Being an International Student and the American way of life: college life, nursing and clinical placements

Jackson Vukovic
Exchange to Catholic University of America, USA
Semester 1, 2015
IMAP Student


My name is Jackson and I was on international exchange for my Bachelor of Nursing program to the Catholic University of America, in Washington D.C. My five month exchange program for semester one of 2015 was an amazing opportunity to experience American culture, healthcare and what it is like to be a college student at an American university. Over my five months I had some really amazing experiences of studying and meeting people, but my exchange also came with some challenges that were hard, but also fulfilling. I have decided to write this blog to give future students considering an exchange program a sample of my time away, and what exchange to a foreign country can open up for people.


My arrival date in the USA of January 8th came around quicker than I could have ever imagined, and before I knew it my plane was landing in D.C.’s Dulles International Airport. As my plane broke the cloud level at would 5:30pm, I could see the ground below covered in a thick, white layer stretching as far as I could see. Funnily enough, it took me a minute or two to realise it was snow! For some insane reason I did not expect it to still be snowing in the US, and little did I know it would be a fairly constant occurrence in my life up until late March. Although I was well informed for snow and cold weather, I have to admit I did not pack my bag all that appropriately. Luckily my friend who was picking me up from the airport had brought a spare snow jacket, and I was set for the journey to his house.


My first day on campus at CUA was very exciting, and I have to admit, very much like I had seen before in American movies. It was a real college – huge, vast, loads of buildings, covered in snow and had a very ‘American’ feel to it! I was so excited! Before this trip I had been to the USA once before with my high school, but this time was going to be different. This time I was obviously staying longer, and I had the chance to establish a life for myself amongst the American culture. After a few days of being on campus the local American students arrived back into their dorms for the spring semester, and the college had come to life. I knew it wouldn’t be long and I’d be thrown into my classes, and no doubt the centre of attention as one of the international students.


During my first few days I got the chance to meet the other four Australian ACU students that came to CUA for their exchange program. We all met on the CUA campus, helped each other set up and buy what we needed for our dorm rooms and started chatting about our studies ahead. Over the next four months of studies we were to spend a great deal of time together in class, in our hospital placements, and we inevitably all became really great friends over our exchange program. During times of missing our families back home, and being generally homesick, we were a good support network for each other, and I cannot wait for us all to hang out again now we are back home in Australia.


Before we went on exchange, our study program was pre-arranged by ACU so that we only took classes that would be credited upon our return home. Our nursing classes at CUA included acute care in the hospital setting, care of the aging patient, and healthcare ethics for nurses. These classes were theory based, which of course is very important in studying at university level….but I was mainly excited for my clinical time in the American hospitals! The five Aussie exchange students were split into two groups, one of two and the other of three. On our first week of classes we were straight into the hospital setting. Myself and Kathryn, a student from Melbourne, were placed into a group of American students who were going to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, which one of the states that share a border with D.C. At first we thought it was a bit crazy that our hospital was in a different state to our university, but we quickly learnt it was only a one hour drive away, and that we would get a lift with American students each week.


All together I spent a total of 180 hours on placement at Inova Fairfax Hospital, in both an adult heart and lung unit, and an Intermediate Paediatrics unit. I felt really comfortable and that I was capable of working successfully in the adult unit, and I got along really well with my clinical instructor. The Paediatrics unit on the other hand produced quite a few personal and professional challenges for me, some of which were hard to overcome at the time. Looking back now, they were all a really beneficial learning experiences for me, and I believe they have guided me a lot for the future and in developing what kind of nurse I would like to be when I graduate. Working with the kids in the unit was a new experience for me, as I had only limited experience with children before my time there. The unit taught me a lot about nursing, and I will honestly look fondly upon my time at Inova as a key moment in my learning.


Nursing school in America is both different and also similar to nursing school here in Australia. One challenging component of nursing school at CUA was the passing level for studies in nursing, and the expectations the professors have on students who wish to graduate as nurses. The general passing level in Australia is an overall score of fifty percent in all classes, whereas CUA expects a grade of seventy-three percent to receive a pass. For some classes this can be challenging to reach, however all of us Aussie exchange students faced this challenge and we all successfully passed our subjects! My favourite of the classes I studied in the USA would have to have been acute care in the hospital setting, as I found it the most exciting and information packed. As well as that, it was also the most fitting to my clinical placement, and taught me a great deal that I could use whilst at Inova Hospital.


On return to Australia and back to ACU to continue my studies, I can think of nothing more than how much I truly loved my exchange time in the USA. Some of the time of course I missed my family and partner back home a lot, and some of the challenges I faced were hard to overcome. But each and every one of them contributed to my time away, and made it a once in a lifetime experience. I will forever cherish my time at CUA, and especially the people I got the chance to meet and get to know. They were one of, if not the, best parts of being on exchange and living in the USA. I strongly recommend to all students to go on an exchange program during their studies if they have the chance to. It really is an awesome opportunity to get out there and experience some awesome things, challenge yourself and meet some great people. Whether you could study at CUA, or another college, or even go to any country in the world, I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to go for it and experience our beautiful world and what it has to offer.