Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Gemma Turnbull

BA International Development with International Relations |

Photo of Gemma Turnbull

Why I decided to study International Development with International Relations at Leeds

Throughout my A-Levels, I knew that I wanted to study International Development as I loved politics and current affairs, but was also keenly interested in the international context and the issues surrounding the ‘developing world’. I wanted a degree that combined all of these interests in a way that enabled me to both understand them better and also equip me to practically engage with them.

When I was applying to Universities, I was particularly attracted to Leeds because it not only had the right type of international development course that I was interested in, but also because of the University itself – the campus, the location, the great student union and its meeting my key criteria of being more than 3 hours from home!

My decision to study abroad

When I started my degree, I had no plans to study abroad, but after a few months of study and some departmental sessions that introduced the study abroad options, I realised that it would be a wonderful opportunity to get a greater depth and variety of experience, and also a different perspective on the issues we were studying – I wanted to do something that took my study out of the books and into the world. I decided to do both the international development semester and the normal year abroad, as I really wanted to get as great a variety of experiences as possible, so I managed to pack in both Africa and East Asia!

Study abroad locations

I studied for one Semester (on the International Development programme Semester Abroad) in Hong Kong, at Hong Kong Baptist University, followed by one year (on the normal Year Abroad programme) at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

In Hong Kong, I studied a variety of politics based modules (politics of Hong Kong, Japan and the UK) whilst also studying traditional Chinese society and history. Due to the more American style degree structure in South Africa, I not only did politics, but also some completely different subjects such as Classics, Anthropology and English Literature. Alongside my studies, both In Hong Kong and South Africa, I also did a lot of extra travelling and regular volunteering.

What I enjoyed most

It was great to have the opportunity to study using very different techniques and teaching styles, and also to get different perspectives on the same subjects and topics that I was studying in Leeds. On the year abroad in particular, I also got the opportunity to try out some completely different subjects for a change, just for the fun of it.

I also had great opportunities to have fun and to gain valuable practical experiences through the extra-curricular activities, including teaching English to Chinese University students, looking after injured and abused elephants in Thailand, running art sessions for kids in the township in South Africa and working with a grandmothers sewing and crafts initiative (designing and making clothes) on a cliff top by the sea on the Wild Coast in South Africa. These were not only all great fun, but hugely influential in my own character development and also in my CV development!

My learning experience

I have certainly become a lot more confident and adventurous following my study abroad – whilst away, I encountered a lot of challenging situations that tested my strength and resolve and I managed to prove to myself that I could cope with a lot more than I had previously thought. I am now much more ready for independence than I was before studying abroad, and I also have a much clearer idea about what I want from life, what I actually want to do after University (if I had just studied and finished after the 3 years, I think I would have had no clue!), but most importantly what I am capable of.

After graduation

Since returning from study abroad, I have succeeded in gaining employment for after I graduate with the Civil Service Fast Stream. I genuinely don’t think I would have achieved this first time round, had it not been for my study abroad experience. Very little of my selection process involved my academic study itself, whilst the vast majority of it rested on the skills that I had developed over the past couple of years, and the interview mainly required me to talk about my practical experiences – almost all of the examples that I gave in my interview were from that 18 month interval in Hong Kong and South Africa.

My Advice

I would wholeheartedly recommend study abroad to others. It is such an amazing opportunity to see the world, with very little hassle (especially when you have a study abroad office helping you through all those tricky details of visas, accommodation etc!) It’s made so easy for you to go – and I doubt it will ever be made that easy again, so it would be worth using that opportunity while you can. You will grow so much as a person, meet some amazing people, enhance your university experience, and just generally have an amazing time!

To succeed in the current job market, a University degree needs to demonstrate much more than just academic achievement, as employers emphasise the importance of a well-rounded range of experiences, through which you can develop and demonstrate your own capabilities and skills. Study abroad provides the perfect opportunity to do this.

If you are thinking of study abroad, GO FOR IT! I never thought that I would be capable of living on the other side of the world for such a long period of time, but I managed it and flourished because of it. I had a great support network from the University whilst I was away (especially when I encountered some difficulties and had to change a number of plans), and also met some amazing people when I was there, so never felt alone or isolated. Be adventurous – never again will it be so easy and hassle free to explore another part of the world, so you might as well make the most of it! 


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