Academic Experience and First Semester at UMass Amherst

By Lucas Smith (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA)

With second semester starting imminently, I am now half way through my placement here at the University of Massachusetts. This semester has gone very fast, as I expected it to. Still, I think I have managed to cram in as many activities and experiences as possible. Already it has become a year that I will never forget.

Moving into my second semester here I will now be more accustomed to the academic aspect of my placement. While we were all told in our pre-departure meetings about how teaching vastly varies across the globe and from institution to institution, the reality really only hits home when you experience classes first hand. In my experience the classes are much smaller than what I was accustomed to in Manchester. My largest class consisted of roughly thirty students. Smaller classes result in more freedom in terms of discussion and activities. It is expected that everyone contributes in class which I initially found a bit strange as it is so different to the PowerPoint lecture based teaching I was used to in England. However, as I settled in to this form of teaching I found it to be useful as ideas were analysed closer so a clearer understanding of concepts could be grasped by the students. Aside from how the classes are taught, the work load and distribution also differs greatly from what I encountered in my previous two years at Manchester. Firstly, I would say that the work load is substantially more in the States, however the work seems to be less difficult. This, I believe, has aided my time management skills and work ethic this semester as I have been much busier than I usually would be. While academically I still prefer the system I am used to in England, it has been interesting and enjoyable to experience different styles of teaching and assessment. All in all, I feel the process of studying abroad has made me more rounded by building on skills such as time management.

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However, there is much more to study abroad than just the academics. This semester has been amazingly fun. The campus is so large that there are always activities and sports events going on. Earlier this semester we had the Homecoming (American) football game which was an amazing spectacle for a foreign student such as myself. Thus far, my experience of viewing University sport had consisted of watching Varsity Rugby in Manchester in the rainy and cold conditions synonymous with our city; it was fair to say my mind was blown. Not only are they a much larger deal here, but they are also free for students and make a great day out.

Due to Amherst’s location in the North East of the USA, it has been fairly easy to get off campus and see what the region has to offer.  So far I have been lucky enough to visit New York twice, Boston for Thanksgiving and go on a nine day road trip round Eastern Canada. The highlight so far has been travelling over winter break. Me and two other friends who opted to stick out the winter on campus rented a car after Christmas and headed north to Montreal for New Year’s. We spent a few days exploring the city and doing our best to remember our collective GCSE French. The city was such a contrast to the small town of Amherst where we had been for the term. From Montreal we then travelled east to the nation’s capital, Ottawa. After a short, snowy stop, it was onto Toronto which was the closest to a conventional US city. We managed to brave the coldest temperatures we had ever felt to see the amazing sites each place had to offer before returning home via Niagara Falls. All in all, my first semester was truly amazing and now I cannot wait to get started with my second!

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Keep reading for updates!

Arrival and first two weeks

By Lucas Smith (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA)

So I have touched down in Massachusetts, got settled and started classes. On one hand, it seems to have all happened so fast. However, it does seem a long time ago since I last sat down to write a blog piece just before my departure. The first two weeks here have been amazing. As to be expected, the first few days were a shock, and this probably was not helped by the continuous travel from Manchester to Amsterdam, then Boston and finally Amherst, all in the same day. However, in the following days I got out and about the campus. The campus here is really breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the standout features are the Du Bois Library which offers amazing views of the surrounding area and incorporation of nature with man-made structures all over campus.

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The weather so far has been hot and humid, which was difficult to adjust to at first, but a group of us made the most of it by making the trip to the nearby Puffers Pond for one relaxed afternoon. The International Programmes Office here, as well as being extremely welcoming, put on a number of trips for the incoming students in the first week such as a short hiking trip up Mount Sugar Loaf which offered scenic views over the valley. Despite all the leisure activities I have now started classes, and if I am being truthful the work load has come as quite a surprise. I had been forewarned about the amount of reading and now I am working to get into a routine that it seems many US students abide by. This involves completing work and readings during the work day in order to be able to make the most of the weekends. Despite the work load all my classes are interesting and the more open discussion style of teaching I am enjoying thus far. In the following few days and weeks I hope to join societies such as the ski club here and meet many new people. All in all it has been an incredible start and my only worry is the speed at which time seems to be travelling! I hope you enjoy reading and stay tuned as I document my adventures this year!

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Pre-departure reflections

Lucas Smith (University of Massachusetts, Amherst). 

It is strange to think this time two years ago I was at a point in my life where I was about to leave all I knew and that was familiar as I left high school for The University of Manchester. Now I seem to be in similar position, as I set out to cross the pond and touch down in Massachusetts next Tuesday. I have taken time this summer to work and see family and friends before my departure. However, now as all my jobs are being ticked off, the goodbyes have been said and other students are leaving on placements, the wait is becoming unbearable. Once again the feeling is strange and slightly unnerving, yet if I have learned anything from the last two years is that the experience will be truly amazing.

Even before I was confirmed a place at Manchester I had been interested in the overseas opportunities available. Now with only matter of days before my departure to the University of Massachusetts, the start of the application process seems a long way in the past. The journey has not been simple and has thrown up all kinds of challenges to be tackled at various stages. These ranged from the anxiety of trying to secure a place at my desired accommodation, to completing the ‘mission impossible’ of obtaining a U.S Visa. However, I am now very happy to report that I have all my paperwork in order, dollars in my wallet and transport arranged to Amherst. Short of attempting to cram my life into one suitcase and a backpack, I believe I am finally ready to set out on this trip that has been two years in the making! All that there is left to say is: Goodbye Manchester! Thank you for two amazing years, and hello Amherst!

Please keep reading as I document my time abroad.