SOAS: Niche Academics, Warm Community & Lively Political Atmosphere March 03, 2018

By (Middlebury College) - abroad from 09/25/2017 to 12/16/2017 with

SOAS, University of London: London - Direct Enrollment & Exchange

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I loved having the chance to take niche classes that might be hard to find at other institutions. I also loved the social environment at SOAS. It was remarkably warm and welcoming. It is strongly community-oriented despite its urban location.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Students are generally quite passionate and knowledgable about their areas of study, which creates an engaging atmosphere both inside and outside of the classroom. Expect to find that your academic interests connect meaningfully with your social and political life at SOAS.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

SOAS's study abroad program provided the perfect level of support without being overbearing or hover-y. Administrative faculty are warm, friendly, responsive and helpful.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Dinwiddy House has a reputation for being a bit grungy in terms of its physical facilities, but I actually really loved my room and the kitchen was serviceable. Having an "ensuite" (a personal bathroom in my room) was a big plus, and not something that you'd find in most American uni accommodation. The sense of community in Dinwiddy is lovely. The staff also made a strong effort to create a homey atmosphere, and decorated the lobby for Halloween, Diwali, Christmas, etc. The location can't be beat (5 mins from King's Cross St. Pancras, and very close to Angel Market, Clerkenwell, etc.) 22 minutes walk from the SOAS campus. Bonus: they have two cats! Pebbles and Gizmo live in the lobby and are very social. They love to be cuddled.

* Food:

Food was not terribly expensive. Easy to cook for yourself, also easy to eat out. There were lots of really delicious Indian and Bangladeshi establishments around Drummond Street, Brick Lane, etc. Hare Krishna also provides a free lunch on the SOAS campus every day!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

London is truly a global city. It was culturally very different from my previous experiences in the UK (I lived in rural Wales for two years in high school).

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

I loved being around such high-energy, passionate people in a global and urban context. SOAS is a complicated institution with a problematic colonial history, yet in spite of (/because of) this history it has become a hotbed of student activism in London.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? About 70 pounds
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Cooking for yourself saves a lot of money. London is also a very student-friendly city, so ask about student discounts everywhere you go (it never hurts) and attend free student events.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Beginner
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? It's sometimes possible to practice a bit of Hindi in certain neighborhoods of London, but I generally found that it was easiest to find conversation partners at SOAS.

Direct Enrollment/Exchange

* Did you study abroad through an exchange program or did you directly enroll in the foreign university? Direct Enrollment

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • International Students
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • - International community: more than 53% of SOAS's students are international and 54% of its faculty, making it one of the most international universities in the world.
  • - Cultural, social and political opportunities in London
  • - Engaging and specialised academic environment
* What could be improved?
  • - Difficulty with transfer credits on Middlebury's end
  • - Accommodation was slightly expensive compared to other student accommodation in London
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I'd known that the Middlebury IGS Program would be so stringent about transfer credits.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Introduction to Global Forced Migration Studies

Course Department: Development Studies
Instructor: Dr. Anna Larson
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This course provides an excellent overview of both the origins and the current state of the global migration regime. It balances theory with numerous regional case studies from around the world. It is a year-long course but students who join for just a term will still benefit greatly. Topics covered included etymological tensions within the terms "migration" and "forced," historical understandings of "durable solutions," difference between refugees, asylum seekers, IDPs and stateless peoples (and the problems with hierarchies and categories in the field), the limits of state protection, the "No Borders" movement, state-generated displacement, identity and space, gender in forced migration, scopic regimes of the state and immigration detention, self-settlement experiences vs. camp experiences, and in-depth critical analysis of various aid and relief efforts from different actors. Dr. Larson is enthusiastic and accessible. Her own area of study is Afghanistan (she actually traveled to Kabul during fall break and marked our essays on the plane.) Lectures do involve some student involvement. Students are all expected to participate fully in tutorial discussions.
Credit Transfer Issues: I have had a hard time getting Middlebury's IGS program to accept this course as a "global" credit, amazingly enough, even though they told me before I left that it would almost certainly qualify. IGS students should not count on receiving credit for any courses taken abroad no matter how overtly "global" or "regional" they are. Negotiations will be an uphill battle. Be aware of this beforehand.
Course Name/Rating:

The Politics of Development

Course Department: Development Studies
Instructor: Dr. Tat Yan Kong
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This is an excellent course for students seeking to understand how political and social factors have influenced trajectories of development globally. Term 1 involved lectures with Dr. Yan Kong and tutorials with Dr. Toplisek. We focused predominantly on East Asia and Latin America (Term 2 emphasizes case studies from Africa and South Asia). Topics covered included late-industrialization and the development of capitalist developmental states, the economic practices of hard vs. bureaucratic authoritarian regimes, systemic impacts of colonialism upon development, critiques of various conceptions of "development," democratization and the effectiveness of differing governance policies, corruption and crony capitalism, comparative studies of financial liberalization and stability, populist politics, and alternatives to neoliberalism.
Credit Transfer Issues: The Middlebury IGS Program has been hesitant to accept this as a "global" course, just as they've been hesitant to accept "Global Forced Migration Studies." Despite these obstacles with the IGS program, I do not regret taking either of these courses. They've been incredibly formative for me and deeply relevant to my interests and areas of study as an IGS student. I'd recommend this course to any IP&E or IGS student- it will expand your knowledge base immensely- but IGS students should just be aware that the IGS program may not accept it as a "global" credit.
Course Name/Rating:

South Asian Literature in English

Course Department: South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics
Instructor: Dr. Amina Yaqin
Instruction Language: English
Comments: This course was both challenging and highly enjoyable. Amina is an expert in her field. We studied texts from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Asian diasporas with a high level of attention to both literary elements and socio-political context. This is a term-long course, so it's a good choice for students who are only at SOAS for a semester. Topic covered included resistance and nation-building in Maharashtra (Raja Rao's "Kanthapura"), caste and class in the era of M. Gandhi (Mulk Raj Anand's "Untouchable") white femininity, colonial fantasies, and gendered/racialised constructions of 'otherness' (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's "Heat and Dust"), Partition, borders, gender and trauma (Bapsi Sidhwa's "Ice Candy Man"), globalisation, neoliberalism, and the 'Indian exotic' (Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things"), exile, space, and translation (Agha Shahid Ali's "The Country Without a Post Office"), queer politics (Shyam Selvadurai's "Funny Boy"), speculative fiction (Anil Menon's "The Beast with Nine Billion Feet"), and radicalisation, multiculturalism in Britain and the Muslim 'other' (Sunjeev Sahota's "Ours are the Streets"). Classes are discussion-based. Background knowledge on the topics covered is helpful but not required. A high degree of class participation is expected.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Hindi 1

Course Department: South Asia Section, School of Languages, Cultures & Linguistics
Instructor: Dr. Naresh Sharma and Dr. Rakesh Nautiyal
Instruction Language: Hindi, English
Comments: Classes are lively and fun. Students are expected to engage fully but the environment is supportive and nonjudgemental. Both Naresh-ji and Rakesh-ji are very knowledgable and warm.
Credit Transfer Issues: