By Stephen Fulham (The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA)
I’m writing this while back at home in Bristol during the Christmas break. I’ll be flying from London Heathrow to Raleigh-Durham in a few weeks time to start my semester abroad in North Carolina. I haven’t even started packing yet, but my folder of travel documents is already meticulously ordered. I can’t help but think how fast this has all come around. I still remember writing my application and then finding out that I would be going to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill as if it were yesterday.
I thought for this blog I’d reflect a bit on how I’ve been able to get to the point where I’m moving countries in less than two weeks.
The process itself has been simple enough. Once you get mailed a form by your host university you can go through all the various forms required to get a student visa for the USA. You then go to the Embassy, go through their security and, in my case, wait three hours for an interview lasting less than a minute and comprising less than half a dozen questions. Granted, because of this I did miss my train back and have to buy another ticket, but I have a feeling that it will be so worth it once I get to Chapel Hill. That reminds me, make sure you leave a lot of time if you’re booking same day return from London, and secure the earliest spot you can at the US Embassy (8am I think): someone else I know did this and was there for less than half an hour.
Finding someone to take over your room (if you’re going to study abroad for a semester and living in a shared student house while in Manchester) might be something that you’re worried about – don’t be! I advertised my room on a lot of websites and through the IPO, and got a lot of interest from both students already in Manchester and those from abroad who would be arriving here soon. You will find someone, don’t think of it as challenging.
After talking to someone who studied abroad in the USA last year, I’ve gotten a Caxton card. This is basically a Visa card which you can transfer money onto from other accounts (online, via text) so that you can use it without getting hit by massive withdrawal fees like you would if you used a UK card. Hopefully it also means that I can avoid the hassle of setting up a US bank account. On this note, I should also say that I went into town today and got some dollars (useful just to have them with me for when I arrive, just in case the card doesn’t work). Not only do they have an odd smell, but I was also struck by how long they are. They also seem make-believe and kind of cartoonish. I say this because it has really made me realise that I’m going away very soon.
When booking flights, most people I’ve spoken to have gone through STA Travel (yes, other operators are available and no, I’m not on commission). They’re cheap, friendly, and have a store on Oxford Road if you want to talk things through in person before you book. They, and likely other operators too, offer a flexible return. This means that I can change my return date and airport pretty much as many times as I want. This is really useful, especially given the month or so you get on your visa to travel might mean that you’re not exactly sure when you want to come back or where from, but still want to save a bit of cash by buying a return ticket.
I’d also say, when applying to study abroad, to consider the alternative assessment you’ll have to undertake. For me, it’s worked out at about an essay a week/ ten thousand words over the Christmas break. This is doable and I’m on track. Being able to go to university in the US is certainly the best motivation I’ve ever had to not leave the reading for and the writing of essays down to the last minute. It’s not too hard obviously I’d rather be watching the Muppet Christmas Carol on repeat for these three or so weeks, but just factor it in to your thinking when you’re deciding.
I have to be honest, leaving Manchester and finishing my academic year there a few weeks ago (in December) was quite strange. I’ve always found it difficult to say goodbye to people (at least for the six months or so that I’ll be gone) and while this might have been hard it really does make my semester at UNC Chapel Hill seem like even more of a fresh start.
Thinking about the cultural differences makes it seem especially so. I’ve just found out who my roommate and suitemates are (prepare yourself for this eventuality if you’re going to the USA) and spoken to them via Facebook, realised how sparse my Manchester timetable seems in comparison to my new one (8am classes are a thing at UNC, apparently), and I’m trying (and failing) to convince myself that the gym in my halls over there will balance out the attractions of the state which gave the world pulled pork and a multitude of other barbeque goodness. I’m honestly feeling a little daunted by the thought of doing five different, and individually seemingly quite difficult, modules while at Chapel Hill but I’m very excited at the same time.
Drop me an e-mail (above) or comment if you have any questions, I’m sure I’ll write again soon.