A Brief Discussion on Classes at Amherst, Christmas and the Canada Road Trip

By James Eyke (University of Massachussetts Amherst, USA)

Whilst exam period back at home is a month long period of stress and near constant work, the same cannot be said for over here.

The classes I took were much smaller than lectures, one in fact had only six people in it, allowing for a more one-to-one learning experience. This is very helpful in my subject area, Chemistry, because it is relatively hard and allows me to easily get clarification on an area of confusion.

Throughout the term we were given two midterm exams, multiple problem sets and homework, keeping us on our toes and up to date the whole time. This was helpful as back at home it is all too easy to leave exam revision until the last minute.

The exams themselves took place in classrooms in our standard seats, and two out of the three allowed open notes and to a certain extent, online recourses. At one point during a midterm, the professor actually left the class during the exam for five minutes. This is a far cry from the exceptionally strict exam code in the UK and leads to a much more relaxed atmosphere.

My final exams took place over the period of a week and were before we broke up for the Christmas holidays, not the UK standard of January. Once they were done, we had a month off to either go home to England and have Christmas with our families or stay in North America.

We decided to stay in the freezing temperature of North America. It was an interesting time, we had a month off and all but ten days of it was spent in the now empty and desolate UMass campus. Christmas day was a surreal experience. As we had no cooking equipment we had a Christmas dinner of hotdogs and pizza in one of our suite’s common areas. This made us a bit sad. Fortunately it was all worth it though because it allowed us to go to Canada.

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Christmas Dinner

– Canada –

We rented a car from a local rental station and left Amherst the morning of the 30th of December. The first stop was Montreal, which was a total of 285 miles away. The drive took a good six hours but it was still light when we got there. After checking into our hotel, the fantastic Hotel des Arts, we headed off into town to see the sights. It was at this point we realized how unbelievably cold Canada is, especially when the wind is up. But wrapped in our thermals, we managed to see some very interesting old buildings. The second day involved more sightseeing and of course, celebrating New Year’s.

After a few days we left Montreal and drove to the capital, Ottawa. Ottawa was even colder than Montreal and much smaller. Our hotel was the kind of shady motel you’d expect to see in a film, but it was reasonably comfortable. It was here that we faced our first winter snow storm following by freezing rain. On the morning we were due to leave we found the car surrounded by a good six inches of snow and encased in ice. After a good hour of snow shoveling and ice-scraping we managed to get out of the car park and onto the road. The only task that remained was a 300 mile drive on a snowy motorway through the Canadian wilderness.

Fortunately, we made it to our next stop, Toronto, in one piece. We had seen many many cars crashed/stuck in ditches on the drive so we were very thankful to be safe. Toronto was a good city, definitely the most American out of the Canadian cities so far. Sights included the CN Tower, which unfortunately was extortionately expensive to climb, so we didn’t. After a few days in Toronto we left and headed to what would be the high point of our trip, Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls lies on the border between the States and Canada, and when we went it was cold beyond belief. The temperature was -16 degrees on the day we were there, but with windchill it was reported to be -30 to -35 degrees. Cold aside, it was utterly beautiful and amazing to watch. After a good few photos were taken, we got back to the car and headed for the border. The last night of our trip was spent in a Hilton hotel in the city of Buffalo, which was fantastic. The relaxing night prepared us for the 400 mile drive the next day, which was completed without a hitch.

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 Our wonderful vehicle and Niagara Falls

All in all, the holiday was brilliant and made me almost glad I had missed Christmas at home and stayed abroad. Interestingly, while we were away Amherst had reached a colder temperature than we had experienced on the whole of the Canada trip, so maybe heading north wasn’t as foolish as everyone had said it was.

After some time in Amherst

By James Eyke (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA)

Well the first few weeks of being here certainly have been very interesting. When I first got off the plane the first thing that struck me was the heat; the first full day was the hottest day of the summer so far. So for the first two weeks we had what felt like tropical weather, which was all very nice.

After we were taken care of and settled in nicely by the brilliant International Programs Office, we had a good few days of leisure before classes started. One of the more interesting nights was a frat party at a frat house. One could say it was very interesting to view this completely new, male-dominated subculture.

Classes here are taught very differently to back in the UK. They are generally much smaller (my Advanced Inorganic class has six students in it) and closely resembles secondary school / college classes. There is much more one to one discussion with the professor which is extremely helpful if you are unsure about some of the work. Homework is also a thing here, with set pieces of work given at the end of most classes.

Away from the academic side of things, the scenery here is absolutely fantastic. Being 90 miles west of Boston, we are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Here is a photo that I took from the top of this fire watch tower located on top of a hill a few miles out of campus; it really gives you a sense of just how large this country is.

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One of the highlights so far has been a day trip to Boston. It really is a wonderful city full of history. I was lucky enough to stumble across a guided tour of the Freedom Train just as I got off the bus. I can now happily say that I know just a little bit more about the start of the American Revolution now. After that I went on a boat tour of Boston Harbor, with commentary of course.

The day after Boston we headed down to a local swimming lake called Puffers Pond that is often frequented by college students. The water was surprisingly warm and there is even a large rock to jump off.

The weather now has finally started cool a bit and the famous fall colours are starting to appear in the trees. Trips coming up soon are New York and Six Flags New England, which I am certainly looking forward to. In about a month the demonic winter weather will descend upon Amherst, and who knows what that will bring.

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Pre-Departure to Amherst

By James Eyke (The University of Massachusetts at Amherst).

After a long summer, all the preparation and sorting out for travelling to America is about to come into effect. Visa in hand, I will soon be stepping off the plane into a completely new environment full of opportunities and heading to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Naturally, one starts feeling very nervous around this time. Having not travelled as far as Northern Spain in the past 15 years, thousands of miles across the ocean is quite a daunting task. The thing I am most apprehensive about with regards to my journey however, has to be getting from Boston International Airport to the town I will be living in, Amherst, which is only a distance of 90 miles away.

The partner University has events during an orientation weekend set up for international students; this will include general admin help as well as two organised walks in the nearby hills and a day trip to Boston which I signed up for. As well as this, the International Programs Office there has a buddy system set up where I have been assigned another student who will hopefully be happy to help with any issues that may arise, making the whole process a bit less stressful.

As for packing, I am thinking it will be best to pack lightly to make way for any memorabilia I collect during the year. This is thinking far in advance, but with airport baggage restrictions one cannot be too liberal with clothes and luxuries.

For when my next blog post comes around I will have been at the University for a few weeks and I look forward to sharing what I have done and what I have seen. Below is a picture of my suitcase! University of Manchester hat in tow, naturally.

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