Impressions on Returning Back to Manchester

By Christopher Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, USA)

So I’ve been back at Manchester for nearly four months now and I’m still not entirely sure if I’m ever actually going to be totally used to it after my time in the USA.

Whilst when in the USA, I found there were so many things I would like to transfer from England to the USA. In the classroom it is completely the opposite, and there are so many aspects of American university that I would like to see brought into the UK university system and teaching methods. Going back to straight lectures, especially two hour ones, has probably been the biggest struggle, although the fact that these cannot happen at 8.30am as they could at NCSU is a relief I will admit. Approaching exams as well, I am feeling nerves that I have not encountered for a year. I was always rather relaxed heading into midterms or finals in North Carolina, knowing that the exam either wasn’t worth too big a part of my grade or that I had already collected a considerable number of marks in previous tests, and in some cases had already passed the module before taking the final which is very reassuring during a pass/fail year. Now though, I am approaching these exams with some trepidation knowing that they are worth 67% of my final mark.

There are other aspects of student life in England which have been a bit of a shock even though I was expecting them. The biggest of these are: the Manchester weather compared to North Carolina’s (nothing to be done about that, I know), going back to cold student housing after a year in halls, and the loss of the ‘all you can eat’ dining at North Carolina has also been hard to take, admittedly a blow softened by the return of pork pies to my diet, which was sorely missed whilst abroad.

However, it is not all doom and gloom upon my arrival. It is very nice being back in familiar surroundings and having the ability to walk to a number of places again. In the classroom I can certainly say that my time abroad has helped me. Unlike my first two years in Manchester, throughout the whole of this first semester I have never once been overly stressed by a hand-in deadline for work and been found pulling all nighters in a desperate effort to submit something acceptable as coursework. The time management needed to survive in the U.S. university system is definitely a skill that has stayed with me and has meant whilst I am spending more time in the library, I am definitely pretty much on top of my workload most of the time (it is too early to say this for certainty about my dissertation though).

Overall though, readjusting to life back at the University of Manchester has been pretty smooth. It’s hard not to miss my time abroad, but at least I got to have such a wonderful experience in the first place, and it has definitely enabled me to be better this year and inspired me to look in new directions for things such as postgraduate study and careers in the future.

Belated Reflections About A Great Year

Firstly I am very sorry about the lateness of this post. I have only recently returned to England and I thought I would (belatedly) share some reflections about my period abroad. I was really supposed to do this around the time I was saying goodbye to NC State but I didn’t for a few reasons. Firstly this would have clashed with exams, goodbyes, last minute plans and packing. All of which at the time are excellent forms or procrastination. Then once I had said goodbye to North Carolina and begun a few months of travelling I was frankly just extremely busy. But finally, and probably the closest to being the true reason; I really didn’t want to write it. Even thinking about writing that goodbye blog at the time really brought home the fact that I was going to be saying goodbye to that great place after an amazing year. So even thinking about it bummed me out let alone actually having to think about it and write it all down. But now there is some space between me and that event and I’ve made it back home safe and sound lets give it a go.

But where to begin? I guess firstly I would just recommend that anyone, if they get the chance to study abroad, take it. You will meet great people, get to try all kinds of things that you would never get the chance to normally and at the very least, you’ll almost certainly get a year of better weather than Manchester! But seriously, you will have a fantastic time wherever you go. I’ll be honest, NC State was hardly my first choice when applying to go to the USA but having been there for a year I’m looking back and really questioning why I wanted to go anywhere else. I really got everything I wanted form my American university experience; college sports, red cups, good weather, amusing southern accents and tones of amazing places to visit both in North Carolina and well beyond. On this note, I guess something else I will be saying to anyone going abroad to the USA is travel, travel, travel! And don’t just stick to New York, Chicago and California. There is so much to see and enjoy in that vast and varied country and I think the places I would most recommend are ones that most do not get to see such as Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. And do not be worried about Visa time constraints, a quick trip into Canada and suddenly you have a full 90 days at your disposal to go where you like.

I guess perhaps on a slightly more serious reflective note it is time to talk about my thoughts on this year from an academic stand point. Honestly I think I’ve probably come away from this year slightly disillusioned with the university system here in the UK. Maybe its just that the style of teaching and learning suited me better over there but I see far more positives to the University system there than I do here, although admittedly this is heavily counter balanced by the tuition fees they pay. Before going there one of the things I was most nervous about was what I had been told about the fact that I would need to participate in class for my grade. However this is far less scary when it isn’t in vast lectures, the norm here but extremely uncommon in the USA; you don’t feel like you’re standing out as much and so it isn’t the great fear that it is here. Certainly I believe this new-found comfort with speaking up should at least help me with tutorials when I return for my final year in Manchester. The greater interaction between professors and students is also something I feel I will miss when back in Manchester. I got to know many of my professors very well over there and it helps you feel more comfortable in discussions and particularly with asking questions. This is not to say the professors at Manchester have ever been unfriendly or particularly unapproachable, but just the way our interactions are set up here makes me and I feel the majority of students as well, utilize them less. Looking for positives though I hope that my time abroad will encourage me to better get to know and utilise their expertise in my final year. Overall I feel I have grown this year. The American system has helped me get better used to handling lots of work simultaneously and prioritizing and organizing my workload so that things do not build up or accidentally left to the last minute. I just hope I can maintain these good habits back in England where it will often seem like less of a necessity as I will have fewer pieces of work (even if they are all going to take longer and are more important individually)

Overall though, I am oh so glad I was able to have this opportunity. I wouldn’t change the last year for anything! It was amazing, both in the halls, the university and the USA as a whole!

Trips, Travels and Adventures!

By Christopher Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).

So having just returned from that holiday made famous in numerous American TV shows and films: Spring Break! Now seemed like a good time to tell y’all about some of the trips I have been luckily enough to go on during my time here. What follows are the much abbreviated highlights. Sorry for skimming over some things but otherwise you would be confronted with an almighty essay. Hopefully this gives you a brief taste though.

Fall Break:

This was a great little holiday roughly half way through the first semester here which I guess equates to the NCSU version of reading week that we all get in Manchester…except its only 4 days rather than a whole week, but I know I can’t really complain too much. For this break my room mate and I as well as a few other friends decided a trip to the city of Asheville was in order. This is a city out in the west of North Carolina located in the stunning Appalachian Mountains. The timing of this was all too perfect. It was still warm enough that we wouldn’t have to worry about freezing up there whilst also being far enough into autumn that we would get to see some of the great foliage that parts of the USA are known for during autumn. The views didn’t disappoint. We managed to kill an entire day simply driving up possibly the most stunning road in the world, the Blue Ridge Parkway and admiring the views out over the mountains whilst occasionally stopping to wander around rivers and waterfalls that dot the landscape. If anyone is ever in North Carolina in the autumn this is a must do trip. Asheville itself is a great little city. The city is known to be extremely liberal buy the states standards and it showed where on the very first night we were there we encountered an open air drum party in a small park in the city. Luckily another girl from our halls is from the area and so was able to show us around and even house us one night which resulted in wondrous home made pancakes and the always amusing demonstration of how we in England say aluminium. Overall it was a great break and is somewhere I would highly recommend.

Thanksgiving:

Whilst my room mate was kind enough to offer me his house for this break I also had the opportunity to stay with up in central Massachusetts for this break and so I decided to head up to New England for my turkey dinner. I will confess that this trip did make me slightly sad that I wouldn’t be having a full Christmas dinner a month later as I would be staying in the USA over Christmas and the traditional meal is slightly different here. However the only reason that Thanksgiving inspired this reaction in me was because it was an equally epic turkey dinner that left me unable to move for a few hours. I can safely say I will be campaigning for its introduction to England because why not have another great big celebratory meal in the year? You can never have too many. As with many things in the USA I appreciated the fact that it was perhaps slightly less formal than what I am used to in England. Sure I like all the stuff that goes along with Christmas but it was nice to just eat and then relax (and not have to deal with family). This was also the first of what would be much snow over the course of my year.

Christmas:

I again found myself up in New England, this time with even more snow! Having slightly more than 4 days to explore the area this time was very nice. I have been to Boston before but it is such a historic and rich city that there is always more to see. I have to say I liked Boston a lot. It felt a bit more like home than many places I have been too in the USA whilst still being very American. It is amazing how much of a difference a city having curves and winding roads as opposed to a grid layout makes. It being so old certain parts looked especially good in the snow such as Harvard. There was also the chance to see some pro sports here in the flesh. It did occur to me that it was slightly odd to be considerably warmer inside at the ice rink for the Boston Bruins hockey team than it was to be outside to see the New England Patriots American football team, especially considering how all of my previous experiences of the sport at NCSU have been in bright sunshine. A stereotype of America that I was very pleased to see was true is the over the top decorations that many households employ. Indeed there is a house near to my host where they actually close off of part of the road so you can pull over and admire it such is there decorating enthusiasm. As previously mentioned the meal wasn’t the vast turkey dinner I was used to but was still fairly substantial which is all I really want. I must also thank their hosts. They gave me a wonderful time, constantly took me out and about and allowed me to be amused at things that to them must be very every day. They also gave me so many presents that they confirmed the suspicion that I was already having that I am going to have to buy another suitcase at some point in order to accommodate all the things I have gathered.

Spring Break:

This is the big one that we have all been looking forward to. For those of you who are unaware Spring Break is famous for partying in the most American way. Films and TV have portrayed it to us in a way that makes it look so much fun that none of us could wait. Now due to some slight financial constraints placed upon me by my desire to have even more trips in my future I was unable to go to Cancun (Mexico), Jamaica or Americas #1 spring break destination, Panama City Beach (Florida). However a group of us did bandy together and rent out a beach house in the outer banks in North Carolina for the first half of the week. The outer banks is a huge sand bank off the coast of North Carolina running the length of the state and pretty much existing as a beach/summer home locations. So we had a good few days there checking out the area. There is actually a lot of history there e.g. the Wright Brothers first flight and one of the first U.S colonies. There was also a fair few shenanigans and spring break fun but I’ll leave it at that.

Spring break this year ended on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day so for the second half of the week I went to where I figured I would get the most Irishness and St. Patrick’s Day fun probably anywhere in the world, back up to Boston. This trip was made even better by a band called Dropkick Murphy’s playing their traditional St. Patrick’s Day shows on this particular weekend. This band epitomizes and is loved in this city. Barely an event happens that they are not invited to play and they really represent a lot of its spirit and so it was awesome to see them there around the time the city was celebrating its heritage.

Alas all good things must come to an end and I am now back here at NCSU. Never fear though, my travelling isn’t done. A group of us are off to Chicago for Easter and I am finally making my way to Washington D.C. not long after. Following that we then have 30 days to explore the USA between classes ending and our visas expiring so I am sure there will be many adventures during this time. Currently I am definitely going to Colorado but who knows where else!

School Life

By Chris Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).

Hello again!

firstly let me apologise for my absence from this blog. I really didn’t believe it had been as long as it had been since I posted but time is really, really flying by this year. I do plan to be able to post a few more of these in the coming weeks as I have a brief gap in my workload it seems (fingers crossed). With that in mind it seems like a good time to perhaps talk about some of the differences in school life that I have experienced over here. This is after all an academic experience and not just another chance for me to travel!

So the first difference worth mentioning for anyone coming here, and especially for those from England, is the workload. It is considerably higher than you will find you experience most of the time in England. In many ways it is closer to what we all experienced during A-Level rather than university, though of course more challenging. This semester three out of my four classes each require a weekly piece of work to be submitted, usually based upon the readings set for that week.  I personally quite appreciate this as it does mean that firstly, you always keep up with the work and reading, which as we all know, is very easy to let slip for weeks and indeed months at a time in England. It also means that you do get into the habit of being productive generally and I feel it is a situation that will much better prepare someone for the ‘real’ working world after university. As well as these regular assignments there are normally two or three bigger pieces of work and then multiple exams. Now this may sound like a lot but due to the greater number of assessments it means that none of them are as all-encompassing and therefore as full of content as their English counterparts, and also they are not weighted as heavily. This has the benefit of meaning that if you miss an assignment or don’t do as well in it, the impact is not as great as in England where a class is often decided merely on the merits of one essay and one exam.

As a result of this I would say much of the class material is perhaps a little less in-depth or maybe intensive as it is in England, however there is certainly more of it which makes up for it. I can safely say that there have only been 3-4 weeks in England where I have worked as much as I do on a weekly basis here. That said I have yet to get as stressed about pieces of work as I have in England so it all does even out.

So beyond classes, what other differences are there as far as the academic side of things goes? Textbooks is a big one. As I said there is much more reading to do here, however unlike in England, or at least Manchester, the Library cannot necessarily provide everything and so most students have to buy their textbooks. The price of this can be very high, often exceeding $80 per class on books. Indeed I and others have dropped classes on the basis of the cost of textbooks. There are ways around it and it isn’t the case for every class. Indeed my first semester I managed to avoid buying books for all four of my classes, so it shouldn’t put anybody off of coming here but it is worth thinking about.

The other big difference is interaction between students and teachers. It is much closer here than what I have experienced in England. Pretty much all third and fourth year classes (the vast majority of courses are four years here) are small enough that teachers can get to know individual students. As well as this the teaching style involves much more interaction. Most classes actually include a percentage of the grade for participation in class, so talking and interaction between students and professors is greater. As well as this there are many more chances for interaction between students and staff outside of class. Either at events (often for extra credit in class as well!) or teachers simply getting to know you. All of this leads to a very different relationship to staff than I became used to at Manchester and one that I can see certainly having benefits as far as things such as job references are concerned.

Anyway, I am going to draw this to a close here but as I say I plan on padding out my blog contribution a bit more in the coming weeks. Holidays and trips definitely seem worth talking about later. but for now, BYE!!!

Go Wolfpack

By Chris Tenant-Flowers.

Ok, so I’ve been here In Raleigh North Carolina for about two weeks now so here are some of my first impressions:

I think the most obvious thing for me to mention is the whole school spirit thing. I was told to expect this but it has still caught me off guard. People love their school and take great pride in going there and it is no different here at NC State. I’m not saying we in Manchester or England generally don’t take pride in our universities but not like here. You may see the odd UoM hoodie in Manchester but here genuinely one in every 6 or so people is almost certainly wearing bright red blazoned with NCSU, Go Pack!, Wolfpack, NC State, anti University of North Carolina (UNC) sentiments or some other school related message. And it’s not just clothing, School sports are a BIG deal here. I was expecting this but just in case others weren’t aware of this I thought I’d share it. literally thousands will turn up to every football, basketball, baseball, etc. game to cheer on the team…and for the tailgating which I will explain later once I have experienced it first hand. There are also wolf statues on campus. everything that can be named something Wolfpack related or coloured bright red is. people long since graduated from the university or parents of those here have NCSU stickers on their cars and wear their t-shirts. shops like Target and Walmart also sell NCSU clothing. Basically you know you are in NC State territory wherever you go.

The weather has to be mentioned as another major change. there is sun and lots of it but we do get that in England…occasionally. it’s the humidity that really makes it seem so different. just the fact that it is so humid here really does make it seem very different. There may appear to be so much that is similar to England but every time you step outside you are reminded that this is not definitely not England.

Then there are also the facilities for students. the dining halls here are not like in the UK. they are all you can eat and are open continuously from the morning until the evening, not just set hours when food is served like in catered halls. The gym or rather whole sports complex is completely free to use, including things like rock climbing walls, swimming pools, sports fields and equipment rental. as well as this there are just quite a few cool things on campus. as well as the aforementioned  statues, there’s the ‘free expression tunnel’ where anyone can come and spray paint leading to some pretty awesome and ever-changing pictures and a random but fun set of Acoustic Mirrors (thanks Wikipedia).

Finally room-mates, I thought this would be kind of weird but it isn’t and most people seem to get on really well with theirs. I think I still prefer the setup I had in oak House in my first year at Manchester but it isn’t as awful as I had imagined it might be.

Anyway, i shall wrap this up here as it’s getting quite long but hopefully I’ll be able to update you all soon on life in North Carolina. Chris

p.s sorry for the lack of pictures, my camera has vanished so I’m going to go and buy a new one later today

North Carolina – Getting Ready To Go

So this is my first post before leaving England to head to North Carolina State University  (NCSU) as its also known to become a member of the NC State Wolfpack. Currently I’m just sitting here staring at a rather sizeable pile of clothes but other than packing I think everything is good to go. My passport isn’t due to expire for a few years, I have my student visa, my health records, I’ve paid for my halls of residence, health insurance and all other fees that you have to. So as far as all the physical things I need and paperwork goes I’m all set. I’ve also toured/been dragged around the country saying goodbye to relatives and friends as I’m planning on staying out here for Christmas and other holidays. I figure whilst I’m out here I might as well explore as much of it as possible and I have some very kind people willing to take me in for things such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although I am currently avoiding packing I don’t think its really hit that I’m leaving for this long, at the moment it just feels like I’m off on holiday. perhaps this is due to their term starting well before a time when I would expect to be going to university. But I’m sure once I get there and I get into my room and meet my room-mate and start the whole orientation process it will sink in.

I have been travelling before on my own on a gap year but this feels very different. I guess that was all fun whilst this, while still being very fun (I hope anyway) has so many other aspects to it. I am really excited to be actually living somewhere though rather than just passing through and grabbing the highlights. In my head I do have an idea of what studying in the U.S., or at least college life, will be like thanks mostly to watching too much film and TV, so I’m looking forward to seeing which of the stereotypes are true and which are false. But no matter whether a lot of these pre conceived notions turn out to be true I know there are going to be many changes coming my way: the constant assessment of the American system, having a room-mate, college sports and actual sun and warmth in North Carolina (which should make a nice change from Manchester).

But alas these clothes won’t pack themselves, so enough of my rambling for now. There’ll be plenty more of it to come over the rest of the year and hopefully slightly more informative and full of adventures and advice. So for now I’ll just leave you with this sentiment… Bring it on!