Sharon McAleer took part in our Study USA programme back in 1996-97 (when it was previously the Business Education Initiative). She now lives in the US having officially immigrated in 1999. Here she explains how the programme has impacted her life and her career...
When and why did you apply to Study USA?
I wanted a gap year from my studies in Information Management and Economics at Queen’s University in Belfast, so I applied to the programme and was awarded the scholarship to study in 1996-97.
Can you give a bit of detail about your university/college and what life was like on campus?
To be honest, Presbyterian College in Clinton S.C. was initially a cultural shock. It was a small liberal arts college very far removed from city life as a student in Belfast. However, I quickly settled in as the people were very friendly and welcoming, and in the end, I loved it. Each day I would attend lectures in small classrooms, not at all like the large lectures I attended at Queen’s. Professors knew all the students by name and at times invited us home for dinner.
I shared a room with a local student from the area who was very ‘southern’, and my first introduction to a true southerner! I had the opportunity to work on campus, I collected concert and recitals tickets for events. At the weekend I would socialize at the fraternity and sorority houses. This was a very different experience when compared with the Student’s Union at Queen’s. I also had the opportunity to study piano and take lessons in golf. I met people from all over the world, many of whom I am still friends with after 25 years.
What is your favourite memory of the year?
I have many memories of my year of study in the US – from Mardi Gras in New Orleans, to New Year’s Eve in Times Square, NYC, plus Spring Break in Miami.
But one of my favourite memories was meeting the Johnsons from Florida. They were alumni from the college and welcomed me and two other BEI/Study USA students into their home in Jacksonville. I met them during a school function where I was asked to talk about the programme and my experience to date. During our visit they brought us to the Okefenokee swamp park in Waycross, GA and showed us around Jacksonville. They were the epitome of southerners, completely spoiling us with lunch at the golf club and dinner and drinks with friends on the town. This past Spring Break I finally returned to the Okefenokee swamp park with my two daughters. It was a trip down memory lane for me, while making new memories with my family!
When did you officially decide to move to the US and how was the process?
I immigrated permanently to the US in February/March 1999. After spending the prior summer interviewing and then finding a position, my company then sponsored my H1-B visa. Moving to the US was a lot easier then, compared to after 9/11.
What are you doing now? Can you briefly describe your average working day?
Today I am a Health Communication Specialist for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. I can honestly say since Covid-19 that there is no such thing as an average day.
Since March of 2020 I have been working on the Covid-19 response as part of the Digital Media Branch at CDC. Initially I worked to help set up the display of Covid-19 data on the Covid-19 website. I still work alongside the Covid-19 Data Tracker team who handle all the Data, but my focus has shifted to establishing a taxonomy for the website and creating additional features and functionality in the Web Content Management System to support our Covid response, plus the rest of the agency.
In my regular job I lead mobile and voice app development, I also oversee the development of new features and functionality in the Web Content Management System.
I have worked for CDC since May of 2000 and love my job!
Did your time on the Study USA programme impact on your career path?
Without a doubt I would not be living or working in the U.S. if it had not been for the BEI (Business Education Initiative) /Study USA programme. It truly changed my life. I would advise any student who can study abroad, whether in the U.S. or somewhere else, to take the opportunity.
The Study USA programme is open to both undergraduate and HND/ Foundation degree students. Applications are now open for 2022-23. To find out more and how to apply visit: https://nireland.britishcouncil.org/opportunities/study-usa
Study USA is generously funded through the Department for the Economy.