Reflections on Studying Abroad - Karin Brauner


First Experiences of Studying Abroad in the USA

Experiencing student life from different cultures has been really gratifying and eye-opening for me. My first experience of “studying abroad” was an unofficial exchange programme to Morgantown, Kentucky. My dad knew a lady that did voluntary medical work with underprivileged children in Guatemala, and he supported that, but he also knew she found these children homes in the U.S.A. whilst they were waiting for their surgeries or recovering from them. So he asked if he could find us a home to go to for our school holidays: In Guatemala, these are from the end of October to the beginning of January, quite a long time compared to 6 weeks in the Summer for British children!

So we went to a new environment, my dad dropping us off the first year, but the rest of the years we would be picked up by our Kentucky Dad or Mum at the Nashville Airport and then when that was finished, we would go to Disney World in Florida with my family. I know, haven’t said anything about education yet. I’m getting there!

As our Kentucky parents had work to do, we had to keep busy during the week, so as part of the experience, we went to the local elementary, then middle, then high school. We went from age 10 for me, 9 for my sister, up to graduating our own high school in Guatemala. So we went to school but there was no pressure for us to pass exams or anything. It was more a socialising and practising English exercise for us.

Differences I did notice whilst in school in Kentucky were that they had classes in “blocks”. Two hours or so of each lesson. The kids had to choose the four blocks per trimester they were to study; some took what I would consider more serious subjects, like chemistry or biology, whilst others took more career related ones, such as childcare and computers, whilst others seemed not bothered about academics and chose courses that weren’t too demanding in that sense. This was news and bizarre to me, as I had to do all the courses available at the school – from biology to physics to maths to social studies to English to Spanish grammar, to English or Spanish literature, arts, sports, and the list goes on! So doing just four seemed a bit pointless and weird. Grading was quite similar, so that wasn’t so alien to me.