Study history: Lessons from abroad

In this feature from our October 2018 issue, students past and present share their experiences of studying overseas, while non-British students reveal the benefits of attending a UK university

Studying in Venice was a course highlight for our deputy editor, Charlotte Hodgkin. (Image by Getty Images)

We’ve also spoken to a selection of current and former students to discover what they learned from studying abroad, as well as the benefits of taking a history degree in the UK…

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Katie Fry

FROM: Sydney, Australia

STUDIED: BA (Hons) History at University of York

I love the Tudor period, so studying in York meant I was able to access sources that would not have been available to me in Australia. Living in such a historical city gave me a greater appreciation for what I was studying. Walking through York Minster where Henry VIII walked, or visiting Clifford’s Tower where the Jewish massacre of 1190 occurred definitely brought history to life for me.

Studying in the UK took me outside my comfort zone and developing my independence was one of the benefits of moving abroad. The downside for me was the homesickness – January blues being a real thing, as Sydney is a long way from York. The financial implications were also a big consideration; despite being born in the UK, I was still subject to international student fees.

Laura Whitaker

FROM: Brighton, UK

STUDYING: BA History at the University of Queensland, Australia (third year)

Moving to Australia was a big decision but one that has benefitted me in many ways: in December 2018 I will graduate with an internationally recognised degree in history.

Moving halfway across the world encourages independence, which, in turn, has had a positive impact on my social skills and confidence. Not only have I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, I’ve been lucky enough to have had the chance to explore my heritage (I am of dual-nationality) and what it means to be an Australian.

Studying abroad is certainly not an experience for the faint-hearted. Every time I visit the UK or return to Australia I feel as though I am torn between two places. However, getting the chance to explore a new country and gaining a world-class degree is an incredible opportunity and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys travel, meeting new people and exploring new places.

Students at the Royal High School celebrate their A-Level results outside school in August 2007 in Bath, UK. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Sara Davis

FROM: Texas, US

STUDIED: MA in History, University of Bristol

I was drawn to the more rigorous, fast-paced degrees in history the UK has to offer. In the US, an MA can take between two and three years; I was able to complete the same degree in just over a year by studying in the UK.

During that year I was immersed in a programme that allowed me to experience the history I studied first-hand. I was able to visit the cathedrals I had been reading about, transcribe medieval texts older than the US, and talk with world-class scholars.

Charlotte Hodgman

FROM: Kent, UK

STUDIED: BA (Hons) History at the University of Warwick, with a term in Venice

I was lucky enough to spend the autumn term of my final year studying with Warwick tutors in Venice and it’s an experience I shall never forget. Living and studying in the city gave me a new appreciation for the history I was learning about, while two years’ worth of Italian classes meant I was able to – or at least try to – interpret original sources.

The time I spent in Venice sealed my love of Renaissance history, developed my language and life skills and gave me a host of memories I shall never forget.

Rachel Rivers

FROM: Montana, US

STUDIED: History of the English Nobility and Renaissance Texts and Cultures, University of Reading

Studying abroad introduced me to a world I had only visited through the pages of history books and novels.

I am from a small town in Montana, US, and my family doesn’t travel, so studying abroad always seemed like a far-off dream. However, I was able to get onto the study abroad programme at my home university of Carroll College and in the winter of 2014 that dream came true.

My study abroad experience changed me in so many ways: I flew on my first airplane; I visited a foreign country; and I was able to visit the historical sites I had read about for years. Standing in the spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head gave me goose bumps and brought hundreds of years of history to life for me. Experiencing a place and absorbing its history and culture is truly the only way to understand and appreciate a country.

Studying abroad also impacted my academic life: the British university system is vastly different from America. I believe that my time in Reading made me a stronger student when I returned home and made me hungry to learn more about a country I’ve loved since I was a child.

The uniform worn by pupils at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham. (Photo by Rex Features)

Harisa Ashraf

FROM: London, UK

STUDIED: BA History at King’s College London, with a term at the University of Toronto, Canada

Studying abroad was the highlight of my degree. Academically, studying abroad helped me understand history from a different perspective and explore modules I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to in the UK. The experience was also vital in terms of my career progression. I loved it so much I went on to spend two incredible years working in the university’s Study Abroad office – helping students gain their own experiences overseas – and from there went on to a job in the civil service.

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This article was first published in the October 2018 edition of BBC History Magazine