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Sophia Woodruff: American Extraordinaire

Hailing from the United Kingdom where she majors in American Studies at Swansea University, Sophia Woodruff, a study abroad student at UMBC and senior in Wales, delved into the details of her international experience. She spoke on her experiences coming to America, her time as an immigrant in Trump’s America and American literature.

Key differences between post-secondary education in the United States and the United Kingdom include the fact that “in the U.K., degrees are only three years,” compared to the typical American four-year bachelor’s degree. Woodruff says she wants to complete a master’s degree in American literature instead of a PhD because a master’s degree only requires one year to complete, as opposed to five.

“A lot of the books that I like,” Woodruff says, “are American; it follows my interest.” Her greatest interest in American literature focuses on the 1940s–1980s. She particularly enjoys “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt.

Woodruff intends to write a senior thesis on American college students and their identity on campus in novels. While her major is American Studies, her focus lies on American literature and politics. She enjoys the Beatnik era, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes; she admits her dislike of Hemingway, although she “appreciates the insight in Spain,” where she lived during part of her childhood.

Woodruff also expresses her appreciation of American poetry’s freedom in writing style: “We don’t have the same thing in Britain; it’s like Shakespeare — you have to have a rhyme scheme and it’s very structured.” She identifies more with the Beatnik generation because “[literature] was more accessible and there is more scope of what it means to be American and what it means to be a writer: it was people who were writing because that was their passion.” She added, “even though I’m not American, I could still identify with it.”

When asked about her transition to the U.S., Woodruff responded, “I think the transition wasn’t bad for me because a lot of people know about American culture through TV, through books, through music, through film. Being a student who is in American studies, I kind of understand the backstory to some of this culture and the increasing polarization and the American miseducation of Thanksgiving.” She added that someone asked her if Thanksgiving is a national holiday in Britain.

She has also visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where she noticed that Dr. Freeman Hrabowski is included on a plaque of donors. She indicated that social media prepared her for America: “I knew about Flint and Black Lives Matter and the issues Planned Parenthood is having.”

When asked about her reaction to coming to America during the current presidency, she said, “this is going to affect my life in a way that other people in England won’t be affected by the results in such a direct way, although I am lucky in the fact that I’m white and not very religious.” She mentioned she knew a Muslim classmate who was advised to attend an international trip to Berlin instead of New York due to concerns about Islamophobia.

While her studies in the United States end this semester, Woodruff indicated that she has enjoyed her time in America and that this has been an enriching experience. She is one of a handful of international students from Wales and is on track to graduate in spring of 2019.