Theodora is studying history at the University of St Andrews. After finishing her second year in Scotland, she did a Study Abroad semester at the University of Auckland from July to November 2009. She rejoined St Andrews in February 2010
“The idea of studying in Auckland came about because my boyfriend is there working at the moment. I’d also spent some of my gap year in New Zealand. I was keen to spend time studying overseas. My degree at St Andrews is four years long, so it feels as though you have time to go abroad, and studying overseas is encouraged by the university, albeit usually within the framework of their exchange partnerships with universities in Europe and North America.
“There was no existing exchange between St Andrews and the University of Auckland, so I went to the overseas study office and explained I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it for free, as Auckland wasn’t an exchange partner, but that I was aware of the costs and could fund them. As everything was outside the exchange programme I had to do all the organisation, and kept going back to the department and to the exchange office to make sure everything I was doing was ok.
“I’d been to New Zealand before, so it wasn’t as if I had to acclimatise to a new, unfamiliar country, but the university experience was very different to what I was used to. St Andrews is a small university in terms of student numbers, and it’s in a small, isolated town, whereas the University of Auckland is in a big city and has lots of students. So even though it looked as though I was playing it safe by studying in an English-speaking country, it still felt very new and different to me!
“I took four 300-level (final year) papers during my term at Auckland. The workload felt about right – it was demanding, but I was happier knowing that I was being stretched academically. I didn’t have exams, but rather a heavy essay workload, which I personally prefer.
“I took modules on the French Revolution; Communist China; Anglo-Dutch relations in the 1600s and 1700s; and historiography. Studying your subject at a different university in a different part of the world gives you the chance to try new things. The choice of modules at Auckland was very good and there were courses that I would not have been able to do at St Andrews.
“I’m doing my dissertation on Anglo-Dutch relations in the 1600s – the professor who taught me that at Auckland is a world leader in his field. When I told my St Andrews supervisor what my topic was, he said: ‘Oh, you must read this book,’ and it was by my NZ professor! It was great to be able to access that standard of teaching, particularly as an undergraduate.
“The teaching and workload at Auckland were very good, but I did notice I was not pushed as much. Everything was really down to me.
“When I first arrived the University held a good Orientation Week, with loads of information on what to see, where to go, what to do and so on. The pastoral care throughout was excellent – there were always people checking up on you to make sure everything was ok.
“I’m slightly dyslexic, and found the student disability support service to be very good. I had to find them and book an appointment, but they met with me straightaway, before semester start, and organised for me to have exactly the same level of support I’d had in Scotland.
“I finished my term at Auckland in November 2009 and stayed in New Zealand for the summer, as I didn’t have to be at St Andrews for the next term until February. It was the perfect time to be there, and I had time to travel around.
“When I did come home I made sure I brought all my paperwork – from marksheets to reading lists – I didn’t want to give St Andrews any reason to discount my work! I gave it all to the study abroad supervisor, and two weeks later had an email saying my marks had been counted.
“Fitting back in at St Andrews was harder than I expected. There is a huge change in the way you’re taught between second and third year, and contact hours drop from 12 to four per week – all tutorials and seminars, no lectures. It was a big shock, and one I found it hard to adjust to. Friends had had a similar reaction, but they’d been through it together the previous September, whereas I’d spent a term at Auckland with 12 contact hours per week plus tutorials, so I felt a little isolated for a while.
“I think going away – and to a completely different university – was a really positive thing. It was great to access subjects and topics that I couldn’t take at home. I also really enjoyed the teaching methods at Auckland – higher contact hours, and largely essay-based assessment.
“I also think it is good to have to immerse yourself in a new place – having to work everything out for myself made me more independent. I also have a new perspective on St Andrews now that I’ve returned – I feel refreshed, and am looking forward to starting my final year.”