Study Abroad Programs

Andy Schile, '2001 -- University of Westminster, London

I spent the spring semester of my junior year at the University of Westminster in central London. I was enrolled in the School of Biosciences, one of the many specialized schools that comprise the university. I took three biology courses (Principles of Pharmacology, Pathobiology and Microbiology & Immunology) and an introductory economics course. I was surprised at how light my workload was--my science classes had lab reports and essays spread fairly evenly throughout the semester, but the grade in my economics class was entirely based on the final exam! My classes met once a week for two to three hours and I only had classes three days each week. For a university of over 20,000 students, my classes were remarkably small. Also, I was surprised to see so many middle-aged and older students! Unfortunately, the labs were underfunded, but this was really just a minor annoyance.

Having so few obligations to my classes meant I had ample time to explore London, and anybody who's been there knows there's an awful lot to see and do. I lived in a flat right off Oxford Street in Soho, which is an exceedingly hip part of town with many, many bars, clubs and restaurants, as well as some of the best record stores in the world. I could walk anywhere within central London in less than twenty minutes: the Thames, British Museum, Regents Park, you name it. Even if my educational experience had been terrible, living in Soho would have made the trip worth doing just in itself.

Perhaps the best part of the whole semester was the three weeks I had off school for spring break. I had a 21-day Eurail pass I purchased before I came to London and I'm positive I got my money's worth--highlights of this trip included the French Riviera (where you can buy pooper scoopers in vending machines), Monaco (where you can buy bikini bottoms in vending machines) and Barcelona (where you can buy French Fries in vending machines). Basically I lived out of a backpack, slept in hostels, and generally smelled bad. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything in the world! I had the opportunity to visit Paul, Ian & Mike in Budapest as well. Also, I took many trips in and around Great Britain, the most personally meaningful of which being a week spent in Scotland. I was born in Aberdeen, but my family moved to America when I was young--this was my first trip "home" in nearly twenty years!

It's hard for me to pinpoint what exactly made my time in London so indescribably memorable, but I'm certain it's all in the little things, like BBQ pork tarts from Kowloon's Bakery in Chinatown; hearing the record issued only to members of the Beatles' fan club at Christmas, 1963, at the British Library; meeting William H. Macy and Philip Baker Hall in Covent Garden; being on a first-name basis with the barstaff at Ben Crouch's Tavern; the Jazz Cafe; Selfridge's Food Hall; Old Brewery, Beamish Red & Greene King Triumph; the countless plates of chicken tikka marsala... The list could go on for pages.

The opportunity to go to England came at the perfect time because it allowed me to approach biology and the increasingly important ethical issues in the field from a completely different vantage point. The attitudes toward a biology education were quite different from those in the States, with an added emphasis on individual study and library research in place of problem sets. The classes were not as difficult as HMC classes, but I never once felt like I was falling behind since the courses I took covered material that's not explicitly offered at any of the 5 colleges.

I can't stress enough how truly rewarding this last semester was for me. I went into the program not knowing anybody else at the University, and I came out broke, but with new friends from around the world and about 500 photos. Anybody who's remotely interested in going abroad for whatever reason (personally, I was starting to feel burned out here) should go. I mean it! Go!

The University of Westminster offers classes in biology, computer science, engineering (to some extent) and math, and from what I understand they accept anybody who meets the admissions qualifications. You'll have to apply directly to the university and take a leave of absence since it's not part of an HMC-approved program.

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