My motivation for studying abroad
I am now in my fourth year (2013-2014) reading BA International Relations. I have just come back from a year studying abroad at The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C. I applied to read IR at Leeds having got really into studying American politics at A Level, at which point with no “dream” the choice seemed to have been almost made for me.
I came to Leeds knowing it had good study abroad options, and with every intention to do so having taking a year out before my first year of university to volunteer in Israel. An affinity for American politics that stemmed from watching Barack Obama make history both in terms of the election result and how his campaign was run, led me to choose GW as my first choice to study abroad.
I had initially thought about going to UC Berkley or UCLA but was put off by the admissions process for the California state schools. That coincided with visiting my parents in New York and spending a weekend in DC with my mum seeing the sights, at which point my final decisions was effectively made for me.
George Washington University
Studying abroad at GW is an incredibly unique experience that I don’t think you will get anywhere else in the world. The location of campus is what is most striking. The opportunity to live within 5 minutes walking distance of The White House and the Lincoln Memorial is one that you should take if it is presented to you.
Campus is in a built up area and the farthest point will only ever be is a 10-15 minutes walk away. Because you’re in the heart of the city, green space is at a premium. Whilst that might not suit everyone’s tastes, it forces you to take a 10 minute walk down to the National Mall when you’re in need of some space to kick a football or go for a run.
I made a conscious effort to get most “American” experience possible while at GW. Doing so meant taking opportunities like interning at AIPAC, and immersing myself in life on campus. Playing for the GW Club Soccer team provided new opportunities and experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. We trained twice a week and played matches against other universities most weekends.
The highlights of the season were playing at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and playing Harvard at sunrise at the regional championships, where we entered as the number 4 ranked team in the region. On the advice of a former Leeds University student who studied abroad at GW, I rushed and joined a fraternity (Pi Kappa Phi). It was the single biggest and best decision I made all year. Greek life is unique to the United States and whilst you don’t need to get involved to enjoy your time at GW, it certainly shaped mine and made the year truly unforgettable.
Whilst studying abroad afforded me the opportunity to broaden my academic horizons and explore new modules, I stuck to politics and international affairs classes. I wanted to learn about global politics from an American perspective, which I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else. GW is consistently ranked as the most politically active university in the country, so if you are going there as a politics student be prepared to engage in conversation and have your views challenged.
GW doesn’t have a college football team like the Alabamas and Ohio States of college, but the running joke is that the most competitive sport at GW is politics. The method of teaching and assessment in the United States is very different to Leeds. Assessments are more frequent but less demanding, and you are graded on both attendance and participation.
Having settled into the university and city during the first semester, I applied for internships and began interning at AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in January. I took the internship as credit, meaning it counted as one module and I only had to take 3 more classes to fulfil my requirements. I interned three days a week and took classes on Tuesday and Thursday in order to accommodate work.
My internship was, like most DC internships, unpaid. Despite that, it was a vastly rewarding experience and if you do end up going to GW I would strongly suggest you apply for internships. I was subsequently invited back to intern with AIPAC over the summer, and extended my visa in order to stay in the States for the full 365 days I was legally permitted to. I came home feeling substantially more prepared and ready for the working world that I will step into after graduating in 2014.
In order to stand the best chance of being successful with your application, I would advise you to work as hard as possible in first and second year. Treat both as if they were your third year, because studying abroad at the most popular universities is highly competitive. Following that, make an early decision of who you might want to write your academic reference. You should be a familiar face and not a stranger by the time you ask them to write a complimentary reference on your behalf.
I cannot recommend studying abroad enough, and whilst I am of course biased I would say that the best experience you will have would be at GW. If you can do it, you should do it. It will supersede any expectation you have and your only disappointment will be leaving.