Stephen studied and worked in Madrid and is now a PhD student
My year abroad gave me the language experience necessary to obtain a mark of special excellence in oral skills in my final examination in Spanish. The year also allowed me to become acquainted with Spanish culture and society much more intimately than I had previously been, as a student of Spanish in the UK. This provided me with a much more realistic perspective on the country, with its social problems of university class size, immigration, racism and terrorism, as well as its vibrant literary and cinematic traditions, its rather undervalued musical institutions, and its rich artistic heritage.
On graduation, I worked as a phonetics research assistant for a year at the University of Cambridge and Northumbria University before moving to the US for my graduate studies. I gained my MA in Linguistics at the University of Southern California before transferring to the Psychology Department at the University of Connecticut, where I am due to graduate with a PhD in Language and Cognition in May 2012.
My experience as a year-abroad student gave me the skills to adapt to new cultures, which have served me well as an international graduate student. Native speakers of British English, perhaps surprisingly, do face linguistic and cultural barriers in the US because even though most of the words are shared, the connotations and the appropriate and germane use of those words are often very different as compared to the UK.
As an person of English and Caribbean heritage, growing up in the 1990s in post-industrial Newcastle upon Tyne, I was very unhappy with my lack of strong connections to the world beyond Tyne and Wear. On my year abroad I made some good friends from Spain and some other international friends who found themselves in Madrid at the same time as me. This broadened my perspectives phenomenally, both academically and personally. My interactions with Americans in Spain encouraged me to apply to universities in the US for PhD programs. It is at once a great challenge and a great privilege to study and do research in the US, and to become familiar with its society and culture.
As I look forwards towards my future career as an independent academic, I recognise that I have already developed familiarity with an international academic audience and a foundation for international collaborations on research, education and exchange. At a personal level, I feel that, thanks to my year abroad, I am increasingly a global citizen. I am much more aware of and able to discuss international political issues, such as universal human rights, Britain’s participation in the EU and the extent to which the US should instigate democracy abroad, than I ever was before my year abroad."
In partnership with the British Academy and University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) we gathered short reports from graduates on the importance that the year abroad has had for them, in terms of their skill set, their careers and their lives. These reports formed the basis of the Position Statement: Valuing the Year Abroad. Browse the reports below for inspiration, and select a tag within a report to read more on that theme.