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A student’s guide to travelling with the URSS

Autumn term is over, the Christmas holidays have begun, and summer seems further away than ever – but don’t worry, it’s never too early to plan your next summer. If you are searching for a balance between building up your CV and going on a trip, you might want to consider the URSS program. Despite its strange name, this has nothing to do with the Soviet Union. 

The Undergraduate Research Support Scheme promotes student initiatives for Warwick undergraduates. Whatever department you belong to, this is a chance to get creative while being supervised. The best part? There is a fund of up to £1500 for overseas projects. If this does not speak to the heart of Warwick’s most adventurous backpackers, I don’t know what will.

Mix the words “overseas”, “funded”, and “research”, and you just got yourself paid working-holidays

Mix the words “overseas”, “funded”, and “research”, and you just got yourself paid working-holidays. The perfect opportunity if you are ready to dive deep into a topic that interests you. While you are working, why not discover new places at the same time? With enough planning and research, you should be on track for success. Still, let me share a few handy tips based on the time I spent travelling with the URSS this summer. 

First, dare to dream big. Society hammers into us time and time again how important it is to remain realistic, whether that is by getting a stable job, following usual conventions, or even adhering to university referencing guidelines. Creativity is not always welcomed. 

This is not to say that a down-to-earth approach isn’t important either, only to remind you not to limit yourself. The most interesting projects arise from unexpected ideas. Pick a hobby that you are passionate about or a topic that fascinates you, write down all possibilities, and then narrow it down to doable things. Talking to a supervisor or a friend is often a great way to sort challenging but attainable goals from unnecessarily complicated ideas. 

Keep an open mind. Don’t be scared to leave the beaten track — one of the best methods to find new ideas is to throw yourself into the unknown. And what better way to do so than by exploring a foreign country? 

Between the language barrier and the unpredictability of cultural differences, crossing the borders of familiarity can appear quite daunting. Maybe even scary. The best things always are. After all, there is no growth without challenge. 

As someone who is used to travelling to places where I speak the language, I set out to conduct two weeks of research in Dutch-speaking cities. Unsurprisingly, three weeks of Duolingo before my departure did not magically turn me into a native speaker. 

When faced with such a barrier, search for tools to bypass it. Not only is English on your side as an internationally known language, but there are many other ways to communicate. This is where body language, smiles, and the world-famous Google Translate come in handy. 

Sometimes, throwing yourself into the unknown is the best way to learn new things. Whether it be about the culture, the place you are visiting, or even your research topic: working in a foreign place teaches you to step out of your comfort zone to better connect with others. And nothing beats learning from locals to discover the best places in town.

Discoveries will push your project towards new directions. Even though you might already have an idea of what you expect to find, travelling will bring you unexpected outcomes

My research implied interviewing local people and filming the city, which is perfect for social interactions. But if yours is more indoor, no need to panic. The most important aspect is to find a balance between fulfilling your research without missing out on the travel experience. 

Discoveries will push your project towards new directions. Even though you might already have an idea of what you expect to find, travelling will bring you unexpected outcomes. Be ready to adapt. You might even need to rethink what you want to do with your project. 

A French proverb says that “les voyages forment la jeunesse”: travel forms youth. Why not prepare for your future with some overseas research at the same time? 


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