The "real" British experience: BISC vs. Warwick

An experience to be had is inarguably on exchange, where the value of education forms from more than in-classroom teachings and scholarly readings.

I recall the excitement I felt boarding the plane for the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) – my first trans-Atlantic flight – which left me giddy with anticipation to absorb the quirks, cuisine and posh clothing of British culture.

Yet, anyone who has attended the BISC harbours the knowledge that the experience isn’t an authentic immersion into British culture, especially when you’re around other Queen’s students and distant from London in the East Sussex countryside. Attending an English university would have inevitably created completely different travel experiences and memories.

So I sat down with Shelene Satar, ArtSci ’14, to hear her differing experiences from studying at the BISC in first year and at Warwick University in third year:

Would you recommend a year abroad, or is a semester enough to experience another culture and school community?

It goes by way to fast. It’s way too short. Three months flies by before you know it. You can’t really get involved in anything or do much if you’re only there for one semester so I would definitely say you need a full year.

For people going abroad, what would you strongly recommend to ease their transition to a new school?

Doing rugby really changed my entire university life when I was there. You have all this free time so if you aren’t involved in clubs or sports then you ... wouldn’t experience anything. That’s the reason why I got to go to so many places and do so many things because I had my team that would take me out and do things with me. I would definitely say involving yourself in clubs and sports should be a huge priority. It really changes everything.

How does the workload and class environment of a British university compare to the BISC? Did you find it difficult to adjust?

I didn’t really feel I was a part of British culture [at the BISC] unless I would go out on my own to meet British people… [at Warwick] all of my [rugby] team was British [and] all the people in my class were British. .. I was actually .. [experiencing] British culture. .. You weren’t stuck in this Canadian environment in England.

The [castle] teachers were ... always there, the classes were so small [and] if you needed help you were on a one-to-one basis with them. You knew everybody. It was really easy to access everything. Whereas at Warwick, I found it a lot different … . It wasn’t hard to get used to university life – just more to the fact that you’re independent ... I wasn’t used to not having assignments daily or weekly to help me move forward.

Before I left [for Warwick], I wanted to play on the rugby team and I wanted to get involved because I knew it would be a better way for me to meet people, so I had emailed the coaches and told them. Ironically, when I got there I saw the booth and I was really intimidated to meet the girls because they all looked like they knew each other [but] when I met them they were so nice and really inclusive.

Between the BISC and Warwick, what was the difference between leisure traveling and managing your time?

I found it easier to travel in first year at the Castle ... because we didn’t have class on Fridays …- so it gave you an extended weekend ... This year it was really difficult [to travel]. I had class on Fridays … It also wasn’t as appealing to me as first year. In first year, I was young and I was like I need to do it. I need to see all of Europe like Rome, Paris and all the big places. Whereas, I found this year I wanted to see unique places that I’ll never get to see or I wanted to see [smaller places in] England ... It was a completely different experience. I didn’t feel like I was there on exchange. I felt I was there living for the first time. It was different.

If a student was choosing one or the other, the Castle or a British university, which would you recommend?

You can’t really compare them. It was two completely different experiences. Everyone always asks me which one was better and ... more fun and to be honest, I can’t say. In first year, I met a lot of great people ... It was a tight knit community. It[depends] what [that particular person] want[s]. Obviously people need to experience the castle if they never have because so many people I have told that to have gone for one term.

What part about exchange pleasantly surprised you and your expectations?

Getting involved and meeting people was the best part. I didn’t expect that. I knew I was going to make friends there, but I didn’t see myself having as many good quality friends. I have really good friends from my rugby team that I still keep in touch with and they still send me updates on what’s going on with the team.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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