It was my great wish to gain experience abroad for the first time after graduating from high school. However, since I was neither enthusiastic about au pairs nor work-and-travel, an Academic Gap Year seemed to be the perfect alternative for me, as I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what I wanted to study either. Via MicroEDU I found my university in England more or less by chance, the University of Essex, located on the outskirts of Colchester, just an hour’s train ride from London. The application went largely smoothly, only my high school made it a little difficult for me to issue English-language copies of my high school diploma and there was a brief misunderstanding as to which certificates I actually had to submit. Since I had started my application promptly, this was not an obstacle, questions were answered quickly and solutions to problems found, so that I was successfully registered in May and was given the chance to simply submit the missing documents later.
I chose my courses according to the descriptions on the university website and according to my interests, which ultimately turned out to be an interesting mixture. I chose basic courses in economics, criminology, literature and psychology, but this should change again at the beginning of my studies because there was an overlap in my schedule. However, the whole thing went very smoothly. In the first week of the semester, when you had enough time to take care of all kinds of organizational matters, I quickly swapped my literature course for an event specifically for international students called ” British Culture and Society ” In general, the courses corresponded to the online descriptions and in this way I was able to gain insights into the most diverse fields of study, which above all helped me to commit to my later studies. The course on British culture and society turned out to be my favorite course, even if I’m not a big fan of politics and history myself, the content was chosen and presented so well that it remained interesting from start to finish. In addition, our lecturer tried to mix the group well, so that you could work in groups with a wide variety of people from different countries and thus get to know a completely new aspect of (cultural) exchange. An experience that also helped me a lot on a personal level, which is why I would recommend this course to anyone who not only wants to study in another language, but wants to use this time to not only learn about the country and the people, but also about wants to discover new things beyond the limits.
The on-site support consisted of the Essex Abroad Team, a group of very helpful and friendly staff from the university, who were on hand with help and advice with any kind of problem. Not only was the so-called “ Welcome Week ” organized by them, in which one could get to know the university and the people thanks to various events, but also later in the first term a kind of survey in which one wanted to make sure that one had settled in well. Fortunately, I didn’t have any problems, but I never had the feeling that I was on my own, which is very convenient abroad.
The search for a place in the dormitory was pretty straightforward, you could look at the individual units on the Internet and then register your choice with first, second and third wishes. My choice fell on the ” Meadows “, one of the newer dormitories on the edge of the campus. Even if this was not the cheapest in terms of price and the bathrooms were smaller than expected, the dormitory had a lot to offer. The rooms were big enough, enough storage space, a large desk and a large bed. In my house there was one bathroom for two people and four rooms on one floor, which luckily turned out to be absolutely unproblematic and I had no problems with my roommates. The fire alarm was tested weekly by the security company, but this was at a time that did not disturb everyday life. Otherwise there were no unpleasant incidents, which I had heard from the “Towers”, among other things; you had your own peace and quiet, your own retreat, but could also use the large kitchen, which became the focus of my shared flat life. Of course, you can’t trust the perfect roommate right from the start, but living together turned out to be uncomplicated, which was partly due to the fact that my shared apartment was very international and I quickly made friends.
The university’s leisure activities were very diverse, something that I hadn’t seen before from German universities or from experience reports from friends and relatives. Not only were there a wide variety of sports clubs (classic tennis, basketball, but also polo, kickboxing, rowing, cheerleading and pole dancing), living in the dormitory made it possible to use the fitness studio on campus, which was very well equipped. There was also the newly built multifunctional hall and outdoor sports fields. Should be more for running or jogging, to be enthusiastic, the campus, with its partly park-like character and the surrounding area, was perfect for this. But the offer was not limited to sports, the choice of student associations seemed limitless. So you found politically active groups, a “public speaking society”, an e-sports group, choirs, but also groups of different nationalities and religions, each of which organized small events or so-called “ socials ”. In general, the student union was very active and helped shape everyday university life. This gave you the feeling that even as a student you were involved in the decision-making process, you could come up with ideas and get involved.
The campus itself offers everything you need for everyday student life. From various dining options, bars, a club with changing events (for example silent disco), a cinema, hairdresser, theater, shopping for groceries and of course the seminar and lecture rooms, as well as the library. You don’t actually have to leave the campus, as everyday life is very centralized there, but the nearby Colchester also has its charm, some shopping, many nice cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as an art exhibition and a castle. Excursions into the surrounding area are also worthwhile, for example to Clacton-on-Sea or, of course, the classic way to London, Cambridge and so on.
However, according to act-test-centers.com, one should be aware of the cost of such a study abroad, the tuition fees in Great Britain are generally quite high compared to some German universities or colleges, as well as the cost of living. In addition, in my case there was the global corona crisis, which shortened my stay by one term, since all exams and seminars of the summer term took place online. The organization of the sudden change went without any difficulties, the university tried to provide daily updates on the situation and the international students were also well looked after so that we could reach a contact person in any case.
In conclusion, I can say that my year abroad was the best decision I could have made. Not only was I made familiar with everyday university life, I was also able to improve my skills in both the linguistic and academic context. For everyone who is still looking for the “perfect” course of study, I would generally recommend an Academic Gap Year, regardless of the country or university, because you can try out, challenge yourself and find out what you are best for interested and in which field of study you feel most comfortable. In addition, of course, there are all the experiences of independence, the use of the language and the experiences both in and outside the classroom. For anyone who would like to study at a British university near the capital with a varied program (both study and leisure), I would recommend the University of Essex, as it also made an impeccable impression on me in terms of equipment.