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Home > News and views > My year as an ESU Secondary School Exchange Scholar

My year as an ESU Secondary School Exchange Scholar

Firstly, I would like to thank the ESU for giving me the opportunity to be a scholar at Woodberry Forest School in 2018/19 – it was truly one of the best years of my life, and I’m still seeing benefits every day.

Coming from Belfast, arriving in Virginia at a large private school like Woodberry was daunting to begin with and it took me a while to get used to the new people I was meeting and the cultural differences between Belfast and America. However, I settled in very quickly and made a lot of friends in my first trimester.

Academically, I was exposed to a different style of learning which was much more centred on discussion as opposed to class work as it is in the UK. This helped me enormously as it allowed me to think outside the box and develop my own view on things, rather than simply accepting what the teachers told me. The teachers were excellent, too – they challenge the students which helps them to exceed expectations. And as they live on campus they are almost always free to help you with work or anything else you may need.

I was given the opportunity to study a range of subjects – statistics, English mythology, Chinese, French, engineering, and government and politics – many of which I had never previously taken. As well as broadening my horizons, this allowed me to grow academically and to take part in things I never thought I would have. We had two hours’ mandatory study hall each night, in which I revised for my A level repeats, and the routine and the hardworking, academic mindset of the school allowed me to perform above and beyond what I expected.

Being in America has definitely benefitted me culturally as well. Coming from the North of Ireland where sectarianism and the legacy from the Troubles is still prevalent, it was nice to get away from it all and go somewhere where it truly didn’t matter. It was very eye-opening to see the different political opinions in the States and I had many great discussions about a variety of issues. Spending my time with individuals who are very ambitious and motivated to do something great with themselves has also rubbed off on me as I now feel inspired and motivated to achieve my goals.

There were plenty of personal benefits from my scholarship, too. I made the Varsity Basketball team which allowed me to raise my game and become the best player I could be, as well as granting me the opportunity to play against top-level competition. I had the privilege of making some great friends with whom I hope to stay in contact. Thanks to them, I was able to visit other parts of the country – Lynchburg, Virginia, over Thanksgiving, Palm Beach, Florida, over spring break and Austin, Texas, over Easter – which was a great experience. In short, my year as an ESU scholar was truly amazing and I would recommend it to anyone. Thank you for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime!

Matthew Rooney

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