By Joe Vis (Stony Brook, The State University of New York, USA)
After all the planning, forms, emails, goodbyes and last-minute packing, the time had finally come to set off for Stony Brook. Unfortunately that time was also 3am. Leg one of the journey was a drive from Liverpool down to Heathrow Terminal 5 accompanied by both parents. One seeming ever more nervous about her eldest jetting off to the other side of the world and one seeming ever more annoyed at having to be up at 3am. The drive went smoothly but unfortunately it was about the only thing that did that day. Immediately after saying goodbye and getting through security I was informed that my flight would be delayed by about 45 minutes due to the doors on the plane not locking properly (I didn’t think this was as minor an issue as the announcer seemed to make out). The 45 minutes passed and the doors were fixed but another announcement revealed that now the toilets were broken so we would have to wait for another hour while they were fixed. Eventually I got on the plane, and after waiting another 40 minutes for a space on the runway, leg two of the journey was under way; Heathrow to JFK. 8 hours, 2 films and some dodgy plane food later I got my first glimpse of the New York City skyline as we touched down on American soil and was suitably impressed.
The delays in London meant there was now a huge queue at customs so we weren’t even allowed off the plane for a while and then, when we were, had a 2 hour wait. All of this meant I was 4 hours late for my shuttle ride out to Stony Brook but luckily, didn’t have too long to wait for the next one. This was when I met my first genuine New Yorker, the taxi driver. He was extremely nice and friendly to me and the other passengers but hurled verbal abuse and repeatedly blared his horn at every car, pedestrian and animal that got in his way. All of this whilst arguing with his wife on the phone and eating a hot dog. Finally, 22 hours after setting off I had reached Stony Brook. I had time to very briefly meet some of my flat mates (Yunichi from Japan, Ben and Dave from Hong Kong and Luis from Spain) before I collapsed into bed.
The following morning I met up with Annabel, the other Manchester student at Stony Brook, to find somewhere for breakfast and explore the campus a bit. The first thing I realised was that I was woefully underprepared for the heat. Even early on it was at least 25˚c, which may not sound outrageous, but for someone who is gingerly inclined and used to rainy Manchester, it was a bit of a shock. After last year’s polar vortex I’d made sure to pack enough warm clothes for winter without giving too much thought to what the weather would be doing when I first arrived.
The campus itself is huge and the heat combined with the unfamiliar trees and terracotta buildings make it look almost mediterranean. This isn’t the only way it is very different to Manchester. The food outlets on site offer countless options from all over the world and the sports facilities are much better than I’ve seen anywhere in the UK. They include a 9,000 seater stadium for the (American) football team, whose opening game I am going to see next week.
Next up was the orientation meeting for all the international students. For the next six hours we were introduced to the staff we had only known via email for the past few months and told just about everything we needed to know for the coming semester. There were about 200 foreign students with big groups from Korea and Brazil, a few from the rest of Asia, Australia and a few European countries as well as four English (including me and Annabel). During this time I befriended some Aussies and some Germans and have already made plans to visit the city with them this weekend and to be as stereotypically touristy as possible, which will no doubt be covered in my next blog.