For those who are new to this blog, a few years ago, I studied abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Sound familiar? Probably, because that’s where I’m at again right now. That’s right, I love it so much I came back for my Master’s degree!
Unlike a lot of students, especially American students, I studied abroad for an entire academic year: September 2015 to June 2016. With that, I got to live two very distinct semesters and reflect on the differences between them.
Length: The fall semester is considerably shorter than the spring one. University lectures begin in late September and conclude in mid-December: just a bit under three months. Exams are typically after Christmas, so if you’re studying just for the fall semester, you’ll have to take your exams early or do an alternate assignment such as an essay that can be done from home as your final assessment. In the spring term, lectures begin in early February and last until late April: again, three months. But, you have all of May to revise for your exams (or, you know, travel) before the sitting period ends about mid-June. If you play your cards right, you could have six months based abroad if you go in the spring semester: three more than you would in the fall semester.
Long-term ravel: Before my study abroad program, I got to travel quite a bit after W.W.O.O.F.-ing all summer in Ontario and a family vacation to Maui: I went to New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Dublin and Copenhagen for a bit under a month before moving into my university halls. If you’re studying in the fall semester, the time leading up to your program is probably your best shot for long-term travel. At U.K. universities, there are no breaks in the first term like you would get in the U.S. (e.g. fall and Thanksgiving breaks), so your trips will be limited to short weekends. In the spring semester, you have both Easter break(two weeks) and revision period (about a month) that you can use to travel as well as the summer after your exams.
Peak season: Typically, the warmer months are peak travel season. In Europe, I noticed this is mostly from May-August, although some of the larger cities are almost always a madhouse and you may get a surge around the holidays and various spring breaks. With that, both terms have considerable time frames to travel during the off-season. I did most of my travelling during the off-season and the only place I remember being especially crowded during that time was Rome, but it was also Easter that weekend, which I should have accounted for.
Accommodation: I know of several students who had a hard time getting university accommodation for a spring semester abroad because a lot of the spaces were taken by British first years or year-long international students. With that, it’s easiest to secure you first choice accommodations in the fall semester as you get allocated along with all the other incoming students for the academic year, but the university will do its best to allocate its housing for all students.
Weather: When I arrived in September, the weather was immaculate. It stayed bearable until about mid-December. Then, it’s mostly dark and miserable until April. First term was definitely better weather-wise. I remember it snowed a bit before my birthday in late April. Then, the second May comes around, it’s warm and sunny again. However, even at its worst, the temperatures rarely get below 40°F (5°C) in the winter, the rain is a consistent drizzle throughout the year and the winds are mild.
Exams: Like I mentioned, if you take a semester abroad in the U.K. during the autumn term, you will likely have alternative assignments for your final exams to do at home as exams at your host university will be after Christmas. But, that means less time to do such assessments before the spring term of your home university begins again. If you study in the spring semester, you will stay abroad for your exams, so you have more access to resources such as contact with your professors and coursemates (the time change can be a real bitch) and university academic resources.
Meeting people: Like accommodation, it’s easy to get in with people early in the year, especially with first years who are all eager to make new friends during Fresher’s Week. However, there is always Refresher’s Week in the spring term for those looking for new opportunities and friendly faces. Besides, I don’t know many people who wouldn’t be open to taking new international student under their wing!
Photo by Witness Humanity.