Staff who studied abroad

Many of our academic and professional staff spent a semester or year of their own undergraduate programmes on exchange.  Here, a few of them share their experiences and what they valued most about the opportunity to study abroad.

'When I studied in France in the early 1980s, everything seemed different there.  There were traditions I'd never heard of: marketplaces filled with chrysanthemums for Toussaint in November, chocolate fish at Easter, lily-of-the-valley for 1 May.  There were surprising debates going on: politics, literature and philosophy certainly didn't stir up such passions among people my age in Britain.  The food was strange, the road traffic was mad, the music was dreadful, the language wasn't anything like the one in my textbooks... and it was all wonderful.  All year, every day, from morning to night, I learned.  Among many other things, I learned to open my eyes and ears, to accommodate other norms, to change my mind, to adapt and, above all, to begin understanding one of the world's great cultures together with its beautiful language.  Those lessons undoubtedly helped me land a job in HM Diplomatic Service on graduating from University - but it was already too late.  An addiction had been formed and if I returned to academia after four years of diplomacy, it's partly because I couldn't stay away from Study Abroad.

If you decide to spend time studying in a country other than your own, and if you truly open your mind to the differences you will encounter, you will be transformed by the experience.  Of course you'll be taking a certain risk.  That's the great thing about it.'   

Professor Lorna Milne, Master of the United College and Deputy Principal

 'The year that I spent as an undergraduate at the University of Strasbourg undoubtedly helped shape my decision to become an academic.  During that year - the third year of my joint honours French and History degree - I became fascinated by the lively and often troubled history of France in the twentieth century; in a city like Strasbourg where that history is ever-present, it would be almost impossible not to think differently about the recent past.  That interest was to lead, after a few more years spent teaching and researching in France, to a PhD in French history.  But - perhaps more important than the academic interest - my year abroad also gave me the language skills indispensable for my chosen career, and the confidence to know that I could work effectively in a second language; and that, in turn, brings with it the confidence to embark on all sorts of things that had previously seemed too challenging.  Little more than a year after my first experience of study abroad, I was back in France, at a different university, but this time as a teacher rather than student: another direct result of my study abroad experience, and one that set me on course for my academic career.'               

Dr Stephen Tyre, School of History

'As an undergraduate in Belgium, I spent a few months as a visiting Erasmus student at the University of St Andrews.  The following year, I returned to St Andrews as a PhD student and today, I am still here as a lecturer, encouraging students to take the opportunity to spend time abroad.  My Erasmus exchange opened my eyes to the fact that there is more than one way to teach and understand a subject, something I now try and keep in mind in my own teaching.  My time in St Andrews also left me with some amazing friends, whom I am still in contact with, 15 years later.'          

Professor Ineke De Moortel, School of Mathematics & Statistics

'For me, Study Abroad was truly a leap into the unknown.  It was the first time I'd spent longer than a few weeks outside Fife and I had to consult a map to find where exactly in the former GDR Leipzig was located!  In many ways, it was a challenging year: the exhaustion in the first few weeks as I adapted to communicating in German all day, every day; navigating the bureaucracy; delivering my first English lesson to a class of ten year olds.  But as the year progressed I fely myself becoming more independent and confident that I could cope with the challenges, and the highs far outweighed the lows.  Above all, my year abroad opened my mind to new intellectual interests, which not only shaped my Honours years, but also influenced my postgraduate study.  Moreover, it instilled in me a belief in the value of Study Abroad which has naturally motivated my career path.'

Samantha Lister, Director of the Global Office