GO Student Ambassadors, Summer Programmes

Joseph Thomson

School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

International Summer Study Placement

Where did you go?

I went to Washington State University, in Spokane, Washington State.

What motivated you to take up a Global Opportunity?

It was such a new opportunity! I had never been abroad on my own, never been on a plane before and never set foot outside of Europe. It was just so exciting and scary all at the same time. Plus, I wanted something more interesting to do with my summer than just working, and with the bursary I got it meant I could go abroad without really worrying about money. I thought that university would be the last time where I could go abroad on my own without any, well many, responsibilities. I, for once, wanted to truly live in the moment, and I think my Global Opportunity allowed me to do that.

What were your top 3 highlights from your time abroad?

Swimming in a glacial lake was amazing, and I had never done anything like that before. Idaho is so much more beautiful than you would think!

Applying the stuff I had learnt on my pharmacy course to a real-world application was amazing! Discussing a variety of syndromes and symptoms with the American students was so cool, it was like being in House without Hugh Laurie… but still pretty cool. Going to different people’s houses and really getting out into the small local communities in Eastern Washington State was great, trying to help and interact with so many different people. I even ended up meeting another Englishman, from Liverpool in fact, and talking about England 4000 miles from home was surreal and brilliant.

The Dean of the School ended up throwing a sort of going away party for me, which academics and students were invited to, so that was amazing. Drinking out on the veranda discussing everything from science to the Cricket World Cup with the Indian professors. It was such a relaxing wonderful end to my time in the States.

What was your biggest challenge? How did you overcome it?

I would say my biggest challenge was getting to America in the first place! I had never gotten a visa before, and it was really scary having to fill in all the forms myself and book a place to go and get my Visa at the American embassy in Vauxhall in London. I had never been to London on my own before, and the American embassy is nothing if not intimidating. Garish architecture and guns… it really prepared me for America in general. I overcame this challenge by just sort of guessing and getting it right first time I suppose. It required a combination of luck and reading everything really, really carefully. Though they let me into the county so… I think I got everything right. Plus, American visas are the most American thing you have ever seen. It is basically a sticker that they put in your passport, with your photo on, how long you are staying in the US for and the background is the stars and stripes with the House of Representatives and a bald eagle in the background. The most American thing in the world!

How has your placement been beneficial to your studies at Cardiff University or your future career?

My placement has been beneficial to my studies at Cardiff University because it allowed me to work at a higher level in my field (pharmacy) earlier than I would have been expected to here. For example, one of the tasks involved reading and analysing scientific papers in a group. This made me far more confident in reading and sharing my opinions on modern academic papers, which I have found really useful for my masters year, which is mostly going to involve reading and analysing academic papers in a rapid review setting… due to my trip abroad I have already done that! In terms of my future career, the US is slightly ahead of the UK in the way pharmacists are being utilised by their healthcare system. It has opened up a world of possibilities from pharmacist-led clinics, to getting directly involved with patients’ drug regimens, discussing what does and doesn’t work and using that knowledge to liaise with their doctors and other healthcare professionals. Basically, my placement showed me how much worth my degree really has!

What is the one thing you wish you’d known before you left?

That you cannot walk anywhere in America… Knowing that everywhere would be too far away from my accommodation to walk would’ve been nice to know, as I ended up spending far too much on transport. If I had have known that I would have tried to learn how to drive before I ended up going to America. The amount of time you need in-between connecting flights would also would have been good to know. I booked my flights late and cheap, which meant that I left very little time between change overs, for example 20 minutes to run through Minneapolis airport was quite stressful. So personally, I would have liked to know more about air travel, or at least signposted to appropriate places to buy aeroplane tickets.     

What would you say to a student that was unsure about spending a period abroad?

Though it is really scary, and can get a little lonely sometimes, what I would say to a student that was unsure about spending a period abroad is that you should grab every opportunity coming to you. It is tremendously exciting and such a different experience, and you learn so much about yourself. You need to know that you do not need to be confident and know what you are doing all the time. It is fine to be unsure about what you are doing, unsure about the next step. You have plenty of people to help you out, whether that be sorting out housing or figuring out what you can do with your time. Even if you’re unsure it is worth spending a period abroad just to get some perspective on what really matters to you.

What are 3 things to do in Spokane, Washington State?

  1. Enjoy the scenery! The Pacific Northwest is an amazing place to just look at. Hike around all the trails… just avoid rattle snakes and bears. You can head to places so far away from civilisation and just really appreciate everything around you.
  2. Get some New York style pizza… in Spokane on the other side of America I know. But it was some of the best pizza I have ever had. So yeah… enjoy the delicacies I guess.
  3. Classic American past-times! Go and see college sports, or go to drinks at the Dean’s house. The nightlife was apparently very good, so make sure you go to America when you are 21 or over…

Please sum up your experience abroad in one sentence.

An All-American study placement, which expanded my horizons.

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