Student adjusts to life in America

Charlotte McKay
Charlotte McKay

As 2013 drew to a close, the Herald went back to some of the newsmakers from the year. Here, Joanne Bennett catches up with Charlotte McKay, who headed off to university in America. 

Charlotte McKay's return to Timaru for Christmas after her first semester as a freshman at Duke University in North Carolina was certainly a Christmas surprise for her parents.

They didn't know she was coming, and she was smuggled into her family home by friends, who had prepared a wrapped Charlotte-sized box for her to emerge from.

The 2012 Timaru Girls' High School head girl, who achieved an outstanding scholarship in NCEA level 3 English and a scholarship in NCEA level 3 art history, found out in April she had a four-year, all-expenses paid scholarship to study art history at the US college.

The first semester has been amazing, Charlotte said.

"I sometimes have to pinch myself when I'm walking around campus. I've worked hard, but I'm incredibly lucky too. It's the most incredible opportunity, the university and campus are fantastic."

Her love of studying art history has been affirmed. She has a job at the campus art gallery, which she says will be a foot in the career door.

"I have a growing interest in curating and education. There's so much packed into an artwork, and there's a lot of satisfaction learning the art of unpacking it."

She says her lecturers are fantastic, and with around 18 people in her art history classes, the opportunity for close tutelage and making close friends is easy.

Americans are open and welcoming, and Charlotte has had no problems fitting in.

She has been invited on holidays with friends, and even spent Thanksgiving with an American family.

Charlotte attended Otago University for one semester, and she says there are a few points of difference.

"There's a significant increase in workload. There are 1700 freshman students in the dining hall - it's a lot bigger. There's also more emphasis on extra-curricular involvement, and a huge breadth of subjects. For a Liberal Arts degree you have to spend three semesters learning a language, maths and science."

"They approach testing differently too. At Otago we had large assignments, but here we have lots of smaller assessments. There's less room to do that last-minute push."

It did take "a little longer than expected" for Charlotte to adjust to American life.

"I do miss home, but it's only a flight away. Also Skype and Facetime make it seem not quite so far away."

Charlotte plans to return to New Zealand "eventually". The scholarship means there will be no student loan to weigh her down.

"It's all very exciting," she said.

South Canterbury