A Semester Across the Pond - Leeds, United Kingdom: Cara Nordberg, Toxicology major, ERM & Global Health minors


Posted: January 4, 2013

Leeds was the perfect city for me. Leeds Uni is the size of Penn State, so the campus felt a bit like home. I’m really glad that I decided to take go out of my comfort zone.
Leeds' city centre on a sunny day

Leeds' city centre on a sunny day

From the moment I arrived at Penn State, I had my heart set on spending a semester abroad. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I knew I did not want to go to the United Kingdom. I had heard it was cold and rainy, and it just didn’t seem to be as fascinating as other European countries. So after much searching and debating, where did I finally decide to study? – the United Kingdom, of course!

When I got there, I knew that I had chosen the right place for me. Leeds is a mid-size city located in Northern England. I was sure I would have gotten frustrated with the crowds in London, so I avoided the universities there. Until I studied abroad, Penn State had been the most populated place I had ever lived. Leeds was the perfect city for me. It has a few universities, and I studied at the largest one – the University of Leeds (called “Leeds Uni” by the students). Leeds Uni is the size of Penn State, so the campus felt a bit like home. I lived in a flat about two miles away, and most days I walked to campus because it was so nice to walk through the city centre. I was surprised to find out that it actually doesn’t rain much in Leeds – it probably rained less than it does at Penn State. And it was colder than 40°F only on two days!

NordbergEngland2.pngBecause I knew so early that I wanted to spend a semester abroad, I had decided to take most of my Gen Ed classes abroad. At Leeds Uni, I took a variety of classes that were outside my science-based “comfort zone”. Two that were especially unusual for me were History & Philosophy of Science (I couldn’t completely give up science!), and the Plays of Shakespeare. I figured that, while I was in England, I might as well learn about the most famous English playwright in history! I’m really glad that I decided to take some classes that were out of my comfort zone. I ended up enjoying them, and they forced me to think critically and creatively. It was a bit scary that in three of my four classes, the semester grade consisted of only a midterm essay and a final essay. The final essays were especially worrisome because they were timed, handwritten essays, and I had never before written an essay exam in college. Even though my hand muscles did not appreciate two straight hours of writing, I’m grateful that I learned how to handle a new type of evaluation system, and the essay practice certainly paid off since this past semester at Penn State, I had to write essay exams in a few of my classes. I also think that adjusting to a different grading system has helped me to prepare for challenges that I may face in graduate school and in my career. I am certain to encounter situations that will be out of my comfort zone, and I can use my study abroad experience to prove to a potential or current employer that I’m able to overcome challenges and succeed in new settings.

Although I loved Leeds, my favorite part of studying abroad was the traveling that I was able to do on weekends. For most of the semester, I traveled to another part of the UK nearly every weekend. It was exciting to learn about the rich history of all of these places. I visited the Beatles museum in Liverpool, saw Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon, climbed “Arthur’s Seat” in Edinburgh, and learned that it’s technically still legal for a person in York to shoot a Scotsman with a bow-and-arrow (luckily, nobody tries it!). 

NordbergEngland3.pngI would definitely encourage everybody to study abroad for at least a summer, if not longer. Even for students like me who cannot speak a foreign language, there are so many choices that there ought to be a good fit for everyone. It’s so important to learn about and adjust to a new culture and to be able to go out of your comfort zone. For those students who worry that studying abroad is too expensive, some programs are actually quite affordable! Since Leeds is an exchange partner with Penn State, I just paid my usual Penn State tuition.

The world is huge and extremely exciting – so go see it!