Living my American dream: a semester abroad at UIUC

Posted in: Overseas opportunities - study or exchange, School of Management, Undergraduate

Hello, my name is Aman Kulthia and I'm a final-year BSc Business student at the University of Bath. I'm currently on International Academic Exchange at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In this blog, I share my experiences so far.

Why did I decide to go on exchange?
I'm an international student, from India, and moving to a new country straight after high school was a big challenge. I have spent three great years in the UK, filled with all kinds of experiences, and, in the process, I've fallen in love with Bath, the city that I now call home. However, after these three amazing years, I knew that it was time to look for a new challenge. Entering a completely new culture, leaving my comfort zone, making new sets of friends, maintaining a more demanding study-life balance, and being quickly able to adapt to all these changes is by no means an easy task. It comes down to what you want for yourself in both present and future contexts. I had confidence that I could thrive in this new opportunity and I wanted to prove to myself that I can overcome new challenges.

What factors did I consider while applying for exchange? Why did I choose UIUC?
Ever since I was about to complete high school in India, I had great ambitions to study at one of the top business schools in either the USA or the UK. One thing that was clear to me was that in order to achieve all my goals and overcome the challenges that an international exchange has to offer, I must go to an English-speaking country. Secondly, I wanted to go to a business school that was amongst the best in the country with a great reputation, facilities, and academia. I also looked at the unit modules, teaching methods, extracurriculars to get involved in, and the proximity to big cities.

Having researched thoroughly online and spoken to previous exchange students, I knew UIUC was the university for me. Other North American universities became my back-up options. They all fit the criteria I discussed but, truly, it was speaking to a like-minded exchange student who had been to UIUC and had the “best 6 months of my life” that completely sold me on the idea of becoming an ‘Illini’.

How has the exchange experience been so far?
Now, midway through the semester, I can say that I have absolutely loved the experience. Most of it comes down to the people you meet and, at UIUC, I have been lucky enough to make many friends. I joined a Student Society called BIEN that organises a lot of fun social events to meet other exchange students from places all around the world such as Brazil, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Austria, and more. Everyone comes here with the same intention – meet new people and have a lot of fun. UIUC also has a dedicated campus and all the students live in close proximity. This also helps as there are house parties every week. I think Champaign is a nice place to stay in terms of convenience, safety, and student living (it's similar to Bath). However, the real fun begins when groups get together and travel to nearby cities or even other countries. Travel is easy and not that expensive. I would say that it’s the best thing to do while away on exchange. Exploring new places and cultures has truly been amazing. I am really excited for the next two months.

Five students standing in front of the Toronto skyline
Exploring Toronto, Canada with other exchange students
Five students stand with a giant inflatable emoji
Toronto, Canada

Was it easy settling in? 
Yes, I would say so. If you’re comfortable speaking English and meeting new people, then the change isn’t difficult at all. After the first week of jetlag and moving-in, life seems pretty chill and easy here. Also, apart from the extreme affection that American students have for people from Britain or with a British accent, there is no cultural shock that any of us have experienced.

A group of students in Hawaiian shirts
International students' scavenger hunt

What’s different about UIUC/USA from Bath/UK?

Academically speaking, UIUC is very different from Bath and other UK universities. The education system here seems much more focused on in-class participation and practical learning. We have a smaller number of students in each class (roughly 30 ) and most teachers remember the student by the first name. Attendance and participation are graded so everyone almost always shows up to class and contributes. The assessment system is also quite different. The total grade is divided into points and many small assessments sum up to make up the total at the end. I have thoroughly enjoyed this kind of learning as it provides more opportunities for participation and is easier to excel in.

The other differences are the ones we expect from America. The place is massive. At times, you will definitely miss the convenience of living and travelling in a small city like Bath. Walking to class can take up to 20 minutes if you're living in and around campus. The weather is also more on the extreme side. In the summer, it's very warm and t-shirts and shorts are the norm, even when going out to a nightclub. From October, the weather does become cold very quickly and you can expect snow and freezing winds in November and December.

What are the benefits of an exchange?
I think the exchange program is a great way for students to get out of their comfort zone and have a completely new experience in a different part of the world. It is an eye-opener for many things about yourself and the world around you. You realise how similar you are to people who you've never met and how easy it is to connect and have new experiences. It is also challenging but in a good way. It requires students to put themselves out there and this can lead to many personal development opportunities. Also, it is honestly just an amazing prolonged vacation-like feeling where you can have a lot of fun and create new memories that you will cherish for life.

Would I recommend an exchange?
It is worth mentioning that I, at one point, was on the verge of dropping my exchange and staying in Bath. I received a really great job offer in Bath that would have allowed me to cover all my expenses for the year and have a lot of fun. However, after speaking to academic advisers and senior students, they all said an exchange is not worth missing out on. I can now confirm that they were absolutely spot on! I am so glad I decided to go on exchange and I can speak for my friends too, who are all having an amazing time wherever they are. I feel it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you’re bold enough to step out of what feels familiar and comfortable, you’re in for a truly awesome few months that you will remember and be thankful for forever.

Posted in: Overseas opportunities - study or exchange, School of Management, Undergraduate

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