In college, Rachel Wellborn got a taste of the life of a Resident Director while living with American students at her university. Years later, she is the Resident Director for Academic Programs International (API) in Leeds, United Kingdom. Rachel loves showing students the culture of Leeds, her favorite places to go, and especially loves introducing students to new (and delicious) foods!
What brought you to be a Resident Director?
When I was at university myself, I lived with an American study abroad student and I helped her and her friends adjust to life in the UK. It seemed like a natural progression into this job, although I had many other careers in between. I have lived a lot of different places, and I love telling students the types of things I wished I had known about on my own journeys of discovery in other cultures.
What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Leeds is unique in many ways – it is a large city (750,000 inhabitants) but the centre, which has some of the best shopping for miles around, is best navigated on foot. It is home to two unique Edwardian cinemas, dating from 1911 where we go for British movie nights, and at least three country houses (think Downton Abbey), plenty of live music venues, splendid Victorian glass covered shopping streets, the largest indoor market in Europe, and the ruins of a great Gothic Abbey – Kirkstall Abbey, known as the Jewel in the Crown of Leeds. Leeds is a student’s best bet for a fully integrated experience in the UK, living in the same flat as British students and studying with them. Americans are still something of a rarity in Leeds, so most British students are desperate to get to know you. 🙂 Leeds is also geographically the very centre of the UK, so it is halfway between London to the South and Edinburgh to the North. It has the largest train station in the UK outside of London and very easy links for travelling around the UK and in Europe.
What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
I have traveled alone for months around much of Central and South America and speak fluent Spanish. I also worked as a reinsurance broker in London for a number of years.
What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
I see educating young students from the US as something of a mission – to help them see a world outside the US, that is not wrong, just different, and sometimes even maybe possibly better in some ways (shock, horror!) . I also like disproving the fallacy that British food is bad. Being something of a foodie myself, I absolutely love it when a student tells me that they came expecting the terrible food that they had been told about prior to arrival, but in fact they haven’t had a bad meal since they arrived. I love introducing students to fish and chips, toad in the hole, Sunday Dinner, a proper curry, the delights of a full English breakfast and not forgetting the institution that is Afternoon Tea.
What are some of the challenges of your job?
A lot of work goes into the smooth running of the programmes and ensuring that the excursions and cultural events come off as planned. When it works well, it is a great relief, but this means that our students don’t see all the effort that went into it. I have had students ask me what my other job is when I am not with them. To say that this is a full time job is an understatement, so for them to not comprehend the amount of work that goes into it can be a little frustrating at times.
What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
Adjusting to the independent nature of our university system. There is a lot of independent research and studying required and the entire grade can be based on just one final unseen exam. This is a bit scary for someone coming from the US system.
What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Just do it! You will love it! I have never had a student come to Leeds who didn’t love it and wish that they had come for a year instead of a semester. You should prepare yourself mentally by reading up on the British education system and trying your hand at independent study. You should also read about all the fabulous places you can visit while you are here, both in the UK and Europe.
What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
An umbrella for the changeable weather, and an open mind 🙂
To learn more about the programs offered at OSU, follow this link!