did a sing along with a homeless man and his guitar and made great friends that we still talk to today."
Her adventures didn't stop there. After completing her program at Leeds, Hofflander toured fifteen countries in six weeks. "My three favorite cities were Prague, Barcelona and Munich. Prague felt like the only true, old European city and honestly the entire city, every building was beautiful. Barcelona is this great vibrant metropolitan city right on the beach... And Munich is all about hanging out, drinking beer and eating with friends at the beer gardens."
Ultimately, like most students who study abroad, Hofflander has no regrets about leaving campus for a semester. "I came back so much more open and understanding of other people and other cultures and a true love for traveling and experiencing the world. I feel much more grounded and like there's so much more to the world than just school and grades. Traveling was the most fun, expensive and eye-opening thing I've ever done."

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