Having finished my final year at Manchester, and now getting ready for my graduation next month, it is unbelievable that it is over a year since I returned from my year abroad at Arizona State University. Reflecting back on this time it is impossible to ignore the ways that studying abroad has had a positive impact on my final year, as well as looking into the future, the next steps after graduating.
While you are studying abroad, one of the last things you are thinking about is returning to Manchester to finish your degree. Whether it is a single semester, your final year or returning to do a masters, returning to academic life in Manchester offers a unique set of challenges which is not often associated with the process of studying abroad.
Having now arrived home from studying abroad for the last year at Arizona State University in America, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months and even give some tips to anyone looking to study abroad in the future.
In terms of tips that I could recommend, perhaps one of the most important ones would be to make sure that you sort out your housing out as soon as you know where you are going if possible. I stayed in my first-choice housing on campus and it was really good, and allowed me to get as much as possible from the study abroad experience both academically and personally. Another important tip would be to make friends with locals and fellow international students, having a mix is important as the local students will help immerse you in their culture, while often fellow international students are more inclined to travel in the host country as like you they want to make the most of the experience. I would make sure that you have a Skype account or another way to contact friends and family back home when you are missing them, and finally don’t worry too much about whether you will be able to make friends when you get there. Everyone once they arrive is in the same situation and will be just as eager as you to get to know people as quickly as possible.
Looking back over the last 12 months, the first thing that strikes me is how fast the last year has gone. It only feels like yesterday that I was travelling down to Heathrow for my flight, and especially in the final few weeks which feel like a blur as I was juggling packing my room away with my final exams. Despite this however I feel like I have done an incredible amount, and I would recommend studying abroad to anyone as it has been one of the best experiences that I have ever had. Because my flat mates were all American, as well as most of my classmates I had the chance to totally immerse myself in a different culture which was lucky because that was one of the reasons why I chose to study abroad in the first place. One of the real positives of my study abroad experience was the chance to try new subjects which I don’t have access to back at Manchester. One of these was Anthropology, which was a subject which I was always interested in but never had the chance to study until now. This was one of the more unexpected positives of my study abroad experience, however a more predictable one was the fact that studying abroad gave me the chance to travel across America more than I could have even predicted. Studying abroad has allowed me to see new places and ways of life that are so different to back in UK, and it is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
One of the classes I have taken during the second semester at ASU is Geography of World Crises. This is taught by Dr. Larson and involves the class as a group discussing different issues that the world face today. These can range from gender inequality to the rise of extremism and the damage we are doing to the environment. Aside from these discussions, we also had to take part in two days of service, where we volunteered either on campus or in the local community to help sustainability projects and those who are less fortunate than ourselves. The two projects I took part in was orange picking for the campus diners and the United Food Bank who provide food for families that cannot afford their own.
The orange picking was done on campus. The Tempe campus at ASU grows their own oranges that they then use in their diners to provide students with fresh, healthy orange juice which is made using the best organic ingredients. The picking was actually very simple to do, the main tool was a basket with an extendable handle. As you extended the handle to reach the oranges which were high up in the trees, you used the basket to knock the oranges off the branches which you then caught with the basket and brought them down to place in the bucket we were each given. In total myself and my partner picked oranges from four different orange trees, and we even had a family come up to us to ask us if they could take some oranges themselves, which we of course let them do.
The second day of service was larger. The day itself was called ‘Devils in Disguise’ and was a university wide event. This involved multiple projects in the community, the organization I got involved with was the United Food Bank. The day involved meeting on Campus at 7am before getting the shuttle to the Food Bank which was in nearby Mesa. Once we were there we were split into teams to work on different parts of the production line with the aim of getting the donated food from the donation bins into sorted boxes ready to be sent to the people who need them. I was involved in the initial sorting of the food, which meant that I had to check that any items that were out of date, damaged or that didn’t contain their own nutritional labels were thrown away. Once this was done I then had to sort the food into different groups such as meat, fish or soup and then place these boxes onto the conveyor belt for further sorting. In total we managed to sort 10, 000 lbs. of food in the four hours that we were in the warehouse for which was a new record. This made me feel proud of our achievements as a group, and it was good knowing that I had helped to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to me for the year that have been here for.
After I had got back from Texas, which was a trip to celebrate the end of my exams, I arrived back just in time to celebrate Christmas here in Phoenix. This was a good chance to spend time with the new friends I have made in my first semester both from the US and abroad. All in all I cannot believe how fast the last few months have gone, and it is weird to think that I am already past hallway through my year abroad. This is a good chance to reflect on my first semester, as there are a lot of key differences between ASU and the University of Manchester. I think the largest is how much more intense the learning style is here compared to at Manchester, this is most apparent in the form of exams which I must take every couple of weeks here whereas at Manchester they are only at the end of the semester usually, which is the case with Geography anyway. Another big difference is that the lectures are usually split over two a week rather than one, and there is greater interaction in the lectures, with participation actively encouraged and even given extra credit in some classes. These are some of the differences I wasn’t aware of when I first came here, although I knew that the weather here was going to be a lot better than in Manchester, it was so warm I got to spend Christmas Day round the pool!
After Christmas I was lucky that my parents flew in to visit me from the UK on New Year’s Day. Las Vegas was one of the places they had always wanted to go and so we arranged to meet there, as it is only a quick 45 minute flight from me. After spending a few days with them there, we organized a road trip to get back to Phoenix as my classes started the following week. This road trip started at Las Vegas, and then we crossed into Arizona at the Hoover Dam and took a tour of the dam and power-plant. We then went to the Grand Canyon West Rim, and did the sky-walk there, and then went to the South rim which I think it the best place to go to see the Grand Canyon. We then went up north to Horseshoe Bend and the Lower Antelope Canyon near Page, before crossing into Utah to go to Monument Valley, which is where a lot of the old western films where shot. On the way back down to Phoenix we then went stayed in Winslow and went to the meteor crater there, which is the oldest proven meteor crater on earth. My parents then stayed an extra week in Scottsdale in the sun before leaving back for the UK, while for me classes started for my second and final semester here at ASU.
I had decided before my year abroad that I wasn’t going to come home at Christmas and instead commit to the full year and make the most of the time by seeing more of the US. To celebrate the conclusion of my first semester here at ASU I decided to take a trip to Texas, as it was another place that I had always wanted to go. The flight from Phoenix to Dallas only took a couple of hours, most of which I spent asleep as it was during the night, and I landed at 6am local time, as Texas is an hour in front of Arizona. After a couple of hours in the airport catching up on my rest, I took a bus to the railway station and then the train to Fort Worth, which was the first stop on the trip. At Fort Worth, which was traditionally the gateway to the west, I went to the Stockyards and Cowboy Museum, and also saw a cattle drive down the main street with Texas Longhorn cattle.
Dallas was the next place I visited, which is where JFK was assassinated. At the Deeley Plaza, where it happened, a guide gave me information on the site and how the events unfolded. Just outside of Dallas I also visited Southfork Ranch, which is where the famous TV show Dallas was filmed, although I haven’t seen the show myself the tour was still interesting, and I am glad that I spent an afternoon there. After Dallas it was a short two hour bus ride to Austin, which is the state capital of Texas as well as the live music capital of the world. I visited the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum as well as the State Capitol Building, which is where I had a guided tour which took me through the history of the building and also Texas itself.
My final stop on my Texas trip was San Antonio. Despite arriving in the rain, this my favorite place which I visited as this is where the Alamo is, the site of the famous last stand at the Alamo. Taking place in 1836, it was one of the first battles for Texas Independence from Mexico and is famous as the Texans held out for 13 days despite being vastly outnumbered. As well as visiting the Alamo I also went to the Rainforest Café at San Antonio, which is located on the Riverwalk, a winding canal in the middle of the city with bars and restaurants on either side. My Texas trip ended with a night in the San Antonio International Airport, as my flight was cancelled due to a power outage at the Atlanta Airport where the plane was coming from. The next available flight was 6 am when I was originally meant to fly at 9pm, which all in all ended quite an eventful Christmas trip to Texas!
My Fall break in October was the first time that I didn’t have classes since the semester began all the way back in August. Although It was only four nights, as ASU doesn’t give a full week because it splits it up with the later Thanksgiving break, I decided to go somewhere that I had always wanted to go, the San Diego Zoo. Instead of just going straight to San Diego, I thought that it would be a good idea while I was in California to visit LA, as they are only a two hour bus ride apart. Because LA is so much bigger and there is so much to do there, I decided to split my time into two nights in LA and one in San Diego, however with the travel times included it worked out to be two full days in each, as I was making use of the Greyhound Bus system and travelling through the night.
My trip started at the Phoenix Greyhound bus station to get the 1am bus to LA, however I ended up spending the night in the station with my fellow passengers as the bus was delayed by 6 hours as they couldn’t find the driver! Despite that start the eight-hour bus ride was uneventful as the scenery was mostly desert until we reached the urban sprawl of LA. Arriving in the early afternoon, I used the subway to get to Hollywood where my hostel for the next two nights was. The rest of the day was then spent along Hollywood Blvd. The next day was spent in Hollywood, climbing up Mount Hollywood to the Griffith Observatory to get a good view of the Hollywood sign, walking along the beach and pier at Santa Monica, which is where route 66 ends, and then looking round Beverly Hills and Rodeo Dr.
The next morning involved the two hours bus ride from LA to San Diego down the Californian coast. Once I arrived at San Diego I decided to go first to the USS Midway Museum, which is a retired aircraft carrier used in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. On the ship there is also decommissioned fighter-jets, bombers and helicopters that had been used all the way since World War Two. The final day of my Fall Break trip was then spent at the San Diego Zoo, and because my bus ride back to Phoenix was late that evening, I decided to get up early and make it to the zoo for the opening time, so that I could make it a full day there. Named the best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, it has over 600 rare and endangered species and 3,500 animals altogether, and so even though I was there all day I probably didn’t get to see everything! Overall my favorite animal that I saw was the Giant Panda, and it capped off a great way to spend my Fall break.
One benefit of studying in Arizona is the amazing landscape, and nowhere is more famous than the Grand Canyon. The International Student’s Club at ASU ran a trip there at the end of August and this was the perfect chance to get to this once in a lifetime site. The trip included a tour of the South Rim, including a hike down the Bright Angel Trail, as well as an IMAX film exploring the history of the canyon. One thing I didn’t realize until I watched the film was that the Grand Canyon has been inhabited for thousands of years by Pueblo Indians, and a town in the center is the only place in the lower 48 states that mail is still delivered by pack mule.
There is a reason Arizona State University (ASU) students call themselves sun devils, and I realized it as soon as I landed at the end of my 11 hour flight from Heathrow to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport; the heat. I have been here now for just over a month and the weather never ceases to amaze me. Bright sunshine and clear skies encourage you to make the most of everyday, which is handy as my time so far has been packed with new experiences and meeting new people. The first two weeks of my year abroad at (ASU) was spent on holiday with my parents, they came with me and we traveled around Arizona visiting places such as Flagstaff, Sedona and Tucson. Sedona, was by far my favorite with its iconic red sandstone formations. I said goodbye to my parents and moved into my new housing on Tuesday the 8th of August, and at the time the halls were still virtually empty. The move in date for most domestic students was the following Saturday, which included my three other suitemates. The three days before that were spent at international orientation, where I got to know fellow international students and was introduced to ASU’s Tempe campus and facilities.