Study Abroad at USTAHC

Posted on May 24, 2020

Each year we are lucky to host multiple study abroad students from all over the globe. We reached out to Nicole Gaul, a 2019 semester one study abroad student from Canada, to give you a comprehensive review of studying abroad at St. Andrews University.

Hey hey, I’m Nicole! I’m from Victoria Canada, and I was on exchange at St Andrews for the Fall 2019 semester. I’m going into my 4th year of studies at Queen’s University, in Kingston Canada, in Earth System Sciences. This past year I had the opportunity to come to St Andrews as a part of the Multi-Lateral Student Exchange Programme. I am a defender on the varsity field hockey team back at Queen’s and had the opportunity to play with the incredible USTAHC Women’s 3XI team this past fall!

Why did you want to study abroad at the University of St. Andrews?

Study abroad had been on my radar since 1st year of university. Scotland held great appeal to me for many reasons, the main being that my ancestors immigrated to Canada from Scotland and I wanted to see where we were from. The Multi-Lateral Exchange is a full year exchange partnership between three universities around the world: The University of St Andrews, Queen’s University and the National University of Singapore. Each school selects two of their students to spend a semester studying at both of the other two institutions. This exchange also has an academic theme: The Global Environmental Issues of the 21st Century. In order to qualify for this exchange, the students need to be studying a field related to environmental sciences, geography, geology, global development or politics.

So, genuinely, I was just scrolling through my school’s exchange options and just happened to come across this opportunity that gave me the best of all worlds: to Study in Scotland, to study environmental issues and to continue on to Singapore the following semester. When I realised that the University of St. Andrews was the Scottish partner institution I immediately fell in love with the idea of attending an institution with so much history and character. What enticed me the most was how old the town and the school of St. Andrews is compared to Canadian standards. Founded in 1413, that makes the University of St. Andrews 428 years older than Queen’s University and 454 years older than Canada itself… that kind of scale was really hard to wrap my head around. For a girl who grew up on the West Coast of Canada, that history was something I literally only read about in books so to be able to live that seemed surreal.

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What are some differences between both hockey and academics at St. Andrews and Queen's?

Hockey at Queen’s and St. Andrews is quite different. From a very basic point of view, even what the sport is called is different! In Canada “hockey” refers to ice hockey, and so we have to call our hockey “Field Hockey”. At Queen’s we only have one team, the varsity team. We play in the Ontario University Athletics league during regular season and the winner of OUA’s go on to Nationals to play against the winners of the Canada-West league. Our season is pretty intense since we have to get all of our games in before the winter snowfall. Pre-season starts in August, and Nationals are finished by early November. The competition level is high and fierce, and the intensity of the season means that we train every day except for one, where we have a tactical session instead, and play multiple games on the weekends. During the off-season we go inside and play indoor hockey and focus more on gym sessions and weight training.

The academic differences between Queen’s and St Andrews are plentiful too. For starters, a full course load at Queen’s is five courses and they are typically more course-work oriented. A typical course will have weekly or bi-weekly quizzes, a midterm and a few assignments throughout the semester. There are typically three lectures and a tutorial/lab per week for each course and the final exam will usually account for 25-40% of your final grade. The grading system is also very different. At Queen’s we are given a percentage grade on all of our assignments and exams which is then translated to a letter grade on our transcripts. The letter grades are then translated again into a Grade-Point-Average out of 4.3.

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How did you find settling in to St. Andrews Hockey Club?

The story of how I got involved with USTAHC is actually pretty funny. I hadn’t intended on playing hockey while I was on exchange so I left all of my gear, stick, shinpads, turf shoes, mouthguard, literally everything back in Canada. The only workout clothes I had were an old pair of runners and some shorts. I had arrived in St Andrews a couple days early and was just walking through the AU when I happened to meet Jamie Carnegie (the hockey director). I mentioned that I played hockey back at Queen’s and he invited me to come out and practice. I thought about it for a couple days and realised that it was actually something that I was really keen to be a part of, but I also wanted the flexibility to travel and be able to enjoy other student clubs that St Andrews has to offer. Playing for the Women’s 3s was the perfect balance, it was still great hockey but without the same time commitment as the 1s or 2s. Settling into the 3s was a breeze, everyone was so welcoming and the importance placed upon socials off the field really made it easy to get to know everyone. What was also really touching, and something I had never seen before, was how integrated the whole Hockey Club was as a whole. From cheering other teams on at home games, to organising mixed socials, the community created throughout the club extends well beyond just the team you play with and really creates a sense of belonging.

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What is your favourite memory of USTAHC?

I really loved playing away games with the 3s. I always looked forward to a bit of a roadtrip and getting to see a bit more of Scotland outside of the St Andrews bubble, and the added bonus was that I got to play hockey too. Another highlight was my first ceilidh. One of my friends organised a ceilidh for her birthday and I absolutely loved the traditional music and the joy that came from it all. The atmosphere was contagious and everyone was laughing and smiling the whole night.

Why would you encourage others to study abroad and what advice would you give to those interested in study abroad?

I would recommend studying abroad to anyone and everyone who is able to! The single most important reason why is because of the depth of empathy you gain. Sharing experiences is unparalleled when it comes to understanding the innate differences between people around the world. Going away for a semester or two to experience a different reality wakes us up to the alternate truths that exist around the globe. Not only do you get to see astounding sights and meet genuinely incredible people, you also have an opportunity to learn more than just in a classroom. The bottom line is, study abroad is amazing because you get to see how people learn in other environments, but you also have the opportunity to learn much more outside the classroom than you would at home. So, my advice to anyone who is thinking about going on exchange is to do it full-heartedly and commit. These times will stick with you, just like the people that you meet. Not everyone has the privilege to take part in these programs, so if you can, don’t squander the opportunity to make a difference for yourself and for others.

Sum up your experience in three words...

“Gotta back yourself”

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For more information on study abroad, check out the university website here.