Study Occupational and Business Psychology abroad

Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience!

Study Occupational and Business Psychology in the UK

Applying to study in the UK was without a doubt the most stressful part of my experience as an international student. Not moving to another country and not earning the degree itself, but the application process. The entire process can feel quite overwhelming because there are so many steps and details to stay on top of. Also, I knew I wanted to study in London more than anything, which just added to the pressure I felt when applying. “What if I don’t get in? What if my visa application gets rejected?” All of these “what if’s” that kept running through my head and totally stressed me out beyond belief. But in the end, all of my stress proved to be completely unnecessary because everything worked out just fine!

While there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of when applying to universities abroad (the actual university application, the student visa application, the biometrics appointment, etc), if you stay organized and diligent, I promise everything will come together! Having the support and guidance of my Across the Pond advisor was also such a blessing - I’m not sure how I would have done it without them! They helped me navigate the entire process, answered any and all questions that I had (and I had a lot!), helped me to submit my applications, offered informative webinars on the visa process, and even proofread my personal statement for me!

Choosing My University

I did a lot of research when deciding what schools to apply to in the UK. For such a small country, they sure do have a lot of schools! I started my research with a quick Google of what UK schools even offered the course that I was interested in. Since my desired course was fairly rare, this actually helped to narrow down my search quite a bit. From there, I scoured each university’s website to learn as much as I could about the school and the course itself.

In the end, I applied to five schools. Something that was really great is that there are no application fees for UK schools like there are in the US, so you can really apply for as many as you want! I was fortunate enough to get accepted to all five schools that I applied to, so then actually deciding which offer to accept was when the more intense research came into play.

My final decision was made based on three main factors:

1. Location. I knew I would never survive in the north of England since the winters up there
can be pretty brutal, so I definitely wanted to be somewhere more south. I also knew I wanted to be close to London. It’s a city that I’ve idolized since I was a teenager, and I had dreamt about living in or close to London for years.

2. Price. On average, universities in the UK are quite a bit cheaper than universities in the US. At the same time, as an international student, you typically have to pay significantly more than you would have to if you were a UK citizen. Because of the fact that I was entirely self-funding my studies and my move to the UK, I had to be extremely conscious of tuition prices. Something to keep in mind is that when applying for the visa, you may have to demonstrate “proof of funds” - essentially that you have enough money to support yourself while living and studying in the UK on top of paying your tuition fees. If you choose a university in London, you may also have to prove that you have more money available than if you chose a university outside of London since it is an expensive city to live in.

3. Course offerings. Something I was very conscious of is the fact that I didn’t want to come to the UK, get my degree, and then have to immediately move back to the US. While the UK did recently implement a “graduate visa” which allows people who graduate from a UK university to stay in the country for two additional years after graduating regardless of working status, I wanted to maximize my time in the UK as much as possible. One of the schools that I was accepted to offered a Professional Placement Year for my course. Essentially, this is a one year paid internship that gets you work experience in a field relevant to your degree. It gives you an additional year in the UK on your same student visa, except you are mostly just working and getting paid instead of attending classes.

With all of these factors in mind, I ended up choosing Kingston University London and I couldn’t be more happy with my decision!

What I Study

I study MSc Occupational & Business Psychology at Kingston University. I took a fairly winding journey to arrive at this course, which was something that I had never even heard of just a few months before applying for it.

My undergrad degree is in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing Management and a minor in Psychology. Psychology has always been my real passion, but I had always struggled to see how to make a career out of it. In my mind at the time, I was under the impression that if you studied psychology you had to become a therapist. So I ended up taking the “practical” route and studying business.

After graduating, I worked for four years in the marketing and communications field. During this time, I really struggled with the impersonal corporate environments. It always felt as if the employees, the actual people making the company run, were viewed as so much less important than money. Profits always took precedence over people, and that always bothered me.

Eventually, I ended up getting laid off from my corporate marketing job, which forced me to really reevaluate my career choices. I decided I wanted to do something that I was actually passionate about and something that I felt would make a real positive impact on the world. At the same time, I wanted to do something that would allow me to get back to my interest in psychology, which is how I came to Occupational & Business Psychology.

This is a fairly new industry, and every single time I tell someone what I study, I have to explain what it means. At the most basic level, it is about how we can make work better for the workers. How we can improve the relationship between employees and the companies they work for. This includes a wide range of topics, from employee wellbeing and recruitment to learning and development and consultancy.

I feel like I’ve really found the sweet spot that balances my professional skills with my personal passions, and am so glad that I took the leap to go back to school and pursue a career change!

UK vs US Student Life

As you would expect, there are a lot of differences between student life in the UK versus in the US. To start, the grading system is completely different. In the US, of course it is very straightforward, with 59% and below failing, 60-69% a D, 70-79% a C, 80-89% a B, and 90-100% an A. In the UK, on the other hand, you can pass with any grade that is 50% and above and it is extremely rare to get anything over an 80%. In the US, I would have been so upset to get a grade that was anywhere in the 60’s, but in the UK, getting a grade in the 60’s means that you actually did well! If you get above a 70% you did extremely well, and if you get anything above an 80% you might as well be a genius. This took a while for me to get used to!

Also, in the UK you do not need to register for classes each semester like you do in the US! You are automatically enrolled into the modules that you need to take and given a predetermined schedule. I really appreciated not having to go through the stress of registering each semester and worrying if my classes would fill up!

Another key difference is that it is totally normal to call your professors by their first names in the UK. It is not at all expected that you should call them Professor whatever their last name is. This also took me a while to adjust to and to convince myself that I wasn’t being disrespectful by calling my professor by their first name!

There are definitely a lot more differences between UK and US student life than just these three, but I will leave it at that for now. Honestly, a lot of the fun of it is finding out what the differences are and learning to adjust!

What I Love About London

London is one of the most amazing cities in the world as far as I’m concerned, and I could not be happier living here. I feel like you could live in London for an entire decade and still not experience everything that there is to do here! The amount of incredible restaurants, pubs, parks, shows, and entertainment is mind blowing. I have tried so many new foods at amazing restaurants, seen so many concerts at such incredible venues, seen so many impressive plays and musicals, had picnics in so many gorgeous parks, and so much more. I feel like I can live such a rich and cultured life here.

One of my favorite parts of London is also how easy it is to travel from here. In the US, taking a trip to Europe would take hours, if not days, of travel and easily several thousand dollars. Now, living in London, I have actually taken weekend trips to Spain and Italy for only a few hundred pounds, which still is just completely mind blowing to me!

Living in London definitely comes with its challenges. It can be extremely expensive and crowded, for example. But overall, I can’t think of a better place to live. I have seen and experienced more living here for the last year than I have in probably twenty years living in my hometown in the US.

Challenges of Living Abroad

Moving abroad and studying internationally is without a doubt the best decision I have ever made. I have grown so much as a person and have experienced so many new things and met so many wonderful people. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. But, that is not to say that it hasn’t been without challenges.

For me, the toughest part of living in the UK is the sheer distance from all of my loved ones back home. Not only am I 5,000 miles and an expensive 11 hour flight away from all of my family and friends, but there is also an 8-hour time difference between London and home. It is difficult not being able to see them in person, but the time difference even makes it hard to talk on the phone or FaceTime at times. I am an extremely independent person, so most of the time this distance is totally manageable, with technology making it even easier to communicate, but when I’ve found it to be the most challenging is when there were family issues back home. Within my first few months in London, there were several things that happened with my family back home that it was extremely difficult to be so far away for, and not be able to afford to come back for.

Also, most of the time living abroad I have found the cultural differences to be exciting and interesting to discover and navigate. Like the first time taking public transport or the first time shopping for groceries with foreign brands, for example. However, sometimes when I have been stressed or in a hurry, not having a firm grasp of how to get around in this foreign country could get extremely frustrating. A few times, after a hard day, I remember wanting to just get in my car, stop at a drive thru for some fast food, and go straight home. But instead I had to navigate public transport, search for food at some restaurant I hadn’t heard of, and do a lot of things that were quite challenging when in the moment I just wanted something easy and familiar. Going to a grocery store and not recognizing any of the brands, not having any clue which bus will get you home, or not knowing what store you can go to to buy something basic after you have had a long and stressful day is not ideal! Of course, this did subside after a few months when I became more familiar with everything, but I do remember feeling quite overwhelmed a few times after first moving here.

Something else I have struggled with at times is the weather. I come from the west coast of the United States where the weather is typically dry and sunny, so moving to the UK where it is usually very wet and cold was quite an adjustment! I had to completely redo my entire wardrobe (I didn’t even own a real coat before coming here!) and get used to bringing an umbrella wherever I went. But I do have to say that it doesn’t rain here nearly as much as I expected it to (although it does still rain a lot). It also makes you really appreciate the sun when it does come out. Summers in London are absolutely amazing.

My Top Tip

Moving abroad can bring about a lot of different emotions - excitement, nervousness, uncertainty, maybe even doubt. Above all, my top tip is to embrace every emotion and really let yourself be vulnerable. You will be forced out of your comfort zone more times than you can count, and it will turn you into such a better person for it with a much wider perspective of the world. Try everything and talk to everyone. Don’t be afraid of not knowing what you’re doing all the time. I have met some of my closest friends by starting a conversation with strangers on my first day of classes. I have explored some of the most amazing places by wandering around London without a plan. Let yourself be vulnerable and try every new thing you can! Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. You want to make sure you make the most of it!

- Morgan

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