Testimonials - Gregory Smith
We recently sat down with the first recipient of the UCSD UK Scholarship Fund, Gregory Smith. The UCSD UK Scholarship Fund was created by alumni who live and work in the United Kingdom, for UCSD students to study abroad in the country. A final-year linguistics major, Gregory has spent his Fall Quarter studying in London at Queen Mary University.
I got an email saying, We're sorry but you haven't been awarded any scholarships at this time. Disappointing, but okay. The next day I was on my way to a lecture, in the car and my phone rang. I answered (hands-free, I might add), and it was Eric [the UCSD study abroad advisor]. He said, 'This is Eric. I've called to tell you that you've been awarded a scholarship.' I was like, 'Okay...' I was confused! I told him I had received the email the day before, and he said, 'This is a brand new scholarship - you're the first one.' I pulled over so that I could do a little happy dance in the car!
Originally from Colorado, Gregory has lived in a number of places in the United States – Minnesota, Illinois, Palm Springs, Modesto, Long Beach and San Diego. Now he can add London, England to that list. A mature student, Gregory transferred to UCSD after completing two years at a community college.
When I graduated high school, I was on my own. My parents had always encouraged independence, so when I graduated they said, ‘Ok you’re an adult, go be an adult, go figure out the world’.
So I did. I moved to Los Angeles and started working in a coffee shop in Long Beach, and worked my way up to manager. When the recession hit, the shop was sold to a holding company and I was offered a pay cut or a severance. So I took the severance and went back to school.
Why did you choose to study at UC San Diego?
UC San Diego is one of the few universities that has a dedicated linguistics program. There’s a lot of opportunity for research and as it’s a small program there’s a lot of opportunity to engage with the professors and graduate students. We’re a ‘hard-core dedicated linguistics group’! It’s a great support system.
You’re studying at Queen Mary, University of London now. How have you found the courses?
Queen Mary isn’t a dedicated [linguistics] program. It’s with the school of languages, linguistics and film – which is interesting, especially linguistics and films, I’m not sure how they paired those two together. So it’s a broader focus than I’m used to, and there is more focus on application at Queen Mary.
Are you enjoying that kind of difference?
Yes, I find that in some of the modules I have a bit of an advantage, because I’ve already learned a lot of the core subjects of linguistics. For instance, I’m taking a module this term called ‘language myths’ and today, the entire lecture was syntax. I’ve taken an entire quarter on syntax so a lot of that was review. But it gives me a chance to review and use it.
Language is something that every human uses and there are unlimited possibilities for application. There is a misconception that language is difficult, especially learning other languages. People tend to not think of linguistics as something to study because it can be a little overwhelming, but we have this innate ability to have language and communicate, and everything we do as humans depends on language.
It’s wonderful to hear you speak so passionately about your course. Course-work aside, how has your experience been in London? Have you felt homesick?
No, not at all. I’ll be glad to go home – because it’s home, but I feel quite at home here too. I’ve wanted to come here for most of my life, so to finally have the opportunity to study and live here has been great.
What was your first day like here?
I took the tube from Heathrow into Central [London]. I remember getting off the tube, going out the exit and walking out onto Blackfriars Bridge – it was a ‘pinch me’ moment. A - 'Am I really here?’ moment.
Have you got a favourite spot in London?
I love the gardens at Kensington House. And I like to sit on the Victoria memorial and watch traffic and people go by. You can see all the way down to Admiralty Arch and St. James Park from there. It’s a good spot to sit and just watch people.
You're the first recipient of the UCSD UK Study Abroad scholarship. How has it helped?
It was a huge help - I mean, every little bit helps! It helped by keeping me from taking out a bunch of loans. It's hard to predict what you're going to need money for when you travel 6,000 miles and it's definitely given me the ability to do things here I wouldn't have otherwise. It's a little extra cushion, so that I don't have to worry about buying food or travelling. It's been my travel money around the city, and it helped me travel up to Edinburgh.
When you get back, will you tell other students to study abroad?
Oh yes. I plan on being a cheerleader for UCEAP [University of California Education Abroad Program]!
And what would you say to them? What are some reasons to study abroad?
There is a great support system here. There are so many UC students all over the city and with the UC London office putting on events, it’s easy to feel like you’re at home and yet you’re in one of the most diverse cities in the world. It’s truly a global city and you’re interacting with people from around the world every day.
Travel is so much more comfortable than ever before – there’s really no reason not to. In the time it takes to have a meal and a nap, you can be 6000 miles away!
In the long run, what do you think are the positive effects of studying abroad?
Being present in an environment that is different from your own forces you to take a different perspective. You have to learn to adapt to a new system and culture. You become primed to adaptation. Also, if I'm at home reading The Times or The Guardian is one thing, but being in the environment that you're reading about you get a more visceral idea of what is happening, you understand and appreciate it more, and see how it affects people's lives on a day-to-day basis.
Being an older student, I think people tend to believe that your options are limited. I really want to show that just because you're an older student doesn't mean you can't do things. In some ways, you'll apprecaite it more because you already have some life experience that you can translate into a different culture. The financial barriers can be a little daunting, but that is definitely where scholarships help - a lot!
Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
University isn’t just about learning things – it’s about learning skills and learning how to adapt to different situations. When you graduate and you’re out in the field, you’ll have to interact with people from different places and if you already have that experience, life is that much easier.