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Stories from Study Abroad: a Year at the BISC

By: Shivangi Mistry


Everyone dreams of having a movie-like university experience, one where they find their independence, grow into their own and build lifelong friendships. Well, I am very grateful to admit that I experienced that in my first year of university. My name is Shivangi, and I am a third-year undergraduate student at Queen's University majoring in Global Development Studies and minoring in History. While Queen's calls Kingston, Ontario home to its main campus, I was lucky enough to spend my first year abroad in Herstmonceux, England, studying in a 15th Century English castle called Herstmonceux Castle. The Castle, located in East Sussex, is one of two campuses that Queen's owns and is an experience offered to a small and lucky group of Undergraduate Arts and Science Students. Studying abroad was an experience that allowed me to travel, make incredible friendships and learn at the hands of world-renowned academics. My professors challenged my Canadian perspective of learning and helped prepare me not only for the rest of my undergraduate experience but beyond it!

Herstmonceux Castle was gifted to Queen's University by Alfred and Isabel Bader in 1993. Being generous donors of the university, they provided the Castle's unique grounds to house the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) to encourage international academic cooperation and learning. As such, the campus has provided a unique learning environment for Queen's Students for over 25 years and was one I was lucky to experience. The Castle houses the BISC and The Observatory Science Centre that contains a world-famous astronomical observatory and an expansive set of gardens housing their very own peacocks!

I stumbled upon the BISC during my search for universities in my final year of high school and immediately knew that it would be my dream school. The program is application-based. During my attendance, it hosted roughly 130 first-year students who attend for the full eight months of the academic year, unlike the upper-year program, which allows students to visit for one semester.

There were several factors that the BISC offered, which I valued deeply as part of my university experience, the first being the smaller class sizes. Because it is a selective program, it is inevitable to have a minimum of eight students in your class and have up to 30 as the maximum. There is a heavy focus in every course offered at the BISC, promoting student wellness and success by building a valuable relationship with the professors. Many of these professors are world-renowned academics, as I learned astronomy from NASA scientists and archaeology from a practicing Egyptian archaeologist. Our curriculum was drastically advanced, immersive, and hands-on, learning from highly praised and experienced professors. The second factor which pushed me to apply was the incorporation of Experiential Learning Opportunities (ELO's). From biology to art history and psychology, each course offers two field trip-like outings per semester, which allow you to travel with your class to sites all over the country. One of my fondest ELO's was visiting Stonehenge with my archaeology class and the Scottish Parliament with my politics class. By having the opportunity to see the concepts and artifacts we had learned about in class, I gained a greater appreciation for the lessons we were being taught. To see those very same things in person blew me away every trip and allowed me to experience a more diverse learning environment, and encouraged a decent amount of travelling. The final factor which drove me to apply was the undeniable cultural experience we were being offered as part of studying abroad. The castle grounds are located in East Sussex, situated in England's countryside with farmland and greenery being our everyday scenery. The English countryside not only hosts a quaint and peaceful studying environment, but it also encourages many of the students to build strong relationships with the locals through weekly travelling, volunteering and regular excursions. While the Castle is in the countryside, you can be assured that it is relatively easy to take a quick bus ride into Brighton's vibrant city or even take a two-hour train ride to London. It can be noted that I made a fair bit of weekend getaways and concert-going with my friends during the year!

A study abroad experience is never complete without travelling opportunities. The BISC offers two midterm trips out of the country included within your tuition, and my two were to Scotland in the fall term and to Paris in the winter. Not only did these two midterm trips include several exciting ELO's for classes, but it was also an opportunity that encouraged international academic connections, independent travelling, and an immersive cultural experience. While we were expected to attend mandatory ELO's for our classes during these trips, the BISC was also heavily involved in offering excursions to cultural landmarks. My most memorable of these trips has to be the time we climbed Arthur's Seat, a now extinct volcano in Scotland! It is also quite helpful that travelling within Europe can be incredibly cheap, from flights to food and lodging; you are guaranteed to have a good time even on a budget.

While this was only a year abroad program, I came out of attending the BISC feeling more academically and socially prepared for the rest of my degree. Not only did I fall in love with all the courses I took at the BISC, but I also found that the ELO's and overall cultural immersion encouraged me to explore what I wanted to pursue as a degree. Through studying art history, archaeology, and astronomy, I felt very encouraged to pursue a History degree after I had spent a year within a hands-on historical learning environment. Seeing and interacting with History was routinely experienced as we lived and studied in a 15th Century castle, a gateway to exploring numerous academic avenues.

After studying abroad, I learned several important lessons, including becoming more independent, financially responsible, and confident in myself. These skills have not only been valuable in my personal life but also academically. Studying at the Kingston campus now feels like a breeze compared to what the BISC challenged us with. It has enriched the opportunities I have been able to participate in. Speaking at conferences, networking with international contacts, and pushing the boundaries of my work will continue to be avenues in which I can reap the benefits, and I do not doubt that I will remain grateful for my year abroad for a long time. To those reading this article who are even slightly considering studying abroad, I hope that my reflection has shown you the endless opportunities that international opportunities present.


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