Arrival reflections (how temporary housing turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

Actually that’s not totally true but I’ll get to that later…

So its been about three weeks since I landed in Chicago and arrived in Urbana-Champaign but it genuinely feels like I’ve been here for months. For the first week I was here the campus was empty save for all of the international students and the marching band (which I found out the hard way when I got distracted by the possibility of a free lunch and ended up in the middle of their practice) but it was nice to be able to explore and get my bearings before all of the other students arrived.

The campus is exactly what you’d expect an American college to be like. There’s a quad, there’s a bell tower and people skateboard between classes. It’s also huge! The University of Illinois isn’t that much bigger than Manchester in terms of number of students but the campus is about ten times the size (does there really need to be a whole building dedicated to ceramics though?!). That does seem to be a common theme here in America however…everything is just so much BIGGER than at home. The buildings, the portion sizes, the cars (my poor little Fiat Seicento would be eaten alive).

As for my housing situation…after all of the complaining I did about being put in temporary accommodation I didn’t actually end up living there at all. On the day I flew out to America I got an email saying that I’d been placed in a permanent room. I was ecstatic. However, when I checked the housing website it turned out that I’d been placed in a single room and so went from the prospect of having three roommates to the reality of having none (and paying $2,000 extra for the privilege). At first I was a bit disappointed by this as having a roommate is something so “American” and something that I’d kind of built myself up for. I was a bit worried that being by myself would make it harder to meet people and make friends (no one wants to be known as the loner at the end of the corridor) but thankfully it hasn’t been an issue at all and now that classes have actually started it’s nice not to have to worry about disturbing someone else when I want to study late at night or take naps in the middle of the day.

So much has been happening in the past three weeks that it would be hard to summarise it all in one blog post. Thankfully Rhiannon has already mentioned a few – https://manchesterontheroad.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/two-weeks-already-making-uiuc-home/ (not only are we both from the same university and doing the same degree, we’ve also managed to end up with the same friendship group). But I thought I’d just mention a couple of the most American things I’ve done so far…

I started this blog post about a week ago but held off on posting because I wanted to write about the first football game of the season and how crazy and exciting it was. Sadly, the game was cancelled due to a severe lightning storm, but not before we’d all got dressed up in our orange and blue, complete with face paint and wigs. Instead we spent the evening in one of our dorm rooms drinking tea and eating biscuits until the storm passed (probably one of the most British things I’ve done so far). Luckily I bought a season ticket for the football and the next game vs. Western Illinois is only next week so I’ll be able to talk about what attending an actual college football game is like next time.

But by far the strangest/most exciting thing I’ve done so far is take part in sorority formal recruitment, or “rush”. The Greek system is something that doesn’t exist in any form in the UK and I’ll admit I went into it with no idea what to expect and more than a little sceptical of the whole concept. The process by which sororities recruit new members for their house is completely ridiculous, I will happily admit that now. It basically involves singing, small talk and excessive smiling (three of my least favourite things right after stickers and people who recline their seats on aeroplanes) but by the end of the first weekend I was fully on-board with the whole thing. I met some lovely girls and had some great conversations (having an accent is definitely a bonus here) and although I didn’t end up actually joining a house (the sorority life does not come cheap) I will say that if I was here for all four years I would definitely want to be a sorority girl.

Classes are back in full swing now and the homework assignments are coming in thick and fast, so I guess the holiday is officially over. I’ll be writing a whole blog post on that side of things next time but for now I’ll just end with a selection of photos from the past few weeks…

During our first week here we snuck into the empty football stadium (not really, a guy on a quad bike said it was okay). I can’t wait to be inside when a game actually happens and the stands are full of students decked out in orange.
During our first week here we snuck into the empty football stadium (not really, a guy on a quad bike said it was okay). I can’t wait to be inside when a game actually happens and the stands are full of students decked out in orange.
All dressed up and no game to go to (so obviously we took group photos instead)
All dressed up and no game to go to (so obviously we took group photos instead)
One of the many sorority houses on campus (it’s a lot more impressive in person). In all honesty my main reason for signing up to rush in the first place was the chance to be nosey and see what the houses were like inside.
One of the many sorority houses on campus (they are seriously impressive buildings). In all honesty my main reason for signing up to rush in the first place was the chance to be nosey and see what the houses were like inside.
I was sat doing some homework between classes the other day on the terrace of the student union, overlooking the quad in 27 C heat and had my first “wow, I actually go to uni here” moment. So I took an Instagram photo to celebrate.
I was sat doing some homework between classes the other day on the terrace of the student union, overlooking the quad in 27 C heat and had my first “wow, I actually go to uni here” moment. So I took an Instagram photo to celebrate.
And because I didn’t feel like I had enough photos for this post, here’s a cheeky study group selfie I took while writing it. (I actually get bonus marks in one of my classes if I post this to the dedicated Facebook page, no word of a lie)
And because I didn’t feel like I had enough photos for this post, here’s a cheeky study group selfie I took while writing it. (I actually get bonus marks in one of my classes if I post this to the dedicated Facebook page, no word of a lie)

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