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Home > News and views > ‘I’d like say an overwhelming thank you’ Olivia Thomas shares some of the highlights of her SSE experience

‘I’d like say an overwhelming thank you’ Olivia Thomas shares some of the highlights of her SSE experience

windswept girl on a hill

Following her Secondary School Exchange, Olivia Thomas is now hoping to switch her degree to include drama – and concentrating on saying yes to opportunities that come her way. 

Olivia Thomas travelled from Colyton Grammar School, Devon, to Western Reserve Academy, Ohio for her Secondary School Exchange 

‘I’d like say an overwhelming thank you to the ESU members and to the Exeter branch in particular for the opportunity itself and the financial support I was offered, without which I would not have been able to take up my place. The SSE was a unique, hugely enriching experience and one that has made a massive difference to my life and how I view things, not least because I’m now hoping to switch my degree (in politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Exter) to include drama.  

I hadn’t done any drama since about the age of 13 but I did two semesters’ worth in the US and loved every second. We put on a number of shows but being cast in Rumors by Neil Simon was my best memory of the whole exchange. The atmosphere on opening night was just incredible. 

Western Reserve has an amazing campus and a real community feel and I’d say another of the highlights was the amount and quality of the friendships I made, with people from all over the states as well as further afield and from all sorts of different backgrounds. I went to state school in England, so to go to a school where someone drives a Mercedes in every day and someone else was on full ride [a full scholarship] was eye-opening. 

My year there also helped me realise that the middle ground in American politics is actually far larger than is portrayed in the media. I think we’re often shown a very polarised view of American politics from the anarchic Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle that existed briefly in 2020, to the flag and faith conservatives with guns and eagles landing on their arms, whereas I discovered a huge, thoroughly reasonable section that no one talks about. I did meet moderate Republicans. Not all Republicans are pro-Trump, in fact many of them are not. You meet Democrats that aren’t just about taxing the rich and tearing down the establishment. And on a lighter note, I was surprised at just how friendly Midwesterners are – they have no qualms about opening their doors to anyone. 

Overall, the year has made me more confident and more comfortable in my own skin and, even more importantly it has reminded me to enjoy life and to soak it all up. I think the English school system can sometimes lead you to be too focused on your CV whereas this has taught me to live in the moment and to say yes to opportunities that come my way.’ 

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