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Home > News and views > How a gap year with the ESU prepared me for life

How a gap year with the ESU prepared me for life

Chelcie tells us how transformative her experience in California was…

At 19, Chelcie Henry-Robertson spent 6 months at Stevenson School, California, as a scholar on the ESU’s Secondary School Exchange programme. Here, she tells us how transformative she found the experience and how it provided an invaluable opportunity to prepare for life at university and beyond.

It has been three years since I arrived back to the UK after completing my ESU Secondary School Exchange. The opportunity to spend two terms studying and living in California was not only an experience that will be forever unrivalled, but also one that prepared me for university life. I have just finished my Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences at Imperial College London and am about to begin a Master’s degree in environmental technology. As a result, I feel I am in a unique position to reflect upon how my time in America enabled me to better succeed at university.

My studies have always been my priority,therefore having a gap year that incorporated this was an attractive prospect. Going to high school in the US allowed me to continue my studies almost seamlessly into my first year of university. There was no worry of whether I would ‘forget’ how to study; in fact, I was more experienced with studying after having managed different deadlines, schedules and subjects from what I was typically exposed to in England. My academic experience in California gave me a cultural understanding of the American schooling system as well as the enjoyment of learning subjects without the pressure of attaining grades for university. The variety of classes offered in America is vast compared with British state schools. I studied subjects such as the art history of Ancient Rome, I learnt about US politics from American citizens, and I had the opportunity to explore new hobbies. For instance I soon found myself in the ceramics studio most days of the week, boarding at the school allowed me to spend more of my time behind the potter’s wheel than I would have imagined!

Furthermore, the elements of cultural understanding to be gained from living in the US were considerable, which is something I would not have obtained from just visiting the country. Being immersed in a new culture facilitated self-development and growth. Whilst I have always been a confident person, this trip has given me a belief in myself that I may not have had if I had not experienced all that I did.

Aside from studying, my university applications and indeed my career have, and will, continue to benefit from my time abroad. Not only because of my studies, but because my future career direction was also laid out for me after a trip to Mexico during my stay in California. It was there where I was able to talk to Mexican lawyers who inspired me to pursue environmental law and policy career paths. In the future, I am hoping to live and work in America and have already travelled back, both to visit friends and to explore more of the country on my own. I took advantage of the opportunity to travel across California alone during my gap year, which gave me both a love for travel, but also a confidence in myself that I hadn’t experienced before.

I feel privileged that the ESU enabled me to have such wonderful experiences at the age of 19,and, that they have played such a key role in forming who I am now at 22.

I am immensely grateful for what the Secondary School Exchange has given me so far and undoubtedly, I will continue to reap the rewards of my time in California in the future.

If Chelcie’s story appeals to you, why not apply for a Secondary School Exchange scholarship yourself

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