Hello all! This is officially my first blog post. I’m two weeks into my international exchange experience. It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I’m just now beginning to catch up with my life outside of here, and have the chance to reflect and take it all in. Where to begin with what has happened so far?!
Well, the logistical stuff; I’m studying in the town of Tempe in Arizona, near to Phoenix. I’m at Arizona State University, and i’ll be here for next 5 months. I’m in my second semester of my second year of university, and when the opportunity to study abroad in the USA arose (around a year ago now the application was started!), I jumped at the chance. We’re only two weeks in but, it’s safe to say so far I’m glad I did! Tempe is beautiful. It’s really different to any town you’d find in the UK, as it seems almost purpose built, with perfect roads that are all easily laid-out, and insane architecture. The area directly surrounding the university campus is completely surrounded by gigantic palm trees, and there are even several ‘palm walks’ on campus which we walk between, when going to and from classes. I live about a 15 minute walk from most of my classes, and from the MU (the student hub of campus, an SU equivalent full of food places). That’s been really convenient and helpful so far, and is definitely very different from the trek to uni in Manchester on the Magic Bus! The weather here is glorious, averaging a modest 20C during the day at the moment (which the locals think is cold!!!). I’m definitely enjoying that aspect of it, and weather was a major factor for me when considering where to study abroad in the US. This area of Arizona is never short of sunshine, and the temperature will only continue to rise from here on out!
The first few days here entailed international orientation sessions for us to learn about ASU, it’s academics, culture and general life. It was a great chance to make friends with other international students who were experiencing the same culture shock as me, and to learn the lay of the land together! The organisers gave us loads of information and guidance, and pointed us in the direction of the free sporting games. The sporting culture here is absolutely massive. You see in the movies over-exaggerated versions of the love for college sport in the US and the passion for their school’s teams, but it’s genuinely real. Part of our tuition here covers free entry to all sports games, and all we have to do is bring along our student card! The international office organised for us exchangers to meet for a women’s basketball game on my first Sunday here, and I wasn’t sure what to expect but went along anyway. All I can say is wow. It’s almost too crazy to explain! As someone who doesn’t really have any allegiance to a particular sport team of any kind at home, I didn’t think I would particularly enjoy the games here. Boy, was I wrong! The atmosphere in the Wells Fargo Arena is palpable. You feel it when you walk in and see the crowd all dressed in maroon and gold (the school colours), excitedly chatting and waiting for the game to begin, whilst music blasts out of the speakers and the commentators build hype. When the game begins the whole student section is on their feet, avidly watching the game, chanting and cheering on the Sun Devils at the top of their lungs. You find yourself getting into it pretty quickly, and joining in with the other student’s passion. There are also thousands of members of the public present, most are locals I imagine, who pay to come along and support the teams. That’s not something i’d expect to see at home! The games are just generally all round fantastic ; from the insanely loud and hilarious band who play along in certain parts, to the agile cheerleaders launching through the air, it all seems surreal at times. I’m beginning to understand the pride in the teams though, and find myself on occasion saying “go devils!” along with other students when we win a game.
I started classes last week, and that has definitely been a different experience so far. Academically they structure things quite differently here, and it’s a lot to get your head around. People are a lot more keen to participate in class, and the classes are a lot smaller, generally averaging around 30 people rather than the 100 strong lectures I’m accustomed to at home. It’s something i’m sure i’ll get used to in time though! Studying politics in the US is definitely interesting, and I’m hoping to learn a lot about the differences in opinion here, and perhaps understand some new perspectives on things.
This weekend I had the unique opportunity to visit Sedona and the Grand Canyon for free (no entry fees at the Canyon for MLK day- and the Monday off uni!). That was absolutely incredible, and I think i’ll write another blog about my experiences there soon, as there is so much to include. In summary, i’m enjoying it a lot so far. It’s been intense, and settling in to a new culture is definitely difficult (America is very different, despite my perception before I arrived!) but it is just unreal to wake up each day in this beautiful climate, and be able to sit by the pool after class doing my reading (my uni halls has a pool!!), rather than hide from the manny rain in my room. I’m still settling in, in some respect, finding my feet and working out friendships etc, but in general i’m loving life here, and am glad I took this step to do this. If you are hesitant of studying abroad for a semester, just do it. It’s such a valuable experience, and it’s a unique opportunity that you’ll never get anywhere else! That’s me signing off for now anyway, i’ll write again soon about my travels, and general living experiences on the international exchange programme!