Gavin Breslin is a senior lecturer in Psychology at Ulster University. In 1999, he took part in Study USA, spending a year studying business at Huntingdon College in Alabama. Here he tells us how the programme helped him get to where he is today.
How did you hear about Study USA? When did you apply?
I heard about Study USA in 1999 from a friend. I was studying Psychology at the time and had seen some advertisements around the Department.
Where did you go? What was it like?
I went to Huntingdon College, in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a small college of several thousand students. It felt very friendly, and had a strong emphasis on the arts, business and psychology. My favourite memories are of early morning lectures, having class outdoors on the campus green, and the sports and football – it was brilliant.
What classes did you take? What were they like?
International Business was new to me, but it was absolutely fascinating to learn about the global economy. Marketing was another subject I hadn’t studied before, but I became really interested in the psychology behind selling products. I took classes in organisational psychology too – so the classes I took in the States link in very well with my current work as a lecturer at Ulster University.
What do you do now? Has Study USA impacted on your career?
Hugely! I knew the programme would give me something to add to my degree and impress potential employers, but it gave me so much more than that.
After I returned home, I completed a PhD at Queen’s, worked for a number of years in public health, and then joined the faculty of Ulster University. I’m now a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology. I’ve held a number of roles across the University including management roles within schools. A lot of my current work focuses on mental health and wellbeing, both on the research side and in working practically with students to help them with issues around stress and academic performance. What Study USA has allowed me to do is to use the skills I learned in business and in people management to really enhance how I do my job.
Beyond the management of staff, for example, there are lots of experiences I have been able to understand when working with students. I now work with international students on a daily basis. Because of Study USA I know what it’s like to study away from home, to be homesick, and to have to adapt to a new culture – usually on a shoestring as a poor student! I know what it’s like to be an international student studying on a different campus and can be empathetic towards students when they come to our country. That is something I have gained from Study USA. It’s a matter of being able to use those skills gained from my time on the programme to understand students who come to visit Northern Ireland, and to help make their experience at Ulster University a really positive one.
Are you still in touch with friends from the year?
I’ve kept in touch with a number of international and US student friends. In 2020, during the pandemic, I was invited by the College to give a lecture to the School of Psychology. It was nice, twenty years later, to work with the staff in delivering that, and to virtually meet some of the current students. It was a chance to give back to the College that gave me so much.
What advice would you give to new Study USA students?
Be open to new experiences. The relationships you develop will be life-long relationships. How you spend the year can prove very important for your development and your future career too. It’s vital to see what you can put in to your college too; you’re not going to get a lot out of it if you don’t put work into it.
What would you say to someone thinking of applying?
Give it a go. It can be a bit scary to go away for a year, but the time flies. It’s a great opportunity, so get in there and give it a shot. You’ll never know otherwise – and not taking the leap could be a regret.
What words would you choose to describe Study USA?
Awesome, amazing, and life changing.
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.