Gap Year at a High School in the US - Our progress and your questions answered :) Watch

cant_think_of_name
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Welcome to the ESU Secondary School Exchange Programme Thread

I started this thread in late February of 2013; it was designed as a place to talk to other people who are doing the exchange and to spread the word about the exchange, because it’s not particularly big, yet is amazing!

I went out to Virginia Episcopal School in August 2013. It is now late April 2014 and I’m graduating in a month. I have loved my time here (beyond a few little bumps at the start). I have made friends who I know will continue to support me and make me happy for years to come. I have seen parts of the world I never imagined I’d see; I’ve done things and experienced things I never thought possible. I’ve lived on a boy’s dormitory for 8 months and loved it.

There are a few other people who went out and spent two terms at high schools in various places in the US, starting in January 2014. From what I’ve heard, it’s been awesome fun for them too. k1rby is in Indiana, laurakwxo (who I had the pleasure to meet up with!) in North Carolina, and lscott95 in South Carolina. Beyond that there are a lot of people applying for positions starting in August 2014, including CluelessKid, who is taking my place at VES ().

FAQs

Here are some FAQs to try and clear up some misconceptions and answer any questions people might have!

What is the ESU?

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The English Speaking Union is a charity based in London (with bases around the world) designed to promote the use of the English language. They primarily work with young people but have a wide network of alumni. They run different programmes, such as Debating Contests, teaching opportunities and the Secondary School Exchange, which is the subject of this thread.


What is the Secondary School Exchange?

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The SSE is a year spent in the 12th Grade (Equivalent of English Year 13 or Scottish Sixth Year) of an American High School (private) with your fees paid (although not living expenses). Some are boarding schools, some are day schools, and some are rural while some are in cities. Some are co-ed, and some are single gender. There is more info here.


How long can I go for?

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You can go for three terms (from late August/early September to late May/early June) or two terms (from January to late May/early June). Three terms is a full school year, two terms means you will be joining halfway through the school year.


How much does it cost?

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This is an important one. With bad financial planning and organisation the costs can spiral but with some forethought you can keep costs low. Read fully - there are ways to cut costs.

All tuition is paid for every student by the ESU. If you are going to a boarding school, they also pay for boarding, which means a bed on a dorm, 3 meals a day, heat, wi-fi, water, electricity etc. If you go to a day school, you stay with a host family, so there is no payment to worry about (though I daresay you’ll want to give some kind of gifts back, seeing as they let you live in their home!)

Other than that, the costs you pay are: flights, insurance, some medical injections (potentially), and toiletries/day-to-day items. Flights vary depending on where you stay. For me, flights to Washington DC are about £400 and trains from there to school around £30. For some people in New York or Florida you could get some really nice cheap flights, but you could also end up somewhere strange and pay a bit more. I went home for Christmas but stayed out here for the rest of the year. Insurance is generally relatively cheap (I used STA Travel, who are really good) and the injections were about £200 or so, but schools sometimes don’t need these injections so that may not apply. In terms of day-to-day items, you could honestly get away with buying toiletries + laundry detergent and survive on that, pretty much. The reality is, however, that you will go out to eat, go on excursions, and visit different places, so you’ll spend more than that. Overall, I’d estimate my spending at around £2500 to £3000 this year, although I could have spent less if I’d been a bit more savvy.

If you are at all worried about money, the ESU provides extra financial assistance to those that apply, and I think it’s around £600 maximum. The other thing I would suggest is going for two terms as this cuts down the cost and allows you time to get a job and earn some money before Christmas.


Where could I go?

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There is a list of participating schools here. It’s mostly Eastern USA, e.g. New England, New York/Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Del-Mar-Va and the South, but there are a couple of schools in Texas, California and Washington state. If you are looking to go to the Midwest or the mountain states then you won’t find them here - sorry!


Am I eligible?

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You must have completed your A-levels (or equivalent) before departing and be intending to study at a UK university on your return. Your place does not need to be confirmed or deferred, you just have to have that intention. Applications from students intending to study at a US university at undergraduate level will not be accepted. THIS IS IMPORTANT - this is not designed as a “leg-up” to help you apply to an American university. Some schools will straight up not help you with your application (although some have been more accommodating and I know that one student from this year is going to the University of Connecticut). You must have a minimum of 3 Grade Cs at A-Level or equivalent (predicted for 3-term). You should be under 19 years and 6 months of age when you take up the scholarship. You must be a British Citizen and have studied/be studying A-levels (or equivalent) at a school in the UK.


How do I apply?

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This is a little long-winded but if you’ve applied to a university or a job before it is relatively straightforward. First of all, you need to complete the application form which is found on the left of the ESU SSE webpage. This is where you fill in your basic details, your preferences (day v. boarding, co-ed v. same-sex etc.) and your educational background, as well as answering some straightforward questions about what you want to do and what you will give to the school. Then there is a personal statement to write; there are guidelines on the application form. I actually answered each question individually on my application form, but I know some other people just answered in one long essay. Either works. There are also medical forms, conditions of scholarship forms (basically saying you won’t break the rules) and a reference form for your Head of Sixth or equivalent.

If your application is accepted you then get invited for an individual interview and group interview at ESU HQ in London (or Belfast if you are in NI).


When do I need to apply?

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If you want to do three terms, the application date is late February of the year you want to go out (i.e. the February of your last year of school) and two terms is August or September, if I remember correctly. Specific dates are on the website.


What happens at interview?

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The individual interview is basically asking similar questions to the application. A panel of three people will ask about your personal statement and application, and other standard interview questions. They don’t throw curveballs or weird questions. They are really friendly, so don’t be intimidated; they want to see you are confident and friendly.

The group interview shows your interpersonal skills. You will have a group of 2-4 and be given a few minutes to prepare a short discussion of a question that they give you. Mine was about the differences and similarities of cultures between the US and UK, but they’re all different. You don’t need an extensive knowledge of US culture, just a few basic bits and you will be fine.


What happens next?

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If you are successful, you will wait a month or so while your school is decided (you don’t have much choice here, beyond your preferences). Then you need to apply for financial assistance if you need it, and a student Visa. The ESU will help you with all these things but get the Visa done QUICK because it takes a little while. It is long winded and you have to go for interview in London (again) but you should be fine to get it as long as you don’t have a history of terrorism/international smuggling etc.


Isn’t the US dangerous?

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No. At boarding school you will live on dorm, where there are restrictions on who and what are allowed anywhere near you. Day students will be in a house which I’d imagine is safe. The only time you would be alone would be if you went out by yourself (which rarely happens) and the plane/trains/buses you take to get to the school. Honestly, I’ve seen less trouble here than I have in England.


Isn’t the drinking age 21?

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Yes, and you’ll get kicked out for drinking on campus (if you get caught). If you are a day student, you may have a lax family who don’t care, but don’t count on it. A lot of parents here (particularly in the South) are against their kids drinking (though that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen). If you want to drink, then it’s not impossible, but I honestly wouldn’t recommend it, at all. If you get kicked out, you get sent home and that’s your visa gone, and you stuck at home for the year. It’s just a dumb idea.


Is it right for me?

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If you are independent-minded, interested in US culture, confident, warm, friendly and want to meet new people and experience new things, then this is perfect for you. Even if you have reservations (I am an introvert, and quite shy), I think it would be great to apply, if you want the experience of living 3000 miles from home in a completely new place! If you get homesick easily, don’t like to travel, are not interested in the US, or don’t think you’d enjoy it, then I guess this isn’t for you.


Why do it?

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I have had the most amazing time. The new friends from all over the world, the new things I’ve learnt (academically and personally) and the unforgettable experiences I have been fortunate to have are why I love the SSE so much. It’s also the small things though; the late night dorm conversations, the weather, the new sports, the different words… every day I am thankful for VES.


Will I make friends?

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Almost certainly. You'll be living in close proximity to many new young, friendly people. Americans love the British. You will get asked to say things over and over (in the nicest way possible). Everyone wants to make friends with you - you have to be a real **** to not make friends here. I'm deeply introverted but I still have a wonderful group of close friends and a whole host of other people who I am on great terms with. You just have to have a little confidence in those first few days and weeks and it'll flow from there.


What if I don't like it?

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Well, hopefully you will like it. I had a bit of a blip at the start when I felt like I didn't fit. To be honest I wasn't enjoying things all that much - felt like I couldn't find some friends, and ended up staying in at the weekend and not doing much. It sucked! I spoke to a few of my teachers, though, switched a few classes and ended up having the time of my life. I had wanted to come home so bad, but I guess the lesson is you have to stick with it and talk to people and things will come together. Honest


I want to go to California/New York etc., can I?

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This is the most frequent question we get asked. There are schools in California and New York. Will you get them? Chances are, no. No one is guaranteed of a place anywhere. I put my preference as California and got Virginia instead. DO NOT COUNT ON GETTING YOUR PREFERENCE. I remember being a little disappointed when I heard I had gotten VES. I don't know why - I have had the absolute time of my life and I'm so glad I didn't go to California now.

By all means put a preference (it won't affect you getting a place) but honestly everyone puts those places, so only a couple will get it. Don't be disappointed if you get somewhere completely different.


So...anyone? :rolleyes:


My blog is here http://losingmyvirginiaty.tumblr.com/ and Laura's blog is here http://www.carolinamonths.tumblr.com/


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cant_think_of_name
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No? :rolleyes:

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less competition for me :cool:
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H0ls
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I haven't heard of this before, but it sounds pretty interesting. I'm definitely doing a gap year but I'm still in the process of planning what I'd like to do. I'm just not sure if I can afford the cost!
Where in North America would you, ideally, like to go? I'd love to be placed in NYC.
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by H0ls)
I haven't heard of this before, but it sounds pretty interesting. I'm definitely doing a gap year but I'm still in the process of planning what I'd like to do. I'm just not sure if I can afford the cost!
Where in North America would you, ideally, like to go? I'd love to be placed in NYC.
Yeah the two term scholarship sounds really good if you want to earn money or something beforehand. I'd really love to go to California or somewhere on the west coast but most of the schools are in the North East (in fact there're only two on the west coast). I'd be happy anywhere though!
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sophichka
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I've applied for this... we'll see though because they seemed to apply you had to have secured a uni place and I'm applying post a level :/ hadn't seen the list of school though, didn't realise how many were in the North East
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by sophichka)
I've applied for this... we'll see though because they seemed to apply you had to have secured a uni place and I'm applying post a level :/ hadn't seen the list of school though, didn't realise how many were in the North East
Yeah it kind of implies that but it says "plan to study at a university on return" so if you're going to go to uni after then you'll probably be alright I know, was a bit disappointed because I'd really like to go to Cali or Seattle, or even somewhere like Portland. that said... I'd love to go anywhere!
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sophichka
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Just wondering if anyone had heard back about this yet?
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by sophichka)
Just wondering if anyone had heard back about this yet?
Yeah I got an interview yesterday have you?
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sophichka
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Yep came through last night my email definitely says two term and I thought I'd applied for three term but I'll take it
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Pseudolus
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This looks cool but I don't understand it says you must be 19 years and 6 months.... surely if we are just finishing our A levels we will be 18... can someone explain
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Pseudolus
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Please ignore my last post. Possibly the most stupid thing I have ever written.
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by sophichka)
Yep came through last night my email definitely says two term and I thought I'd applied for three term but I'll take it
Yep I got the two-term e-mail too! I emailed them about it and they said it was a typo, so it's a three term one (if it's Friday 22nd), the interviews for two term are in October

Ready for Friday? I'm ill atm so really really hoping I feel better for then. I should be over the worst of it by then but still!
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by Pseudolus)
Please ignore my last post. Possibly the most stupid thing I have ever written.
Haha, no, that caught me out too
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FloydRix
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And how are you paying for living expenses?
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by FloydRix)
And how are you paying for living expenses?
Savings - I'm "lucky" enough to have had some rich great aunts/uncles who have sadly passed, and some financially savvy parents. I know it's terribly middle class. But it is a good opportunity
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sophichka
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(Original post by cant_think_of_name)
Yep I got the two-term e-mail too! I emailed them about it and they said it was a typo, so it's a three term one (if it's Friday 22nd), the interviews for two term are in October

Ready for Friday? I'm ill atm so really really hoping I feel better for then. I should be over the worst of it by then but still!
The attatchment was three term and it said something about departing Jan 13 so I ended up deciding it was a typo, probably should have got confirmation of that but hey

as ready as I can be I guess, really wasn't sure how to prepare for it because it's nothing like a uni one where it's subject specific so we'll see. I think my biggest dilemma right now is deciding whether to wear my school uniform or a suit (such a girl.) haha I hope you do feel better! Feeling prepared aside from that?
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by sophichka)
The attatchment was three term and it said something about departing Jan 13 so I ended up deciding it was a typo, probably should have got confirmation of that but hey

as ready as I can be I guess, really wasn't sure how to prepare for it because it's nothing like a uni one where it's subject specific so we'll see. I think my biggest dilemma right now is deciding whether to wear my school uniform or a suit (such a girl.) haha I hope you do feel better! Feeling prepared aside from that?
I know that feeling! I had a few uni interviews and they were nothing compared to this! I had no idea what to look at, American history? Or just what makes me a good candidate? I don't know! I think I'm going with jumper but I'm not sure about tie? I don't know! I'm feeling a bit better today (went to school) so hopefully it'll be alright tomorrow but going to school was so draining so we'll see what travelling to London does to me :/ What time is your group interview??
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FloydRix
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Wish I had rich parents to do this.
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cant_think_of_name
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(Original post by FloydRix)
Wish I had rich parents to do this.
It's not that I have rich parents by any means. I got lucky that we had some spare finances, and this opportunity came up. If money is an issue they do offer financial support, or you could opt for the two term scholarship and spend the first term working in the UK saving up money for it. It makes me sad that people miss out on stuff like this because of money
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sophichka
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(Original post by cant_think_of_name)
I know that feeling! I had a few uni interviews and they were nothing compared to this! I had no idea what to look at, American history? Or just what makes me a good candidate? I don't know! I think I'm going with jumper but I'm not sure about tie? I don't know! I'm feeling a bit better today (went to school) so hopefully it'll be alright tomorrow but going to school was so draining so we'll see what travelling to London does to me :/ What time is your group interview??
My group interview was at 9.30, early train to London eurgh. How do you think it went? I though it was ok, they asked some weird questions in my individual but we'll see I guess! Fingers crossed
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