Hi, my name is Alex Marshak. I’m a third a year aerospace engineering student on the MEng Astronautics track with industrial placement year. I studied abroad at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) at their campus in Prescott, Arizona, USA. This blog will share my experiences and journey at ERAU and around the country.

Preparations and Travel

Since I hold US citizenship, having family in the USA, the travel preparations were relatively easy. After receiving my offer to study at ERAU, I reached out by email and phone to contact my exchange coordinator, who was extremely helpful in preparing me for my stay. I learned at this point that Prescott is pronounced similarly to biscuit (prescit), especially with an American accent. If you’re looking to study in the USA, be very mindful that any accommodation outside of campus is not an option! Especially in the Midwest, good public transport is very hard to come by. Without a car, your two legs and solid determination are the main mode of transport, and things are very spread out. I had a luggage allowance of two large suitcases, which was more than enough to fit my clothes, bedding, and folders for the modules I would be studying.

Attempting to drag two suitcases onto the Heathrow express is not advisable. The doors will close on you as you get off the train! I would recommend a good friend to help get your stuff to the airport. The flight was very comfortable, and largely empty, so I had a whole row of seats to myself.

After arriving at Phoenix International Airport in late August, I boarded a shuttle bus which took the 2hr journey north to ERAU prescott campus. Especially in the west, people are very friendly and talkative. At the airport, many strangers asked me the exact same question of ‘Travelling light, huh?’ as I tried to get my stuff through the airport.

ERAU and Campus

Prescott is further north than Phoenix, and at higher elevation, so the temperatures are more moderate but still warm. Especially in August and September, temperatures stay around 30C. Umbrellas are not a useful item in the Arizona desert, and it only rained on three days throughout my four month stay. I spent most of my time on campus (because its expensive to go everywhere by Uber), and I was very fortunate that campus facilities were very good and well maintained. They even have an F-104 Starfighter on campus (pictured above). The campus has gym and an outdoor activity rental center, and I rented mountain bikes many times, and rode along the scenic trails around Prescott. The outdoor pool was very popular during summer and was a good place to relax.

I had catering on campus, and there was a range of places to eat. Other than the main cafeteria, which was open all day, the café in the library was very popular and there was also a grill and sandwich bar.

Student Life

The international student association (ISA) organized an orientation week before classes started. I was the only exchange student, but I was able to make friends who were international students, who stay for four years to complete their degree. The university is specialized for aviation, with most students being either student pilots or engineers. Prescott regional airport is nearby, and small Cessnas fly over campus every few minutes. There is a range of clubs and societies, the best one being the RDL or rocket development lab. At this club you will learn how to build and test rockets safely. The RDL has a rocket motor testing site, and many rocket engines have met their untimely end there.

My studies

I chose 5 modules to study, 3 of which were required by my course. Something I didn’t realise is that A4 paper does not exist inside of the USA. I had brought my A4 binders, but I discovered there was no way to get A4 paper from any store. Over there, no one has even heard of it before; I had to resort to getting some imported Japanese A4 paper that looked very strange and had no margin. For one class, the professor allowed us to bring in a 1-page cheat sheet. As it turns out, A4 paper has a 3.39% larger area than American letter, providing me a small advantage, but the professor didn’t mind. That class was about power generation systems, and it was extremely frustrating that most units were in imperial. I created a comprehensive list of all the conversions from metric to imperial, but I bit the bullet and learned to do my calculations in imperial units. For an engineer, the Imperial system makes no sense (it doesn’t even have a unit of force, and instead uses the weight of a pound mass in Earths gravity as a standard unit). In another class, the professor was from New Zealand (which uses metric) and shared my frustrations on this topic.

My class sizes were very small compared to Southampton, with around 15 – 30 students per class. I was very happy with their office walk in hours, which I used often. At Southampton, engineering final exams are typically worth 70% – 80% of the module. At ERAU, finals week is much less stressful, as exams are worth 20%-25% of the grade. I think most american education institutions also offer extra credit, which allows a student to make up for a bad exam. This is balanced out by a difference in grade boundaries. To get an A, you need 90% which is higher than 70% needed to achieve a first in the UK.


Since I have family in the US, I was lucky that I had the chance to visit them, which helped with homesickness. My long-term partner flew from the UK to stay with me and my family for thanksgiving in New York. My favourite thing to do in NYC is walk up the west side of Manhattan, as there are great views of the Hudson River. Central Park is very nice in autumn, but its freezing cold.

I also visisted my half-sister who lives in Palo Alto, San Fransisco. I got really lucky with the weather, and we got amazing views of the Stanford University campus and the bay area.

Summing Up Everything

For me, this study abroad experience was less about American culture but was a focus on the American University experience. I am considering a PHD program in the US in the future, and I now know much more about what it’s like to live there. I would like to keep the option of working in the US open, and I’m happy to have made friends and connections that I stay in contact with. The whole experience has made me more independent and resilient, and I consider it a big step in my personal growth. For anyone who wants a challenge, and wants to take the jump, ERAU has a place for you.

Some general advice I would give to anyone travelling for study abroad:

  • Neck pillows will save you from pain in the long term.
  • Attach a heavy weight to your keys, so you know if you drop them!
  • Get a Revolut account and card for easy foreign currency exchanges and payments.
  • Talk frequently to your exchange coordinator at your host university, be proactive, they are happy to help you.
  • Be a study abroad ambassador, and join your international student association, it’s a great place to meet people and make new friends.
  • Call your family often, they will miss you a lot.
Study Abroad in the Arizona Desert at Embry-Riddle (Aug – Dec) 2023

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