Undergraduate Student Spotlight: Henry James Campion, On Exchange from the UK

Photography of Student Henry James Campion Standing on the Beach at Alki in West Seattle

Here, in his own words, geography exchange student Henry Campion describes his experience studying abroad at UW:

Deciding to study at the University of Washington: "My name’s Henry and I’m an exchange student from the University of Bristol, currently undertaking my third year of a geography degree here at UW. I’m British, from Worcester (near Birmingham) and last came to the U.S. when I was three, my only memory being the Dumbo ride at the Disney resort in Florida! I like to think I’m fairly sporty, loving a bit of squash and rugby, and also hiking (obviously something at the heart of any true geographer!)... I was always drawn towards the U.S. because, well, we have always heard so much about you from across the Atlantic, especially over the past couple of years! And whilst it does seem that I’ve jumped from one bizarre political climate to another (don’t ever ask a Brit about their thoughts on Brexit unless you want to be late for your next lecture), picking UW was honestly more of a gut instinct than anything else. Beside the fact that the uni has an excellent academic reputation, great geography department and stunning campus, I think I was attracted here largely due to its location, balancing the urban 'eclectic-ness' of Seattle with the wild of the wider Pacific Northwest. The exciting thing is, and as I think is the nature of study abroad exchanges, the reasons why I picked UW are only becoming more apparent the longer I stay here."

Differences between university education in the U.K. and the U.S.: "In general terms, teaching at U.S. and U.K. unis could be seen to be polar opposites. It might be surprising to know that, in the U.K., you pick your degree subject and university at the same time (usually when 18 years old), and by enrolling in a particular course from the start, there’s no worry about getting into your major or having the right prerequisites (concepts that don’t really exist in the U.K.), but equally, there’s much less room to take as wide a range of classes as in the U.S. There are also many fewer contact hours in the U.K. (maybe as few as 4 hours each week in your final year), and you’re left to your own devices to a certain extent, usually being expected to complete 2–4 graded pieces of work or exams throughout the year. That’s another thing: the classes you take often span the academic year, and you might have one exam in January and another in June, with the odd piece of written work in-between. Class participation marks [grades] also don’t exist. That being said, and whilst I’m more familiar with and ultimately prefer the independence afforded by unis in the U.K. and their tutorial system, I think the quiz sections here in UW’s geography department provide an interesting dynamic, and the ways that participation is graded would go far in resolving the often sparsely populated lecture theatres on Thursday mornings across the U.K.! It’s kind of a tradition that everyone goes out on Wednesday evening as part of the many sports socials going on."

Culture shock: "I always thought that I’d have relatively less of an issue with culture shock moving from the U.K. to the U.S., when compared to some friends of mine who flew off to Hong Kong and Singapore. Yet, and whilst I’m not faced with any big problems like a language barrier, it seems to me that the accumulation of many small, day-to-day aspects of American life have made for a surprisingly alien environment at times. Witnessing substantially larger cars, wider roads and bigger food portions here, just as a few examples, I am reminded on a daily basis that I’m not in quaint old England anymore. Having been here though, I have realized that in the build-up to the exchange, I established rather stereotypical scenarios in my mind regarding how my experiences here would unfold. For example: Would I have to tone down my accent or British idiosyncrasies at all? Would I find myself constantly having to justify why we still have a monarchy? Would I find myself arguing why the Brexit negotiations are more catastrophic than the Trump presidency? Would I ever find a normal cup of tea? Thankfully these concerns turned out to be unfounded, and in actual fact, I’ve been surprised at just how similar most people are, regardless of nationality, and whilst it’s quite fun living up to one’s own stereotype, I’ve taken a surprising amount of comfort in gaining an international perspective on how we all worry about, take joy in and strive towards the same things. This is something I think can only really be understood when immersing yourself in a different country and culture for months on end."

Resources and support: "It’s therefore largely the people I’ve met here that have defined the experiences I’ve had. FIUTS (Foundation for International Understanding Through Students) did well in kicking everything off at the start of the autumn quarter with various events, but it’s far and away the friends I’ve made through such events that have determined the enjoyment I take from exploring Seattle. It also seems that the U.S. uni system draws on high school techniques much more than in the U.K., and whilst I’ve been accustomed to a greater degree of independent studying, the more cooperative learning here at UW makes me feel that professors and TAs are more readily available.This is something I feel is a bit less present in the U.K., and worth acting upon when I return to Bristol and have to face writing a dissertation!"

Advice for students studying abroad: "I’m very aware that being on exchange here has encompassed some really great experiences, but has also been extremely daunting at times. Everyone undergoes a rollercoaster of emotions at university, but these highs and lows, for me as an exchange student here at UW, have felt particularly pronounced. It’s usually the case that one experiences excitement, apprehension, determination and fear all at the same time, so when going back to the U.K. for the Christmas break, the question 'How’s America been?' was often quite a difficult one to answer. I guess what I’m trying to get at, is that people on exchanges are always told 'You have to make the most of your time here' and 'This will be one of the best years of your life,' and whilst aspects of these are true, and something I have experienced to a large extent, I’ve noticed that quite a lot of pressure is placed on exchange students to have fun. Especially if you’re here for the year, I think it’s important to pace yourself and not feel like you have to compare yourself with others as to who’s having the most fun, nor should you feel pressed into doing something solely because it’s what others expect of you; you may, in fact, not want to do that thing at all! If you have a relatively quiet week here and there, or you just want to stay in and watch Netflix one evening, that’s entirely normal and not something to feel guilty about. Regardless, and for U.S. students looking into studying in the U.K., I’d still say go for it (although being someone who loves both the U.K. and study abroad programs, I’m a bit biased!). Not only are these exchanges great to include in your CV, as evidence of resilience and adaptability, they’re also opportunities for you to understand a bit more about yourself. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by what you’re capable of.

Coming to the UK, you’ll realize that student life is relatively chilled out, largely because many unis are well-integrated with the surrounding city. What I mean is, unis such as Bristol are often in very student-friendly, easy-to-live locations, with affordable pubs, bars and clubs all nearby (of course, a lower drinking age permits most students access to these facilities, and is probably something that affords such a relaxed atmosphere!). [As such], you’re given a lot of space to stretch your legs socially as well as academically, and whilst possibly something to grow accustomed to, I think such freedoms ultimately complement the idea of studying abroad very well."