By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)
I’m now five weeks into my second semester here at UIUC, so it’s probably a good a time as any to talk a bit about what it’s like being back on campus, what I’ve been up to so far, what’s different about this semester and what’s very much the same.
After going home for a much needed break and spending Christmas and New Year with my family and friends, me and a few fellow exchange students (including, of course, Rhiannon) managed to fit in a few days of travelling before the new semester started, which she has kindly written all about here:
(we should probably stop doing all of the same things together because divvying up blog post topics is getting tricky)
Probably the strangest thing about coming back to campus this semester is just how normal everything seems now. Whereas my first few months here seemed to go by in a whirlwind of meeting new people, places, courses and social activities (barn dance anyone?), it was amazing how easy it was to get back into the UIUC routine in January. I know where everything is, I know who my friends are, I know how the buses work and I know when the best food is served in the dining hall (FYI, it’s mac ‘n’ cheese Tuesdays). In a way its almost as if, dare I say it, I actually go to university here now. Making it all the stranger to think that I won’t be back in September and won’t be seeing the same people every day at dinner (Ike at 6 anyone?). I guess that makes me all the more determined to make the most of the next five months, because everything seeming so “normal” now could make it easy to take it all for granted.
One thing I definitely learned last semester is that the workload here is intense. So if you do ever find yourself in the position of actually not having any work to do that weekend, you’d better make the most of it! With that in mind, what better way to take advantage of our last few months in America than take a weekend trip to Dallas! After finding a cheap flight and hotel package deal a mere two days earlier and with us all really feeling the cabin fever brought on by small town Illinois we spontaneously set off for the land of cowboys, steak and rodeo.
I think everyone has their preconceptions of what Texas and “the south” are like and to be honest I was actually pleasantly surprised by Dallas. It’s a very young and thriving city with amazing weather and even better food, and it really seems to be trying to distance itself from the stereotypical “cowboys and oil tycoons” image synonymous with The Lone Star State. Dallas also happens to be the location of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the museum dedicated to his presidency and death is housed in the very building from which he was shot. The museum was extremely interesting, especially the exploration into the many unanswered questions and conspiracy theories that still surround his death (and bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “Grassy Knoll”). This was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me and I would highly recommend it. We’re currently in the process of planning what we’re going to do for our month of travelling at the end of year and I’m now really looking forward to heading back to Texas (maybe next time I’ll get to hit up the rodeo). But Dallas definitely exceeded my expectations and (bold claim) may be one of my favourite places that I’ve visited in the US so far.
Continuing on the theme of taking spontaneous weekend trips when I really should be doing work, me and a few of the girls also decided to spend the day in Chicago a few weeks ago. At this point in my study abroad career I definitely know my way around the tourist attractions in the city and so with a new group of exchange students joining our crew this semester it was great being able to play tour guide and show them everything Chicago has to offer; from the bean, the wonders of Shake Shack, Michigan Avenue and the heart-breaking rip-off that is American Topshop. Word of warning though, all those rumours about Chicago being a “windy city” are definitely true. Despite it being glorious sunshine and light-jacket temperatures in Urbana-Champaign, just three hours north and on the edge of Lake Michigan it was absolutely freezing in the city. No wonder we ended up spending most of the day indoors shopping!
So despite this pretty much being the “beginning of the end” of my time in the US there’s still so much to look forward to over the coming months, to name a few:
- Turning 21 (finally, I’ve been counting down to this since January)
- Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day both here in Champaign (the university has its own special celebration of the day, its called “Unofficial”, Google it) and in Chicago (apparently they dye the river green but its already a bit of a murky green-brown colour anyway so I’m interested to see how that turns out)
- Spending spring break in Cuba (because where better to go while studying abroad in America than a country that Americans can’t visit)
- My parents coming to the US at the end of term and hitting up California and Las Vegas with them (because what’s cooler than doing Vegas with your parents)
And I can’t wait for me (or Rhiannon) to tell you all about it next time!