Reflecting on Illinois

So this will be my final post as I have returned to Manchester after a year away.

It’s great to be back and see how Manchester has changed but it’s almost made it feel like studying abroad and Illinois never happened!

It was so sad mid august when all my friends in America went back to Champaign- facebook and snapchat was full of all my old pals together and I missed them all so much. But now having had a 5 month summer I’m feeling ready to get back into some kind of schedule and finishing my degree! :O

It sounds cheesy but I truly feel like I have grown as a person from studying abroad and especially from being in America. I am more open-minded, more confident and feel I can chat to anybody in any situation. At 21 I thought I wasn’t going to change much more as an individual but I have grown up a lot and for that I am particularly grateful for my time working, studying and travelling in the US.

For those of you in Illinois, I am so jealous, and for those of you applying I cannot recommend it enough! It’s an amazing campus filled with amazingly warm and inviting people and Chicago is unreal!

If I could give any advice to anyone studying abroad now or in the future; make the most of your time. Do everything, say yes to every opportunity, chat to everyone and anyone and throw yourself into situations out of your comfort zone, because it’ll be over before you know it.

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” – Sydney J Harris (Journalist, Chicago)

— Aye

Leaving Illinois and Road Tripping The West Coast!

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So it’s been a whole year since I posted my first blog and my year abroad is over! It’s so sad to think that this experience has ended, but it definitely ended on a high!

Leaving Illinois was pretty heartbreaking, especially as I was one of the first to go, but exams and essays made me pretty happy the semester (if not the study abroad experience) was over! The last few weeks were a frenzy of fitting in everything that I had intended to do over the year (and not got round to); they were definitely my busiest and best weeks of the whole year! I will never forget the friends I made this year – all my Illinois locals were incredible and I cannot wait to go back and visit all the people I met! Hopefully sometime during the next year whilst they’re all still around at U of I!

I left Illinois for Texas to visit some of my family, then from Houston flew to San Diego to meet some Manchester friends for our American Road Trip!! The thing that strikes me the most about America is how different every state is to one another: California was like a completely different country to Illinois! It was NOT as hot as we expected! Take a jumper!! But the views are gorgeous and we did get a few really hot weeks! Especially Vegas – 40 degrees!

We rented a car in San Diego and planned our trip up the coast to end in Vancouver stopping in: Newport, LA (twice), Vegas, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle! We hosteled, moteled, couch surfed and camped our way up the West Coast and ended staying in a friend’s house in Vancouver (definitely one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been).

This was by far the most disastrous but most fun trips I’ve ever taken! We ran into so many difficulties (like running out of petrol in the middle of the Arizona desert on the way back from the Grand Canyon) and staying in some terrifying motels (I wouldn’t recommend them), but everything ended okay and we were practically hysterically laughing for the whole four weeks!

I’ve been thinking about the year and have a list of highlights:

  1. NEW ORLEANS! GO! It’s the best place in the U.S!
  2. The Grand Canyon, which was breathtaking!
  3. Seattle – such a young dynamic city!
  4. Vancouver – home to the most beautiful hikes and amazingly cheap sushi!
  5. Spring Break in Florida – like nothing I’ve ever experienced before
  6. Thanksgiving! We need this holiday in England
  7. Halloween!
  8. St Patrick’s Day!

So I ended my year abroad a year older, with a whole bunch of school spirit and having visited 17 states! I will definitely be back in the U.S. to see the other 33!! Here are some photos from the road trip!!

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Post Spring Break in Illinois

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

The end of the Semester is fast approaching; I’ll be leaving Illinois in two weeks today and am heartbroken at the thought! I didn’t think I’d ever be so sad for a school year to end and the summer to start – this half of the semester has truly been one of the best experiences of my life!

It has been a busy few weeks, especially turning 21 (US style!), spring break, midterms, work (school and job) and trips to New Orleans and Washington DC, but it’s been really fulfilling… although I’m exhausted! We also went to Chicago for the St Patrick’s Day parade! They dye the river green which was very impressive!

The workload this semester has been slightly easier than last, perhaps I am just more used to the American system now. I’ve also completely settled in and seem to be meeting new friends every week. I’ve said it once and will say it again, Midwesterners are so friendly! 

For people preparing to come out here in August, you will be glad to know the snow has gone and it’s a consistent 22-28 degrees now, which is a great way to end the school year. Although two weeks ago there were some Tornado warnings, but we’re over that hump!

There has been a lot going on around the campus lately, what with the nice weather. Last week there were free camel rides on the quad, a free outdoor concert with B.O.B, the spring football game, “Mom’s weekend” and Joe Biden (the Vice President of the United States) came to campus to give a talk on sexual assault. So overall there has been a great atmosphere!

Here are some photos up from my trips to New Orleans, DC, St Patrick’s Day in Chicago and Spring Break in Panama City Beach Florida:

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New Orleans

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Chicago’s green river!

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PCB SPRING BREAK!

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DC!

I luckily end finals very early, so am taking the opportunity to visit my aunt who lives in Houston, Texas before heading to the West Coast to meet some Manchester friends for a road trip up California! I’m so excited, but at the same time hoping the next two weeks go really slowly!

You don’t quite realise how strange it is getting ready to leave people who have been your whole life for a year, and who honestly you may never see again… It’s a strange feeling that I hadn’t quite prepared myself for. However, I truly think I have made some friends for life here and will definitely be back in Illinois in the future!!

-Aye

Summing up my First Semester and Second Semester at UIUC

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So, I have been rather sporadic with these posts; it’s just so busy here all the time! I don’t know how the Americans do this for four years!

So, I’m now three weeks into my second semester and having such a great time! I thought I would find it difficult coming back after a whole month at home but I was so happy when I touched back down in Chicago! Knowing what I was coming back to made the process of settling in so much easier and seeing all my friends reminded me what a great time I’ve had here in Illinois!

So, luckily, I think I have managed to miss the worst of the weather, according to a friend it got to -23 degrees whilst I was away! Which makes me happy for the -11 degrees it has been since I’ve been back! It sounds so bad, but I’ve realised in fact that when it gets below -4, it all kind of feels the same – just cold.

In December I took part in a prep session for the Americans studying abroad in the UK this semester. It was funny hearing the kind of questions they asked about England, we kind of take it for granted I guess. Today I took part in the Study Abroad Fair, where I incessantly bragged about Manchester! My family also came out to Chicago to visit me for a week which was great! We went on an architecture river tour and ate some great food!

My classes this semester are really different to those I took last semester. The lectures are a lot bigger so there is less discussion and more focus on assignments, which is an adjustment, but I’m getting into the swing of things. I’m taking a class on sexualities which is really interesting, nothing like any course I have taken in Manchester.

So I thought I would post a few photos from some of the things I got up to last semester and during Thanksgiving (I went to New York which is amazing!) as I haven’t got much to report yet from this semester.

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Chicago with my family!

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New York for Thanksgiving!

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Watching the Hockey Game  and Basketball game!

I am going to New Orleans with some of the other British people here in two weeks for my 21st birthday which is exciting, and then there is a festival-type thing here called “Unofficial” for St Patrick’s Day in a few weeks, and then spring break is just around the corner! The time is going so quickly this semester, it all seems to be coming up so fast, but I have lots of exciting plans so roll on semester 2!

Everything you need to know about Illinois

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So, I just wrote a really long post and accidentally deleted it so apologies but I am having to write a condensed version!

I have been at UIUC for two months now! I can’t believe it’s been so long! It’s gone so quickly, but also I feel like I’ve been here forever!

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For any prospective students who are thinking about coming, I am going to write a bit about the accommodation. I am living in Hopkins Hall in the Ikenberry Commons, which is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made here. It’s very sociable, a 10 minute walk from the Quad where classes are and it has one of the best dining halls.

Hopkins is a great option as it is a transfer cluster, meaning everyone has either transferred from a different American university or are international students. This is great because everyone’s new, looking for new friends, but aren’t first year students (also known as freshmen – no offence to freshmen!). So if you can, I’d reccommend living here. I’ve made some great friends here on my floor! Oh, and the whole roommate thing is really not as bad as you think it’s going to be! Another great thing is that the Ike (Ikenberry Commons) is right next to the ice rink and the ARC (Activities and Recreation Centre) which is home to two swimming pools, an indoor running track, squash, badminton, basketball and volleyball courts, a sauna, dance studios and four floors worth of gym equipment. ALL FOR FREE!

The workload is high! This is one of the best public universities in the States and they make you work for it. Participation and attendance is recorded and counts towards your final grades, and it’s worth doing all your reading or you risk being shamed in front of the whole class (this hasn’t happened to me yet thankfully!). Once you’re used to it, it’s actually fun being in classes where people are passionate and voice their opinion; I even put my hand up from time to time.

I’ve taken a few trips to Chicago now, the closest cosmopolitan city, and am confident in saying it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited. The city is beautiful, the people are friendly, it has great shops, cool architecture and it’s own beaches! Best of all, almost all the students are from Chicago and it’s suburbs, so when you go you’re basically guaranteed free accommodation (Midwesterners are very hospitable and wonderful people!).

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Unlike Manchester, (sorry Manchester) school spirit is huge here. When you walk across the Quad you’re greeted by a sea of orange and blue; tops, jumpers, umbrellas, water bottles, trainers, even the soap dispensers are emblazed with the Fighting Illini I! And it’s contagious… I am now the proud owner of my own assortment of Illinois gear! Sports is huge and the stadiums are incredible, especially if you sit in the student section for American football games.

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So far, I’ve been so busy I’ve not had the chance to get homesick, and I think having a job has been great for that. I’m working for University catering, which hosts events such as weddings and conferences. I’ve made lots of friends, it’s easy and really flexible. Also, if you have a Netflix account, it switches to the American version when you come here, which is awesome – every show your heart could desire! If you miss British shows, you can dowload an app called Zenmate onto Google Chrome which changes your location so that you can watch 4od and iPlayer! (Credit to Ellie Cook for that info.)

Homecoming, Halloween and Thanksgiving are coming up, so I’m preparing myself for a culture shock there. Halloween falls on a Friday this year, so the whole weekend (and apparently the weekend before) have been dedicated to it. Three costumes at the ready!

Finally, the most important thing to know about this state: the weather here is insane. One day you’re bundled up in 10 layers and a coat, the next it’s 28 degrees! So pack wisely and be prepared to mix and match!

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Arriving in Chicago

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA).

Despite my despair over the broken entertainment system on my flight to Chicago, the journey was a smooth and easy process; however, 9 hours without films was nothing compared to American border control which took a painstaking 2.5 hours! Luckily, I had booked my coach to UIUC for 3 hours after my arrival time so I didn’t miss my bus! Another 2 hours later, I arrived in Champaign to beautiful weather, an incredible campus and a friendly dorm RA to pick me up from the bus!

The next 15 hours weren’t the most pleasant, as I was the only person who had as yet moved into my dorms. It was a little lonely and a bit daunting due to the scale of the campus, however,  by 4 o’clock the next day, the dorm was filled. The Americans were cooing over my accent and I’d almost recovered from the jetlag!

Welcome Weekend was filled with orientations, check-ins, meetings and activities organised by the University, which culminated in Quad Day which put our Freshers Fair to shame. I’ve never received so much free stuff in my life as I have this weekend – so far I’m on my 6th free t-shirt! I signed up for tennis, volleyball, softball, Spanish speaking and the International Society! So I have a busy time ahead! “Sights and Sounds” was my favourite event of the weekend where new students went to the football stadium and got our own showing of the show that accompanies the sports here, including the entire marching band, the cheerleaders, dancers, baton-twirlers and flag girls! It was incredible, I felt like I’d wandered onto a film set!

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my first blog post. Finally, here’s a bit of advice for anyone considering coming to Illinois: Despite the fact that everyone tells you how cold it gets here, BRING SHORTS! Since I’ve arrived it’s stayed at a constant 35 degrees and humid, but luckily the sports centre’s huge amazing outdoor swimming pool is the hangout spot for students and right across the road from the dorms!