A Year of Friendships & Memories – Alumni Q&A

Heather O’Brien studied abroad for a yearlong term in Brighton, England. We spoke with Heather about why she chose to study in Brighton, what fears she had about being abroad a year, and how she grew during her time overseas.

Why did you choose to study abroad in Brighton?

I chose to study abroad in Brighton for a couple of reasons. The main one being that I desperately wanted to study in England, as England has been a place that I’ve loved visiting and could see a future for myself there. Secondly, with USAC, Brighton was the less costly of the three choices (the other two being London and Reading).

What surprised you about Brighton?

What surprised me about Brighton was the friendly and open nature of the people who lived there. Everyone I came across was exceptionally polite and kind. It managed to keep a small town vibe within a big seaside city. If you frequent certain places (as I am guilty of doing) then you get to know the workers and are able to have light conversations while running errands.

It’s a super accepting town that doesn’t care about size, skin, sexual orientation or gender. Brighton welcomes those who are undeniably themselves.

Why did you decide to study for a year?

I decided to study abroad for the year because for me a few months didn’t seem long enough to really know the culture, and I think it was the best decision I ever made. Thinking back, I realized that I would have missed so many fun times with the friends I made in Brighton if I had left in January. I would have missed my society’s (Drama Society) winter and spring show, friend’s birthdays, days at the beach when it’s warm. I think studying only half a year would have been a mistake and I wouldn’t have changed my decision for anything. It also allowed me to branch away from the other study abroad students from America and get to know my British colleagues.

The Brighton University Drama Society Cast for the Winter production of Frankenstein where I was a light technician.

How did you budget for a year abroad?

Budgeting was much like what I do back home. I made a quick spreadsheet to list out all my expenses and kept a weekly budget of around 100-150 USD. When I made my spreadsheet I had a column for both GBP (Great British Pound) and USD which I found really helpful in keeping on track of currency exchange rates while I was abroad. Also, it’s important to note that if you stay the full year, you can apply for work with your Tier 4 visa.

What were some of your fears about studying abroad a year? How did you overcome them?

My biggest fears included being on my own and wondering if I would be able to make any friends. How I overcame this was forcing myself outside my comfort zone and joining a society and participating in events. By doing this I was able to make friends and I didn’t have to worry about being alone. With the friends I made I knew that if I needed help with anything I could easily contact them.

Joining a society helped curve all of my fears as it taught me the most about being in British culture and taught me everything about being independent.

Me doing a stand-up comedy bit at The Quadrant for Brighton University Drama Society’s event/ TasteBUDS.

Did you experience homesickness and how did you manage that?

Homesickness was hard, really hard. It was hard being away from family and friends and my cat Indy, but what helped me the most was just being in communication all the time. I scheduled times to facetime my parents and I was always in connection with my friends from back home. The time difference wasn’t easy but setting up a clock on my phone to remind me of the times made it easy for me to see when they’d be asleep or awake! I can’t tell you how many times I accidentally woke up my dad with a too early in the morning text! And again, I know I sound like a broken record, but I can’t stress it enough it is so important to make friends in Brighton as it’ll help ease that homesick feeling and keep you busy!

My friends Rachel and Apollo on a rover boat tour of the Siene in Paris (an optional field trip in the program!)

What advice do you have for future students considering studying abroad for a year?

My advice for those debating on whether or not to study abroad for a year is to: DO IT! Just go for it, you’ll never make as good of memories as you will out there. You’ll learn so much about yourself and the potential you have and the impact you have on the people around you. Life’s too short to sit around and debate. If you have the means to go out and do it then do it!


Explore Studying Abroad in Brighton