By Rhiannon Jones, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Hectic is definitely the best word to describe the last two weeks. Strange is probably another. It’s so weird to think that time has gone by so fast since I got here, and yet that first night where I slept off my jet lag under nothing but a cardigan feels like an age ago. A conversation with a friend the other day went along the lines of “Wow, it feels like I’ve known you for ages. I can’t believe it’s only been a week and a half”.
Some of the massive positives living in the US are that everyone is a lot friendlier and open, especially when you have an accent. I’ve had four people ask if I can give them and their friends a shout-out in my British accent, and do I mind if they film me while I do? I have been playing it up far too freely to diffuse awkward encounters. Too slow counting change? Prattle on about how you’re just not used to the currency yet. Have no idea what’s going on in labs? Mention loudly how it’s not the same as at home, people are more than willing to help out. The weather has also been great apart from the odd thunderstorm and even I managed to get a tan while sitting outside having lunch. It’s quite humid but there’s aggressive air conditioning for that. Finally, the food! It is possible to write a whole blog about just the amount and variety of the food here. Mains are very much the same, but the desserts are something else; who knew that everything could be put in a pie (my favourites so far have been smore and sweet potato). I’ve also had three more burritos since my last blog, which partly inspired me going to the gym again.
I have already learnt so much and yet ‘classes’ only started last week. It has snuck up on me how much there is to absorb just by marinating in the culture. On Skype with my family the other day I casually dropped the phrase ‘fraternity’ only to spend the next 10 minutes explaining what the hell that means and subsequent questions like “you’re going to a football match! You mean the American kind right?” Sometimes it is easy to forget that I’m in a different country. After all, we speak the same language, but for anyone who asks (and there’s been a few) I usually say that everything here is the same but slightly different. It’s been the small things that have thrown me off the most. Driving on the wrong side of the road I can deal with but not using A4 paper, too much (for reasons I will never work out they use 8.5”x11”).
Although I seem to exclusively hang out with other International students, and despite our best effort we just keep attracting more, we have done some cultural stuff too. We
even went to a sweet corn festival at the weekend – the Midwest is renowned for its cornfields and it was probably the most gloriously American thing I’ve ever seen. Chicago is the closest city by being only two and a half hours away, so for Labour Day weekend we’re going to spend a couple of nights probably eating deep dish pizza, watching a game and doing walking tours of the city.
School spirit is a massive thing here. Back home the only people who wore Manchester anything were either international students or on a sports team. In Illinois everyone wears them around campus, despite them being a particularly distinctive shade of orange. Freshmen (and bored international students) went to a ‘sights and sounds’ evening last week put on for new students where the marching band performed, we met some cheerleaders and had some motivational speakers to well and truly invoke Illini Pride in us. It absolutely worked. On friday night we went to watch a women’s volleyball match. I don’t even know the rules to volleyball but you bet I cheered like mad when Illinois won! Now I will happily wear one of my four Illinois branded t-shirts around campus, even if it is because I can’t be asked to do laundry.
A little shout out to my Australian room mate who thinks it’s hilarious that we camped out in my room to watch Great British Bake off. She just doesn’t understand how great that program is.
Here’s some pictures.
In order: the view as you walk onto the football pitch, the South Quad bell-tower, the crowd for the volleyball match, the ‘sights and sounds’ evening where we now love orange and the sweetcorn festival main stage.