Studying in the US - year abroad - what do we need to know?

(42 Posts)
emsiewill Fri 03-May-19 18:00:33

DD2 is due to start her year in the US (this will be the third year of her degree - she's studying American Studies at Hull) in August - she's going to the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

I was wondering whether anyone whose DCs had done the same thing would have some words of wisdom for us? We've just had a meeting at the uni about it, where some students who came back this year had some interesting things to tell us, but I'm sure there are a lot of things we haven't considered.

Even better if anyone has actually been to the same uni - or is there right now! (you never know!).

Thanks in advance for your help.

OP’s posts: |
MissConductUS Fri 03-May-19 19:38:46

I'm an American mum with one child in uni and another in the process of applying, so I can't tell you much about UNC Wilmington other than the fact that it has an excellent reputation here and I can answer general questions about university life in the US.

I was mostly moved to post because I had no idea that any university in the UK offered a degree in American Studies. That's brilliant. grin

BubblesBuddy Sat 04-May-19 01:20:33

MissConduct: loads of universities offer this degree and have done for years.

I cannot offer any advice on this particular year abroad except to say that Americans are friendly. Many stay in State for education because it’s cheaper and, having recently visited two universities in Virginia, (not NC - I know) they look like great places to be.

DD did a year abroad in Europe and one nugget of advice is to try and make friends. Being outwardly friendly helps. You then get included and you get invited to social activities. The most important thing to try and avoid is loneliness and home sickness.

I think Wilmington is a bit geographically isolated, so does she want to travel elsewhere to break the year up? If so, will you fund this? In her second country, DD travelled extensively. Get air travel home sorted out before last minute seat prices break the bank and decide if you will pay for ad hoc visits home for 21st birthdays! Her and her friends back home! Easy from Europe but less easy from Wilmington!

Check what is expected of her whilst at UNC and what work/exams she is expected to do. What is she required to do for Hull? DDs university in Italy had no idea what Bristol required and made life difficult for students about signing off attendance and exam performance (exam results not needed by Bristol but Italian university utterly disorganised about this). DDs marks for the year were awarded by Bristol not the two universities she studied at. Make sure DD knows what she is required to do!

Lastly: Are you going over with her? I assume she has applied for lodging?

Needmoresleep Sat 04-May-19 05:05:45

DS is studying in the States, and DD did Camp America under the same visa.

A few random tips.

1. The US banking seems a lot more clunky than ours and it is possible to run into a few Catch 22s like needing a bank account to get accommodation but needing a US address to get a bank account. Its worth looking at setting up a Monzo account.

2. US Universities may not be very good at providing advice on visas. If the UK University is also leaving it to the student it is worth googling the detailed step by step advice provided by Camp America. Start early as you need to book an interview appointment with the US embassy, and summer is their busy season. Also you need the US sponsor to provide a signed form, but this only has limited validity. If it runs out, as it did for both DC, you need to be sent a new one. The US appear far more fussy about passport photos. We ended up using photographers from the recommended list, after the system rejected our earlier efforts.

3. The £ is weak, meaning the US is surprisingly expensive.

Needmoresleep Sat 04-May-19 05:07:25

4. Medical insurance from the college is often far cheaper than alternatives. Check that they are eligible. And have a thorough dental check up before they go.

Needmoresleep Sat 04-May-19 05:26:43

5. DS has been able to access the family subscriptions to Netflix and Spotify and has surprised us by watching British favourites like Bake Off in his down time.

6. I assume she will live on campus. Off campus accommodation is often unfurnished which is a pain. (Renting furniture, which is what Americans seem to do, is expensive. DS ended up ordering IKEA furniture online to be delivered the day after he arrived. You can opt for assembly as well. Great idea except the bed became out of stock and did not turn up for a further two weeks.)

7. Read climate charts. DS is in the midWest which got brutally cold this winter. He should have packed his ski gear.

alreadytaken Sat 04-May-19 10:12:39

mine hasnt done a year abroad, but planning a medical elective has some of the same issues, regardless of the country. A friends child went to America.

First be prepared for them meeting an American boyfriend and wanting to stay/ go back. Friends child did this.

Visas are a real pain - apply early. The university probably has people who are supposed to help foreign students, sometimes they are not much help.

Check insurance carefully, especially if there are any pre-existing conditions.

Do they drive? American public transport is limited but major companies can charge a fortune for insuring the under 25s.

Our child has a Halifax credit card as a second card on our account. No fees on foreign transactions and a credit card is usually necessary for car hire. This is also a back up for any problems with a bank account. Sort out what they will do about banking early.

What phone contract will they have?

Will they be able to work on campus, sometimes students are allowed to do this when they cant work off campus?

When flying with American airlines the rules on care if a flight is delayed are different ( mostly you're on your own). While we remain in the EU flights with EU based airlines over more protection. If you have any airline loyalty points consider reward flights for the flexibilty.

You can get vacuum bags that compress items to fit more into a suitcase. You will see Americans with massive bags that they still regard as carry ons - check the baggage restrictions.


Needmoresleep Sat 04-May-19 10:30:54

The thing that surprised DS most are the constant exams. Mid terms, end of term, end of year. It feels like every four weeks, and they can lead, for Americans at least, to the all important Grade Point Average and Class Placement. Be prepared to start working from thd outset and to have to keep working. Very different from the frantic revision after Easter approach in the UK.

emsiewill Sat 04-May-19 12:02:44

Thanks all for your info.
@MissConductUS as PP said, American Studies is a well-known degree here, and DD is really enjoying it (and doing well as well). Glad to hear that Wilmington is well thought of - I have to admit I'd never heard of it before DD said she was going there!

To answer some other questions, she hasn't started her visa application yet, as she hasn't had her SEVIS number from the uni yet. They do seem to be on the ball there, though - she has an email address and online account set up with them. They have provided detailed step-by-step instructions, although I must admit, having looked at the website etc, it does look quite complicated. We know we need to be on the ball with it though. Thanks for the info about the photos, will bear that in mind.

Re banking / money: we have a Halifax card already (avid follower of Martin Lewis) and I was planning to get one for her, as I thought it might be sensible. @Needmoresleep, is there any reason you recommend Monzo (I don't know much about them)?

Accommodation is already sorted & it is on-campus - she even knows which room she will be in and who will be in the other rooms. She has been relieved to be able to get a single room - she knew a shared room would be very much a possibility, and was resigned to that if necessary.

Medical insurance is offered by the uni & although I've been told it is expensive compared to standalone policies, it seems like the most sensible option to me, as we can be sure it offers everything the uni requires. She has no pre-existing conditions, but has been told by the uni she needs to get a doctor's cert and perhaps some vaccinations, which we will organise for when she's here in June / July. Will also get her a dentist appointment.

She doesn't drive & I imagine will be spending most time on campus, as that is where she will be living. In terms of travel around the States, it is something she wants to do, particularly at the end of her course, during the 30 day "grace period". She will be coming home for Christmas and possibly one other time (will depend how she feels I guess). Her 21st isn't until mid-June, when she will have finished her course, but this means of course, that she won't be legal to drink when she's there!

Apparently she may be able to get a job on campus, but she is hoping not to have to do that, so she can focus on her studies and making the most of her time there - she has worked in Hull during her first 2 years, so she isn't averse to it, but we agree that if she can be sensible with the money we give her, then she shouldn't need to.

Both unis have been helpful with the process to be fair - she has had a module this year all about the year abroad, where they had to create a dossier about every aspect of the year, showing that they'd considered everything, travel, courses, weather, politics, money, accommodation etc etc. The uni also hosted a meeting for parents last week, where we were able to talk to students who are now in their 4th year who offered some good hints and tips - the one big thing that came out of it was that homesickness is normal, but make the effort to get involved in things and it will pass. Also play up the British accent because they love it (we are from Wales, so DD will be even more of a novelty!).

She does have a boyfriend here, who she met in Freshers' week, and they are very much planning on staying together, but it is going to test the relationship, that's for sure.

Thanks again to everyone so far, and if anyone thinks of anything else, please feel free to chip in!

OP’s posts: |
MissConductUS Sat 04-May-19 15:37:54

@emsiewill I looked at the American Studies program on Hull's website and it looks fascinating! I would love to take some of those courses myself.

My son is just finishing his first year of uni and doesn't drive either. He just takes an Uber when he needs to get into town for a shop or he tags along with someone who does drive and is going shopping.

We do love a British accent here, but she shouldn't try to make it theatrical. Also, in North Carolina she MUST NOT use the term "Yank". It's a pejorative in the American south - short for Yankee, which is how they referred to northerners during the American Civil War. Yes, there are still hard feelings about losing that war 150 plus years later.

If her mobile phone won't work here she should look into a short term contract with Verizon or get one of their prepaid phones and just buy call time and data as needed.

She'll have a lovely time, I'm sure.

emsiewill Sat 04-May-19 15:45:38

Thanks @MissConductUS, she is very culturally aware, and was instrumental in getting a confederate flag removed from an American food stall at a festival we went to, so I'm sure she will be clear on what is and isn't acceptable.

You are right about her course, it is so broad in scope that it is bound to catch the imagination of many people - I would love to have the time and money to go back to uni and do some of the courses as they sound fascinating.

I don't think she will overplay the British thing - but it could come in useful at times I'm sure!

She is looking forward to it, and I have a feeling it will be life-changing experience for her.

OP’s posts: |
MissConductUS Sat 04-May-19 15:54:02

I just mentioned it because I get called a Yank here all the time, which as a New Yorker is fine with me. I also understand that the term is used in the UK as a general term for Americans. A lot of people in NC would be seriously stabby if you called them a Yank. I applaud her for getting the confederate flag removed from the food stall, but it's a topic best avoided in the American south. She will see lots of them, along with statues of Confederate military figures, etc.

That said, southerners tend to be a bit more gentile than New Yorkers. grin

helzapoppin2 Sat 04-May-19 15:55:45

DS attended an American uni for a while. I do remember books were very expensive and the editions could change each year, but there were websites, and Amazon, where they could be a lot cheaper.
He just had a payg phone.
Funniest thing was when, being an international student, he had to do an English language test!

Needmoresleep Sat 04-May-19 15:57:46

Monzo was recommended on here when DS was going to the US. I passed this on, but he ignored me but ended up applying for one at the last minute. I think it was the need to have a US bank account for utilities etc, and as this was internet based it counted, whilst Halifax did not. Once he had a residential address he was able to set up a US account. But he lives off campus so it was more complicated.

Line by line guidance for the visa application is very important. Dont forget to read the instructions on how to save a half completed document. I did it with DD, but ended up printing off the Camp America instructions as a guide for DS as his University did little more than provide the Servis form.

78percentLindt Sat 04-May-19 15:57:55

A PP mentioned bank accounts. DS did a semester in Europe under Erasmus. He managed with a prepaid cash card - we used Caxton which was an MSE favourite at the time- and a Halifax credit card. He was prepared to open a bank account but didn't need it. In effect we had a joint account and I topped up the Caxton card with Euros when he needed it. You would need to check the charging arrangements as some cards charge for taking out cash.
Check the detail but I think Natonwide Flex student bank accounts don't charge for use overseas.

78percentLindt Sat 04-May-19 16:00:39

Oh and Whats App is fantastic for phone calls and texts.

MissConductUS Sat 04-May-19 16:26:15

We all have iPhones and FaceTime has been a life saver with DS, It's so good to see his face when we talk. We prop up the phone at his place at the dinner table and have dinner while we talk to him.

DS has a Visa branded debit card and has been able to use that for everything. It's tied to a cash management account in his name at the same brokerage house DH uses (Fidelity) so DH can just ring them to transfer money into his account as needed. He can also use it to get cash anywhere. A bank account really wasn't necessary.

Leeds2 Sat 04-May-19 17:18:45

My DD is just coming to the end of her third year of an undergrad degree (not at Wilmington. Coincidentally, my sister was offered a place to do American Studies at Hull - she is now in her early sixties, so it has been around for some time!).
She had no difficulty setting up a bank account - from memory, a representative of Bank of America was at orientation, and reeled her in!
Visa wasn't difficult either, the university sent a form confirming she was going to be a student there, think she had a form to fill in and then an appointment at the Embassy in London. Had an appointment in the morning, and went back to collect the visa the same afternoon. I would apply for that as soon as she has the paperwork, as the appointment list was very full! I think DD found it a bit of an odd process, as two people's applications were rejected whilst she was having her interview, and one ended up crying and rolling around on the floor. She said it was then she realised that she should've been a bit more careful filling her own form in!
The thing that caused us both a lot of stress was the medical questionnaire, which all new students were required to submit. It was very, very detailed and needed dates for lots of vaccinations, some of the usual ones and some which she had never had. So she had to get the missing ones, and pay the GP (£60?) for filling in a form. A couple of the vaccinations were rejected by the university, can't remember which ones but it was due to US having different time scales for gaps between different doses. She paid to have these done at the university hospital, and it wasn't actually a problem - just seemed it when we were trying to fill in the form at home! Please make sure you have the insurance - my DD was admitted to the hospital during the first week of orientation, and I have never been so glad that she was on their list of people allowed treatment!
Not driving hasn't been a problem. Students aren't allowed to park on her campus anyway!
She worked from her second term (she told me international students weren't allowed by the university to work in the first term, I don't know why) in a college cafe, and has since then got a job in an admin office on campus in an area she is interested in. There seem to be loads of jobs around if a student wants them, and some can be helpful in terms of "CV building" as well as earning money - her friend had a position doing something with fish in aquariums, which is an area in which she wants to work.
The university website advertises that if an international student is alone over Thanksgiving, staff will invite them to spend the day with their family, which I think is lovely! DD actually went to her roommates for her first Thanksgiving, but I found it nice to know that she did have options.
She hasn't found the lack of ability to buy alcohol a problem and, indeed, there always seems to be someone with an older brother/friend etc who will buy it for them. But she has been to visit friends at UK universities, and has been amazed at how prevalent alcohol is. She has said to me that she prefers the US system in this regard!
Sorry, I have probably gone off in a rather rambled and incoherent manner, but do ask if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer.

alreadytaken Sun 05-May-19 13:12:51

Just checked back on what someone else was doing about cash and they used Caxton too I think my child is using some sort of banking ap and a debit card that they assure me has no overseas fees - but we only got involved in checking they had thought about it and then providing the emergency credit card.

SenecaFalls Sun 05-May-19 19:18:48

She will see lots of them (Confederate flags)

Not on any UNC campus, she won't.

Wilmington is a lovely part of the country, and interestingly is the port where many British settlers, especially Scots, entered. There is a lot to see just in North Carolina, and I am sure she will get invitations to visit friends in other parts of the country.

emsiewill Mon 06-May-19 15:21:59

Thanks everyone who has posted, I'm taking note of all of the hints and tips being given & they are all really useful.

It feels like we have a mountain of bureaucracy to climb before she goes, but I guess it's just a case of breaking it down and getting it done.

OP’s posts: |
alreadytaken Mon 06-May-19 23:16:42

apparently Monzo is what mine has, so worth taking a close look.

pearldeodorant Mon 06-May-19 23:29:04

Monzos are fab, I use mine daily as I'm living abroad currently.

The phone network 3 has a thing where any contract works abroad in America called "at home". Look into it as I also use this and once we discovered it a few friends changed over to it. You could ring her from any UK number and it would be charged as though she's still in the UK so v good for your peace of mind too!

She will love it! Best of luck to her!

mathanxiety Tue 07-May-19 04:08:10

The best idea for banking is to get a bank account with a bank that has ATMs on campus if at all possible. At orientation there will be reps from different area banks looking for their Christmas bonus students to sign up. You can research ahead of time what banks have ATMs on campus in UNC and if there are UK affiliates or branches it might be a good idea to talk to them.
There is no such thing as an overdraft in the US. One dollar overdrawn will result in a fine plus repayment. You can have a warning set to a certain amount (down to the last $100 for instance) so you will not overdraw.

Orientation should also have many stalls with student organisations looking for new blood. She should dive in as much as possible.

Get WhatsApp if you don't already for calling and texting. Try Republic Wireless for a phone and payg arrangement. Data can be increased (prices increase too).

She will need to check her vaccinations - contact the UNC student medical service asap and send them the record of what she has had so far. She will definitely need a meningitis jab but wait until you hear from the medical service what form this must take, if it is a series, etc. There may be more, including a TB test (not BCG but a TB resistance test with verified results.

She should definitely consider a campus job. It's a great way to get to know people. Best bet with this in mind is possibly something in the cafeteria.

Hope she will have a blast.

BubblesBuddy Tue 07-May-19 09:06:49

Having been to North Carolina, there are Confederate flags openly on show in gardens etc. If she had one taken down in the UK, she might find this area of the USA a bit of a cultural shock! There are people there who clearly identify as Confederates. So it’s best to keep quiet about this. Ditto Trump!

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