Paula Duggan at West Virginia University, USA

Paula Duggan 

BCom International Business

Semester Exchange in the Second Semester, 2022 at West Virginia University 


The semester abroad is a huge part of Stellenbosch University’s International Business degree, and something that we have all been dreaming of and anticipating since first year. The long list of partner universities provides something that appeals to everyone. A lot of time and research went into deciding which university I wanted to attend, and I confidently landed on West Virginia University. There were several reasons why I chose WVU. The university has a rich history, it is located in a small “student town” and its academic record is pretty impressive – especially its business college. I have always been interested in traveling to the United States, and as West Virginia is not a typical tourist destination, I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience something totally new.


The pre-departure planning of the semester abroad process was probably the most daunting part of the whole experience. Applying to a new university was a confusing process and often times difficult to understand. However, West Virginia University has a brilliant international student programme, so there was always someone available to help with admin processes and to answer any questions I had. I would recommend getting all of your documents ready before university applications open. These may include: a certified bank statement proving your ability to support yourself financially, copy of your transcript and certified copy of passport etc. And start the application as soon as it comes out.


After receiving my acceptance letter, it all started to feel real, and I could finally start to get excited about leaving. Flights to the US were expensive, so it was important to try book well in advance. The US embassy is incredibly inundated with people applying for visas, so getting a timely visa appointment date took a bit of work. Therefore, try to book a visa appointment ASAP. When I booked mine, the earliest appointment I could get was two months into my exchange, so I had to find someone who stays on the embassy website and books appointments as other people cancel theirs. I know you can also expedite an appointment, but I am not sure how easy it is to do that. However, once I had my interview date, everything went smoothly, and I soon had my visa. Finally, I would advise you to pack light because you’ll definitely be shopping while you’re there. Also don’t forget to pack for winter, I mostly brought summer clothes so had to spend a bit on some warmer pieces there.



Upon my arrival at West Virginia University, all the anxieties I had coming into the semester disappeared. After meeting my roommate, a really nice girl from Russia, we were thrown into several international student events where we met all the other internationals. Despite the language and cultural barriers, it was easy to make friends and our differences gave us all so much to talk about. It wasn’t long before I formed a great group of friends from all over the world, including Germany, Mexico, Haiti, Belgium, Iceland and Morocco.


Paula with exchange friends


The academic programme at WVU was a totally new system of learning. Stellenbosch’s high academic standard stood me in good stead when trying to navigate the US system. I took an array of mostly business modules, as well as a history and English module. The lectures were brilliant, and it was clear how passionate the professors were about their subjects. The content was really stimulating and interesting, and the only major difference I noted was the university’s methods of testing. We did not do one major test and one exam as we do in Stellenbosch, but WVU lecturers preferred smaller, more frequent tests and assignments on smaller chunks of the content. This meant that it was important to attend lectures and keep up with the work, but it also took the stress off when it came to tests.


West Virginia University campus​


I was so impressed by the opportunities available to students on the campus. The university organized so many free events for students, including a festival that featured Polo G, Tay Money and some country singers who everyone seemed to recognize except for me. There were also so many clubs that we could join, and I chose to join the Women in Business organization, where I got to attend informative talks by several female entrepreneurs. The career services at WVU were also amazing and I was able to have several practice sessions for job interviews I had coming up. Overall, I felt that the university really catered to the students in so many ways, be that socially, academically and professionally.


I definitely underestimated how expensive the USA would be. Not only was a cappuccino R80, but I was shocked to find out the huge amounts that students there pay for school fees and accommodation. Furthermore, everything is before-tax, fast-food costs the same as one big meal at Craft and in some airports, you even have to pay $7 to use a luggage trolley. It took some time to adapt to this extreme capitalist culture, but I learnt to budget effectively and only spend where necessary. One of my favourite parts of my experience, was the opportunity to travel the United States. I went to Pittsburgh, San Francisco, New York and Colorado, where I saw snow for the first time. It was so interesting to see how the cultures of each place differed, despite all being in the same country.



By the time the semester came to a close, I was really sad to be leaving such a beautiful place and all of the amazing friends I had made along the way. However, I was also eager to see my family and friends and return to South Africa after 5 months away. Returning during the slow December holiday period was the biggest adjustment, after having come from such a fast-paced environment of traveling and meeting new people. However, it was great to share about my experience with all of my old friends.


I loved every minute of my time in the United States, but it gave me a new appreciation for the beauty of South Africa and my life here. I began to see the beauty of South Africa through the eyes of the Americans. Upon first arriving in the USA, all I could see was the stark contrasts; to me, the United States was a country where everything worked, you could get anything at just the click of a button, and you didn’t have to worry so much about locking your doors at night. However, by the end of my trip, I realized that there are some amazing things in South Africa that the US does not have. South Africa’s natural environment is unlike anything else in the world, and it is clear that in a lot of ways, South Africans are far more conscious of conserving the environment. I was surprised to find that recycling and sustainability was not really prioritized in many parts the USA, and I am proud that South Africa has a greater awareness. Through the Women in Business organization, the career centre, as well as the people I met along the way, I had the opportunity to get an array of perspectives when it comes to my career and my future after my degree. During my time abroad, I really solidified my plans for my future, and I am eager to go to the UK to launch my career after studying. I believe that this semester has really helped to develop my business skills in an international context.


Upon returning home, I realized just how much personal growth I had made over the last five months. Change was not something I used to like, but I was surprised how easy it was to adapt to life in another country. Putting myself out there to make new friends and experience new experiences was so important in the adapting process. The biggest piece of advice I can give to those who are embarking on a semester abroad is to not sweat the small stuff. In the end, I think it all comes down to your mindset, and just how willing you are to make the most of your experience.