By Hamish Russell (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA).
Before I even left the UK I ran into some travelling difficulties… I knew I might have a troublesome experience at Heathrow when my passport was scanned at the check-in desk, only for the desk to erupt with flashing red lights. It turned out that the US State Department had put me on their high-security list to make sure that I didn’t have anything in my bags (I didn’t) to suggest I was planning on violating the terms of my J-1 visa – so be careful when packing would be my advice to any future visa holders. New York was brilliant, as always, despite a few patches of Manchester-style weather and a rather loud New Yorker complaining to me that there were too many tourists in the city. I was guided round the city by some family friends, one of whom had studied at Amherst College (which is as close to UMass Amherst as the name suggests), meaning that I learned about Amherst as well as New York during my brief stay. A lot of the usual tourist items were on my New York agenda, but the local knowledge of my friends gave me a whole new perspective on life in the city and made the experience much more rounded and fun than following any guidebook can do. Also, the view from my bedroom over the East River was brilliant, a great place to watch the city rush by.
I then took a bus from the New York to UMass, meeting fellow University of Manchester students on the way, as well as international students from countries as far afield as Australia and South Africa. Getting introduced to a lot of people so early on made life so much easier on arrival at UMass, with big group trips to buy bedding and other things for our rooms taking place about 45 minutes after we arrived at the university. One of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed between British and American universities is the school spirit – you can’t avoid the sheer volume of UMass apparel. The support given by the students to their sports teams is also incredible, with the 9,000 capacity Mullins Centre used for ice hockey and basketball games – the atmosphere is always incredible, there’s even a brass band playing at every home basketball game.
The weather here is one thing that I’m still adjusting to, with snowstorms making the occasional appearance and making the freezing temperatures (somewhat) worthwhile. The coldest day that I’ve had was about -18 degrees Celsius, with the wind chill taking it down even further to -26. On that note, the university has closed today due to an overnight snowstorm, so I’m going to wrap this up and go sledging!
Until next time.