‘How was America?’

A brief reflection on my time abroad:

Studying abroad in America has taught me many things. It has taught me that no matter how many American TV shows you watch on Netflix; you will still get an insane shock at the difference between our two cultures. It has taught me that having an English accent can get you very many privileges in the US (even if you’re from Birmingham).  And it has taught me that Britain is a very, very tiny country.

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The thing that I will most take away from my time abroad is the friendships that I have made from people all across the globe; friendships which will hopefully last a lifetime. I now have plans to visit friends from Australia, somewhere I have always wanted to visit and am excited to embark on a new travelling adventure.

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I am not sure that studying abroad has changed me in the dramatic and cliché way that I thought it would. Upon my return to England it felt as If I had never left, I slipped back into British life with extreme ease, picked up my friendships where they had left off and started drinking tea again. America began to feel like a strange dream or a past life. However, I would say that my six months across the Atlantic has definitely noticeably improved my confidence. Being thrown into the deep end, completely alone has forced me to speak up more and to try not to hide behind other people– especially in classes were my participation counted towards 30% of my grade. I think it has also helped me to become better at dealing with stress – dislocating your elbow on the other side of the world with no mother to provide you with comfort and thousands of pounds worth of medical bills being thrown at you is very, very stressful. And, after 20 years of evading exercise, the fear of American food making me obese, finally forced me to join the gym. Aside from that though, I would say that I am still the same old Liv.

RUTGERS

I have been asked so many times over the months since my return, ‘How was America?’ and I always struggle to answer. The question is so weighted. How can I reduce six months of my life down to a single sentence answer.  How was America? I usually pause for a long moment and then just say ‘Weird’. I then normally follow this by stating that it was ‘an interesting life experience’ and then waffle on for about five minutes about how cool Texas was or how insane it is that the drinking age is 21, whilst the person who asked – and probably expected me to say something like ‘ it was good’ becomes increasingly bewildered by my random response. I don’t think that I have fully been able to process my time studying abroad yet. It would take me a month to properly answer that question. Maybe in a few years’ time when I have had the time to reflect properly on my experience, I will be able to categorise my feelings in a way that allows me to give a response to that question that doesn’t end up in a ten minute rant about the fact that their cheese tastes like plastic. However, until then, in order to evade me going into meltdown, I would advise people to ask me a more specific question than, ‘ How was America?’

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Travelling

One of the best things about America is its diversity. Every state is like a different country, from the mountains of Vermont to the deserts of Nevada, the swamps of Louisiana to the beaches of California, which meant that although I didn’t leave the states for 5 months, it felt like I’d travelled to a multitude of different countries. I visited 11 states in total, but it definitely felt like I’d seen more than just over a fifth of the country.  If I had to pick a top 3 places I would probably say Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana and of course New York, New York.

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I surprised myself with how much I loved the South.  My preconceptions of the southern states were racism, sexism, homophobia and cowboys, so I was a little apprehensive to leave the comfort of the north. Thankfully though I didn’t witness anything that I deemed hateful. Austin was full of Pride flags and every southerner that I met was nothing but extremely pleasant. What I loved about the South was its extreme Americanness, it felt like there was a lot more culture there and that the people were really laid back and eager to befriend us.

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Texas particularly was everything I’d dreamed it’d be. There were people dressed in cowboy boots and hats everywhere. And they weren’t in fancy dress. People genuinely dress like that because, in Texas, it is fashionable. Whilst in Texas I also visited a real-life saloon. This was amazing. There was a band belting out the countryiest of country tunes whilst everyone gleefully danced the two-step. Even better than this, out the back of the saloon there was an extremely Texan version of bingo being played. The premise: a large grid of numbers was placed in the middle of the yard and littered with chicken feed. Players then paid two dollars to be given a piece of paper with a number written on it, correlating to a number written on the grid. A chicken was then placed on the grid and the chicken defecated on the number of its choice. The player whose number matched up with the number chosen by the chicken won $200.  I felt like I was in an extremely odd dream that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to wake up from.

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New Orleans, took Americanness down a completely different route. As I sat eating beignets at café du monde, gazing at the European style architecture of the French quarter I felt as though I could have been in old Orléans. However, the constant cacophony of saxophones and trumpets coming from buskers on every street corner and the kids tap dancing for people’s spare change really emphasised that New Orleans is the birthplace of the very American culture of jazz. Everywhere you looked there were stalls advertising psychic readings and shops selling voodoo dolls, the latter unfortunately serving as a reminder that a lot of the culture here was born out of slavery.  NOLA was by far the most unique place that I visited in the US and I wish that I had been able to spend more than two days there.

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The final of my top 3 destinations felt more like home than merely somewhere I was visiting by the time I reached the end of my stay on the East coast. New York lived up to all of my extremely high expectations and even though I visited the city almost every weekend whilst I was studying at Rutgers, I felt as if I could wonder its streets for the rest of my life and never get bored. Time square really is that mesmerising. Brooklyn bridge really is that huge. Dollar pizza really is the best thing you will ever taste.

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The opportunity to travel the states for so long is something that I am extremely grateful for, and something which I never would have had the opportunity to do without study abroad. Whichever university you end up at whilst you are abroad, be sure to make the most out of travelling to its surrounding states/countries. It will make your experience unforgettable.

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‘It won’t happen to me’

Before leaving to go to America, the prospective exchange students were made to go to a meeting titled ‘it won’t happen to me’, where we had to sit through a PowerPoint of horrific incidences which previous exchange students had been involved in, e.g. being caught up in natural disasters or deported for underage drinking.  The aim of the PowerPoint was to encourage us students to be vigilant whilst on exchange and consequently, I completely ignored any advice that was given.  ‘Nothing like that is going to happen to me’, came my irritatingly annoying thoughts, ‘nothing like that ever happens to me’. When I saw the price of health insurance for one semester ($1200) I very nearly refused to get it, purely as a matter of principal. Thankfully though, I was eventually persuaded, and  I cannot begin to articulate how thankful I am for that.

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Continue reading “‘It won’t happen to me’”

You can’t pump your own gas in the State of New Jersey.

 

‘Just do it! Even if you don’t want to come to the UK, just do it, anywhere you go, you’ll have an incredible time I promise!’

That was me, promoting studying abroad at the Rutgers University Study Abroad fair, two weeks in to my six months stay in New Jersey. In the weeks and months leading up to my semester abroad, I was beyond petrified. I didn’t want to leave my friends behind, I was scared I wouldn’t make any new friends, the fact that I wouldn’t be old enough to drink made me feel like I was reverting back to being sixteen again and the thought of having a roommate was such an alien concept to me that it freaked me out beyond belief. These fears however, evaporated almost as soon as I stepped off the plane at JFK.

True, I did find it a little hard at first to adjust to some of the cultural differences in the US. The food is weird (Americans bleach their eggs and their attempt at cheesy chips tastes like something that Ant and Dec would force down your throat in a bush tucker trial) carrier bags in supermarkets are free ( my first trip to Walmart turned in to an anxiety inducing fiasco, with me staring in horror at the hundreds of plastic bags the cashier was throwing at me) and it is someones entire job to put petrol into people’s cars because apparently the people of New Jersey can’t be trusted to do it themselves.  But aside from that, adapting to life across the Atlantic, was far easier than I expected.

In the short time that I have spent here, I have tried to fully immerse myself in American culture. I attended a basketball game that was more like High School Musical than High School Musical itself, I watched the Superbowl (possibly the most unnecessarily theatrical performance I have ever witnessed) and I actually quite enjoy having a roommate.

RUTGERS

Not only has studying abroad been an amazing opportunity to embrace American culture, it has also allowed me to meet and befriend exchange students from all over the world. I celebrated Australia day, have been cooked French crepes and Spanish Omelette and I now know that Weetabix is basically valued as an Australian delicacy.

One of the main reasons that I chose to study at Rutgers was because of its close proximity to New York City, somewhere I have dreamed of visiting for my entire life. Last weekend I visited the city for the first time and it absolutely did not disappoint. Everywhere you look you feel like you’re in an iconic movie or TV show, and although you feel like you’ve seen all of the city before, there is nothing like experiencing it in real life. At sunset, we got a lift to the top of the Rockefeller centre and were met by an incredible view of the New York Skyline. No photographs could ever do the scene before us justice, although the pictures still look amazing. I’m eager to visit the city again and with the train from my university to the centre of Manhattan taking less than an hour, I could pretty much stroll through Central Park every day if I wanted to.

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With a Ski trip to Mountain Creek booked for next weekend and plans to travel the states after my final exams, I am becoming increasingly more grateful that I took the leap to apply to Study abroad and know for sure that this will be a semester that I will never forget!

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