Liberty Jones, fourth-year American and Canadian Studies (Study Abroad) student
"I can't tell you how different I am compared to when I started. It's been a real journey and it's so nice to look back and see how far I've come."
What made you choose your course?
"I was originally set on doing history and French. But then I got a D on my French AS level. I really enjoy it but didn’t do well at it. I started looking through prospectuses and saw Nottingham did American and Canadian studies, which was quite unique as it’s normally just American studies. The more I kept reading about it, the more I was like, ‘It’s all the stuff I’m interested in, so why not give it a go?’."
What skills have you gained from your course so far?
"My ability to write effectively, and in an academic way, has absolutely soared.
I didn’t know how to structure an essay before I came to Nottingham, or how to understand reading and interpretation and not just pick quotes out. I can understand the arguments behind something now, the importance of context.
How did you choose your optional modules?
"It was always the literature and cultural side of things that I enjoyed, so I’ve tried to tailor my course to that. Because it’s so interdisciplinary, you can pick and choose based on what you like. Like TV, for example, I never thought that would be a part of it! I watched Ratched over the summer on Netflix and then I’ve ended up doing a module on madness this semester. Because something sparks my interest, and there’s that variety in my degree, I can be like, ‘I really fancy that, let’s give that a go’."
I love the course so much because its everything that I enjoy. And it’s so current as well. You’re doing something that’s happening as you’re studying it.
Do you have a favourite module?
"I did a module called ‘The Pop Century’, which was on 20th century music, in second year. I loved that because you’d have a playlist every week and reading to go with it. We’d listen to songs and you’d choose your favourite one and link it to the historical context."
What is your dissertation on?
"I’m doing music in response to Hurricane Katrina and how it complicates the racial narratives that emerged from it. I love it. I’m loving researching it. It’s so fulfilling and rewarding."
Any staff shout-outs?
I’ve had two continuous teachers throughout my time, Nick Heffernan and Tony Hutchison. They’ve just been so supportive. I feel like they recognise that they teach areas that I’m interested in. They can tell I’m invested in it and I get more out of it.
"Nick’s my dissertation supervisor as well, so he’s given me a lot of extra support on top of what he was doing already. Both Nick and Tony have helped me progress a lot since I’ve started."
How did you get involved with the AmeriCan society?
"I came across the society in first year. I met my housemate in that first meeting, so it is where I met all of my friends on the course!
In second year I was the social secretary and we did all sorts. We did a midterm symposium with people from the department, we had a massive Thanksgiving dinner, which was lovely, we had a Superbowl themed party...We really opened up the society. It’s still a small society, but we really put it out there."
Tell us about your year abroad...
"I went to Alabama for my year abroad. Even when in primary school, the first thing you study about America is the riots in Alabama and the bus boycotts. So I decided to go there and it was very much like the true American experience. I wasn’t in one of the massive universities or anything, it’s a medical university, so there weren’t many arts students.
I was down south near Georgia, so I could go wherever I wanted. I think we did 15 states altogether when we were there. I saw and did as much as I could around my uni work. It was just amazing. I’m gutted it ended early because of Covid-19 but so thankful I got to do what I did.
I definitely think I’ve become more adaptable. I can tailor the skills I already have to different situations. I worked in the university archives and the museum they had on campus out there as well. I’d already done something like that in the UK and it was really interesting to transfer those skills into a completely different setting. Even though they speak English, there is still that cultural barrier there, so it was about being able to navigate that.
It’s made me more flexible and adaptable and able to cope with change. The whole Covid-19 situation – having that experience of sorting myself out and getting back, I think that’s made me more resilient as well. I’m a lot calmer and approach things a lot better, so that’s something I got from it.
When planning my year, we had a head of year abroad, who helped us organise. There’s definitely a nice structure in place of people who are experienced and can help us, so we got what we needed and met all the deadlines. It is a very intimidating process. It was just about being reassured that you had what you needed and what you were doing was right."
How did you go about getting extra work experience outside your studies?
"I picked up on something I was interested in and realised that that curation and archiving was a career I could look into.
I got in contact with my local museum over the Christmas break, when I was back home. I’d done some work experience for them before, and just said ‘Hi, remember me, can I come back?!’. They said yes, then directed me to their archives, which is the National Arts Education archives. It’s about using art and culture to feed back into education settings, particularly with high school students.
They were quite old fashioned when I went to them. It is just a physical collection of artefacts. My contribution was modernising it, bringing the collection online or suggesting ways of making it accessible for people like me."
Realising the potential of an interdisciplinary subject, and putting it into a professional setting, really gave me the courage to be like, ‘I deserve to be in these spaces. I’ve worked hard and that’s where it’s going to get me’. It gave me the confidence to move forward and use my initiative to start suggesting things, because I do have this experience, so why not use it.
How did you find being the first person in your family to go to uni?
"I heavily relied on the peer mentors in my first year. I found it more accessible to talk to students rather than the lecturers. I felt like I was bothering them with these menial questions! Obviously now that’s different, I know the staff are more than willing to answer any questions, but it was nice at the time to have that familiar support there. It felt like I was asking a friend.
Now I’m in fourth year I’m a peer mentor to pay it forward. It’s something I really relied on, so it’s nice to feel like I’m giving the new students something important."
What are your career aspirations?
"I’m not completely decided. My course has opened me up to such a wide range of opportunities.
I don’t want to limit myself by saying ‘That’s what I want to go into’. I’m excited to see what’s available. I’m applying for all sorts of graduate schemes that I didn’t even know existed. There’s so much out there and I want to explore it and find something that’s perfect for me.
Anything else to add?
"Nottingham as a place has been massively important to how I’ve enjoyed my experience. It’s a student city and that’s reflected everywhere you go – people are welcoming and nice. I love it now. It’s been a lovely place to live, work and study for four years."
Study American and Canadian studies