GoAbroad Interview

Brittni Baird - Canada Student Advisor

Brittni Baird - Canada Student Advisor

Brittni is entering her second year of work for Across the Pond. Before she started advising, she completed a diploma in ecotourism, which included a work placement in England. She ended up working two summers at Deepdale Backpackers hostel, which is where she discovered her love for the UK. Brittni then went on to pursue a BBA with a concentration in management at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, N.S and a masters in international business and socioeconomic development in Scotland.

Sunset over Brancaster Beach in the UK

Brancaster Beach, where I first fell in love with the UK - such a beautiful place!

Tell us about your background experience in international education and how you originally got connected with Across the Pond.

I originally became connected to Across the Pond as a potential student conducting research on how to study in the UK as a Canadian citizen. I came across the Across the Pond website on Google and reached out to them for advice. At that time, I hadn’t completed my undergraduate degree so I decided that it was best to finish my degree in Canada and then look into studying in the UK in the future.

About two years later, I got back in touch with Across the Pond and my advisor was very helpful and compiled a list of programs that were of interest to me and at universities that were a good match for my GPA. A few months later, I found myself pursuing my master’s degree in Scotland with the help of Across the Pond.

As I was finishing my dissertation in July 2014, I saw that Across the Pond was looking to hire new advisors. I applied for the position right away and the rest is history. Now, it seems things have gone full circle and I get to help students study in the UK just like Across the Pond helped me.

What does an average day of work look like for you?

There isn’t really an average day as a student advisor! What a work day looks like largely depends on the time of year. In the fall, I am primarily travelling around Canada meeting students at recruitment events and answering a lot of general questions on studying in the UK. Once December rolls around, this is when it starts to be a busy application time. There is a January 15th deadline for several law (LLB) and undergraduate programs, so December to January tends to be an extremely busy time for sending applications.

In February, the second round of recruitment events and the travel and meeting potential students starts over again. The summer months primarily involve offering pre-departure advice to students as well as questions regarding the Tier 4 Student Visa, which is required for Canadian students to study in the UK. We also offer a series of online webinar sessions on various topics throughout the year, as well as in person seminars, so there are a lot of different side projects that we work on as advisors.

What is your favorite thing about your role?

My favorite thing about my role as a Canadian advisor is being a part of assisting students to pursue their dreams of studying in the UK (even if only in some small way). Since all of the advisors at Across the Pond have studied in the UK, we all understand how exciting it is to pack up and move to a new country and how wonderful international experiences can be.

I love being a part of assisting and encouraging students to go abroad for their studies, you learn so much more than just the content of your academic program, you learn about other cultures, new places, and most importantly you learn a lot about yourself.

One of my favorite times of the year is when I get to go on the road and meet prospective students in person and see the excitement in their faces when they speak of the opportunity of studying in the UK.

Sign at the University of Stirling campus

My first day of classes at the University of Stirling

What advice would you give to a Canadian student who is a first-time international traveler preparing to study in England?

For first time internationational travellers who are preparing to study in the UK, it is definitely important to try and manage their expectations. They are at a very exciting time in their lives, when they are about to begin one of the most transformative and challenging adventures they can imagine. Across the Pond sends out pre-departure guidelines on tips for accommodation, arriving in the UK, banking, healthcare, living in the UK, travelling in the UK, what to pack, safety and security, and much, much more! So we want our students to know what to expect, especially if it is their first time as an international traveler.

That being said, studying in the UK is an international adventure story. I want the students I advise to be prepared, but I also remind them to be flexible and to expect the unexpected (which is all part of the fun)! It’s definitely helpful to get advice from friends, family, advisors, etc. who have studied overseas before you, but not everything can be planned out to a T. Most importantly, I like to remind students to live in the present and participate in as much as they can!

What makes England such an incredible location for study abroad?

The UK is an incredible location for international learning due to their wide variety of programs and academic excellence. The UK offers much more specific programs than they do in Canada. which is particularly useful for students that have an interest in a very specific subject area.

The UK is also a great place as an international student from Canada because although you will gain a different cultural experience, it’s not the polar opposite of life in Canada, so it is less likely that students will experience a great amount of culture shock which can be difficult when you are trying to study and adjust in a new country.

The UK obviously has a rich history and a booming tourism industry, so there is always somewhere new to go and explore on time off. Aside from getting to travel around the UK, there is also easy access to explore the rest of Europe during time off or on weekends at a much cheaper rate than from Canada. So I always recommend to make the most out of their time in the UK while they have the chance!

You have an academic background is international business and socioeconomic development. How do you use this knowledge in your work advising students?

It isn’t so much my academic background in international business and socioeconomic development that helps me with advising students, it’s more so that I completed my master’s degree in Scotland that is helpful. I have found that it is much easier to advise students on what it is like to study in the UK because I’ve experienced it first hand for myself.

Students tend to have a lot of questions on what to expect, how studying in the UK is different than in Canada, what the application process is like, what the visa process is like, what it’s like to live on campus as a postgraduate student, etc. I feel as if my own experience has given me knowledge that is helpful in advising students with those types of questions.

Everyone’s experience in the UK will be a bit different but I can at least say that I studied in Scotland and can share my experiences with them and hopefully that will help some students.

Church in York, England

My U.S. colleagues and me exploring the city of York

What types of questions do Canadian students have in the advising process that American students might not and vice versa?

I only advise Canadian students, but what I have gathered by learning about the Canadian market is that Canadian students tend to be more independent and are known for doing their own research before coming to us for advice. Or, they may take our advice and the lists of universities that we recommend to them and go and do their own research rather than relying on us to tell them everything about the universities. Once they feel comfortable and have looked into things for themselves then they come back to us and say these are the universities and programs that I would like to apply to.

Canadian students also tend to have more of  an interest in professional programs than U.S. students, who tend to go for liberal arts, especially in subjects such as law and physiotherapy. It’s also very common to work with Canadian students who have strong links to the UK or even dual citizenship. This can lead to questions about universities in a certain area or region so that they can live or be near family. All of these things are of course not true for all Canadian students, but these types of students are common in Canada.

Why should someone go through Across the Pond versus finding a program on their own through direct enrollment?

Across the Pond is a very helpful and most importantly free service which I even used myself when I was applying for my master’s degree in the UK. There are definite advantages of applying through Across the Pond, mainly that we take the bulk of the application process off of student’s shoulders by completing the British university applications on their behalf; although, there is a lot more to Across the Pond than that!

We basically assist students with entire process of applying for UK universities, starting with sending them a list of programs that they are interested in, helping them research programs and universities, identifying which universities are the best fit for the student based on their GPA, which ultimately increases their chances of acceptance. We also provide guidelines on the student visa, scholarship information, and pre-departure advice on what to expect as a student in the UK. All of our advisors have studied in the UK, so we are great resources for students who wish to do the same.

You’ve been with Across the Pond for almost a year, what has been your biggest challenge thus far? What about your greatest achievement in the last year?

Across the Pond has been constantly growing since I started back in September 2014. I’d say the biggest challenge when I first started out was familiarizing myself with all of our partner universities, what they specialize in, their entry requirements, and things like that. We now work with over 40 universities, so a lot of time is being spent on keeping up to date with all of the universities.

I’d say that my greatest achievement has been travelling to fairs and meeting with prospective students. A lot of the students that I met on my last travel circuit are looking for 2016 entry, so I’m looking forward to helping them with the application process this year. There is also a big learning curve with this job so I also think it’s an achievement that I feel comfortable in my role as a second year advisor.

Building on Queen Mary University London campus

Posing for a group photo after a great visit at one of our partner universities, Queen Mary University London

What makes your position rewarding?

What makes my position so rewarding is knowing that I am playing a small part in helping Canadian students pursue their dreams of studying in the UK. I am a strong advocate of international education and really believe that the experience of studying in another country is a life changing opportunity and one that students will cherish for the rest of their lives.

Being an international student gives you incredible life experience and personal growth, not to mention it opens your eyes to experience other cultures and meet people from around the world.

Across the Pond played a huge role in my studies in the UK, so I find it rewarding to offer my help and advice to other Canadian students; it’s kind of like paying it forward!