Global Again: What It’s Like to Study Abroad at Drexel (and During a Pandemic)
Why would someone choose to study abroad at Drexel University? Is it the academics, the school spirit, the opportunities abounding in our city? Turns out, it’s not one, but all of these factors according to three international students who joined our campus community this fall. In the Q&A below, DrexelNow found out what it’s been like for them studying abroad at Drexel while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and if the experience is meeting their expectations.
- Kathryn Nuttall, a political science student from University of York in England studying abroad at Drexel through spring term.
- Disha Chandiramani, an international business student from University of Sheffield in England studying abroad at Drexel through spring term. Chandiramani is originally from Hong Kong.
- Nitiwit “Junior” Jongphiphithaporn, an economics student from Jacobs University in Germany who studied abroad at Drexel for fall term. Jongphiphithaporn is originally from Thailand.
Q: Why did you want to study abroad in America and at Drexel specifically?
Nuttall: I go to University of York at home, and it's a really small city. It's very historical and quaint, but I'm a big fan of big city life, and I always knew I wanted to study abroad because traveling and living abroad is always something I was really interested in since I was really young. I've been to the States a few times with my family, so I felt kind of comfortable here, but it's still so far away that it's out of my comfort zone. So, I thought it was a good compromise.
… I’d been to Philadelphia for, like, a day before when we did a road trip of the East Coast, and I loved it. In a day, I fell in love with the city, so it just felt right for me. So I applied here and I got placed here, and I was over the moon about it. I love it so far. It's a great fit for me, so it's worked out really nicely.
Chandiramani: I always wanted to come to the States for university, but the U.K. was just an easier choice considering that I didn't do my SATs and I had a British passport, so it just made more sense. … The two universities I was going to apply to [before that] were Drexel and Miami.
When I did find out that I had Drexel as a study abroad option at Sheffield, I was really excited. … [Studying in] the U.S. always stood out to me because it was like throwing myself out of my comfort zone, with the way people speak or how people act or the things they prioritize.
Jongphiphithaporn: I'm originally from Thailand, but I'm studying in Germany. When I was 15, I spent about almost a year in the U.S. in Michigan as part of the U.S. Public High School Exchange Program. So I kind of already have that experience of being an exchange student.
…There was a selection of the schools where I could choose to student abroad, and I picked Drexel as my first choice.
Q: How did the pandemic affect your study abroad plans, if at all, and how does it feel to do a study abroad program in America during the pandemic?
Chandiramani: It was a very iffy situation whether we would actually be able to come here. Just a week before I was about to leave, [Hurricane Ida] came and Philadelphia was under water.
I got really scared and I was like, “I just don't think this is meant for me. I don't know if I'm going to be going.”
[The pandemic] has made a dent in our University experience, in my first year in the U.K. [But] I think everything just kind of came together. It was like this whole big thing, but yeah, I guess we are here now, so it’s fine.
Jongphiphithaporn: At first, my parents would not permit me to come here to the States because they were kind of afraid of the rising COVID cases and American hesitancy to get vaccinated. So they worried about it very much because there could be an outbreak at the campus, etc.
In my case, I was lucky with the visa. I got an appointment quite early. … But the medical examination part at Drexel, that one was a bit difficult because one of the test is regarding TB, or tuberculosis. My laboratory in Thailand was quite busy because they were doing COVID tests and my case did not count as an emergency case. So, it took quite a while to get that done. But yeah, everything is done and I'm here.
Nuttall: I was really worried that it wasn't going to get [my visa granted in time], but it did and I was really lucky. … I only ended up getting it two weeks before I came here. Another thing that was really stressful was the worry that we wouldn't be allowed into the country or that Drexel themselves would say, “I'm sorry, we're not having any exchange students.” I didn't end up booking my accommodation until really late. … I'm really lucky that it worked out nicely. I stay in one of the American Campus Communities [buildings]. But again, that was something that I ideally would have sorted much earlier, but I didn't want to sign a contract and then not be able to come. So that was definitely something that was hard for me. But now I'm here. I don't think COVID is that big of a barrier to living a normal life aside from masks, being vaccinated, that kind of thing.
Q: What was or is your favorite part about academics at Drexel? Is there anything you'd say that you really enjoy about campus life or city life in Philadelphia?
Chandiramani: In the U.K., we'll have two parts to each module. You have an assignment and you have your exam and one is worth like 60% and the other 40% or 50/50. That puts so much, I don't know if it's stress or pressure, but that's all your grade relies on. Over here, I'm getting my grades out of quizzes or homework. It's so balanced out where I'm like, “Okay, if I didn't do well on that, I can buck up my grades on my homework or I can do it on this part.” So I think that's like the academic side. Social-wise, it's very different. When people do ask me like, “Oh, do you like Sheffield better or Philly?” I think I like Philly better because I've experienced more. During COVID, I could experience nothing in Sheffield. But at Drexel, it's just so different. I'm getting a whole new experience.
Nuttall: The thing I like the most about academics is at home, I do politics with international relations, and all I study for the three years of that is politics with international relations. It's all I do. Every class is related to that in some way, whereas here, yeah, I'm a political science major, but last quarter I did an Africana Studies class, I did a sociology class and next term I'm doing another history class. I have the choice to do so much more, and as much as I like sticking to the social sciences because that's where my interest is, if I wanted to I could take an interior design class. I could take anything. It's just so much more open, and I love that because I don't necessarily love just doing one thing all the time. It can get a little bit repetitive. … [At Drexel] you can look at more things that you're interested in rather than one thing in huge detail. I like that more and it might not suit some people, but it definitely suits me more. So that's definitely my favorite thing.
Jongphiphithaporn: In Germany, it's a three-year program for the bachelor’s, so every class is really concentrated on the major that you choose. There is not much room for a minor. So, when I got here I had opportunity to take a finance course and one sociology course and one political science course. I kind of did some negotiating with my home university back in Germany of, “Yeah, please let me take this course because I think that this will relate to my study and open my worldview, doing different stuff rather than my just major.” Maybe it can shape my mind to study something else when I get into my master’s program, for example.
In terms of social life, I also joined a club here at Drexel called Drexel Democrats. They have a weekly meeting which I attend regularly, and they were really nice to me. I feel like there is a sense of community and there is a club for everyone.
Q: What was the most interesting or unexpected thing you found about studying abroad at Drexel?
Nuttall: I definitely feel like you have this idea when you're not from the States of what the American college experience is like, and it's hyped up in films or you read about it. It's quite well-known, and I feel like it matched up quite well. It's obviously not a huge campus school because we have the city so close, and so there's differences in that sense. But there's so many things that I just love that’s exactly what I was expecting.
Me and my roommates ended up going to the Blue and Gold Madness event for the start of the basketball season. It's just so fun. They announce the players, they're running in. Everyone's in the colors. There's a marching band. It's just so American, but in the best way, because that's exactly the kind of thing I wanted to experience when I came here. It's just met all my expectations and exceeded them.
Chandiramani: [In Philly], I think everything's so much more fun here. There’s just more happening. Because of COVID, things have changed. There's more outdoor seating and they're warm and they're cute and you don't find that in Hong Kong. In general, I guess it's so much better than what I saw on the videos or when I searched images. I remember driving in my first day and I'm like, “Oh my God, everything was so different to Google Maps.” It was like the complete opposite. There's a lot of history as well. I'm not a big fan of just going to museums and stuff, but it's everywhere.
Jongphiphithaporn: I had an American high school experience before and like others watched in the movies how American college is [portrayed] in the media. One thing that really exceeded my expectation is how nice and professional Drexel professors were because I enjoyed every class I took and the professors are actually really caring about you. Having these really flexible office hours, you just drop by, have a conversation with him about different topics [not necessarily related] to class.
Q: Why would you encourage other international students like yourself to study abroad at Drexel?
Chandiramani: It’s putting yourself out of your comfort zone, and I find that very important. … The reason I applied for a study abroad at Drexel was because there was only one person from my entire university going. So I was like, “Okay, let me go put myself into more trouble of being on my own and chuck myself to the other side.” So I don't know, I just feel like I get the thrill from putting myself into situations that I cannot control. I know it sounds like I'm torturing myself, but it's just that feeling of you're on your own and go figure yourself out. It’s something you'll remember ten years down the line. You'll sit there on your couch one day when you're old and you have kids and you have grandkids and you'd be like, “You know what I did when I was younger? I did that.” I went through all that for my life. And while you're here, you experience [so much]. In the States and the U.K. it is easy to just hop from city to city, like, “Oh, I have a weekend or have a long weekend, let me go there.” So things like that make you experience the world a little bit more.
Nuttall: I am a huge advocate for studying abroad. For here specifically, I would say come for the school spirit and for the city spirit because Philadelphians are great. The fact that they just love Philadelphia so much, it makes you love the city in the same way. I feel like it's my home and I've been here three months. [Plus] it's kind of the ideal American college experience with school spirit. … I really feel like I'm part of the school community much more so than I do even at my university at home, even though I've been there longer and I'm involved with more things there. So, I definitely think that's one of the main selling points. And having the city so close is just amazing. I love it.
Jongphiphithaporn: Come here for the school spirit, come here for the education, for the academic experience. Drexel has such talented and exceptional professors who can teach you and educate you really well and also still have this connection with the students.
…I feel inclusive in the community, not just the [Drexel Democrats] club, but also in the Drexel community as a whole. So those are two selling points that I would say to my friends and my colleagues back in Germany.