The last one, or adjusting to life back in Manchester


by Rhiannon Jones, (formerly) University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

A rare nice day in Manchester making it good to be back


As my time in Illinois is replaced by an obligation to talk at study abroad fairs, the moment has come for my last blog post on this site. I’ve actually come back to Manchester twice now, once over summer and once for the start of term so this is a little overdue. Having started this paragraph in October and finally finishes it in December, I suppose I have been putting off the last piece of studying abroad.

Continue reading “The last one, or adjusting to life back in Manchester”

Posted in USA

Summer travels, or the reason I need a job

By Rhiannon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA)

Our time at Illinois had finished. Finals were done with, emotional goodbyes were had and we had a month left on our visas before we got deported from the country. We were heading to the West Coast.

The initial planning wasn’t the laid-back ‘Cali’ lifestyle that the trip itself promised. With seven of us to book flights, hostels, car hire, coaches and entrance tickets for, a month to remember started out more as an exercise in herding cats. Thankfully someone more organised than me was fluent in Google Docs and the phrase “check the spreadsheet’ became a mantra, chanted back at you if you wasted precious planning time with stupid questions. Yelp, Hostel World and AirBnB became our new best friends. The driving spotify playlists were curated months in advance and in our 1am revision session, procrastination came in the form of looking at restaurants four states away.

Our first stop was San Francisco. I’ve never been to California before so stepping off the plane into pleasantly dry heat and palm tree-lined streets was incredible. It had felt like this trip was such a long time coming. Even before I’d left for study abroad I knew I wasn’t just there to study but to explore the States. This was the last big adventure and admittedly the end of my savings. My highlight of our couple of days in San Fran was cycling along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was immensely satisfying to see our seven-man bike convoy roll up to the base of one of the most famous landmarks in the US knowing that we’d worked against gravel and a significant head wind to get there. We also stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts on the way. Not actually a palace but an imagining of a crumbling Roman ruin, and favourite for wedding photographers, meaning that I got some great Instagram material. My main tip for San Francisco (or SF to the cool kids) is to bring a good pair of shoes. As students who were looking at another three weeks of travelling, we walked a lot (maybe too much) in the city famous for its hills. A contrast to the boringly flat Midwest, some roads even had a 40° incline. It meant walking around the corner from our hostel could give glimpses of the most amazing views over the city below but you basically had do leg day to do so.

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SF from the top of a hill, Alcatraz watch tower and a stroll around the Palace of Fine Arts.

We picked up the cars on our last day in in SF and made our way over to the first proper stop on our road trip, Yosemite National Park. ‘Only’ 3 hours away from the city but nestled in mountains higher than anything in the UK, it’s understandably popular with Californians. This gave me a problem though; I might have forgotten during my desperate panic to ship stuff home that I would actually need warm clothes to go hiking in. An issue especially considering we saw snow on our second day. Cobbling together something from the overweight bag I dragged around the country with me, we prepared to hike the ‘strenuous’ climb to Nevada falls. The hike started at 3000ft and climbed another 2000 meaning the view from the top was literally breath taking and looking back at the photos we also got incredibly lucky with the weather. It’s fair to say we’re not exactly gym rats but we still managed the climb in 4 hours. A brief moment was had for the poor pair of sunglasses that got taken back down the hike via a torrent of water hurtling off the side of the cliff face. I would absolutely recommend Yosemite to everyone, regardless of you hiking ability (there’s more gentle ones too!) but go during the week. The weekends get very busy and the paths a little slower to navigate.

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Sunset by the roadside, the spectacular Yosemite falls and the climb to the top.

Coming back down to sea level and warmer weather, we travelled most of the journey south along the Pacific Coast Highway. Unusually for US highways this road actually has bends in it as it follows the coastline and gives continuously beautiful views of the ocean the whole way. We made smaller overnight stops at Monterey and Santa Barbara, to break the two-day journey down, and serve as an opportunity to have some amazing seafood. This lead to our next major stop, Los Angeles, which I would describe it as amazing and weird at the same time. Around the corner from our house was a hipster ice cream shop that allowed us to try flavours like rose water, lavender and olive. In the end I opted for the classic salted caramel. Everything there is incredibly spread out so your only travel option is to take a car and unfortunately they all drive like assholes. Thankfully we had decided to not return our rental cars and so got to see sunset over the city from the Griffith observatory, people working out on Venice Beach and a quick tour around UCLA. I also had a major nerd moment when I realised that we’d driven through the Back to the Future tunnel (smaller in real life than it looks).

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The Pacific Coast Highway, between the Walt Disney concert hall and having a look around UCLA.

The final stop of our road trip was a straight drive from LA into the desert. On our way there we watched the temperature rise and rise as we got closer to the unmistakeable Las Vegas, to handily coincide with Angus’ 21st birthday. We said goodbye to the cars (a more emotional event for some more than others) and took to the strip by foot. The city is ridiculous. Every building is draped with lights and is a monument to ridiculous extravagance. In recovering from the night before we went to an all-you-can-eat sushi place. I actually felt disgusted by how much food we ate, to the point the waitress actually commented on it. It was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten but in hindsight, maybe eating that much fish in the middle of a dessert wasn’t the smartest move. We had an amazing weekend and I like to think we celebrated our friend’s particular milestone in memorable fashion, but don’t think I’m ready to go back again anytime soon.

P.S. To save this blog being longer than it already is (and this was only the first half), some things didn’t make the cut. These photos are the best of the rest

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Chicago theatre during a packed graduation, the Berkeley bear and the Grand Canyon.


Reflections on Leaving, or Excuses Why I Didn’t Do This Two Months Ago

By Rhiannon Jones (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA)

The best time to write a reflection piece is probably when it’s still fresh. For me, that would have been around the time of my last exam in Illinois two months ago. The problem with studying abroad (although there aren’t many) is that you never seem to have the time to sit around; to appreciate that what’s going on around you is actually pretty crazy. Two months ago I was sitting six time zones away, significantly warmer, bitching about how I’m going to fail finals. Now I’m revelling over the fact that I can’t believe its over.

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Before I came back home.

By Rhiannon Jones, Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

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As I lay here feeling like I’m dying from a cold, it seems like the perfect time to give an update on what I’ve been up to back in the “Land of Lincoln”. After flying home for a much-needed Christmas with the family, I cut my one-month winter break short and Continue reading “Before I came back home.”

Academic differences, or the reason I’m going to fail tomorrow’s midterm

By Rhiannon Jones, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This blog starts negative but picks up at the end, because being away from home can be hard sometimes…

Before leaving the UK, I knew that jetting off to another country was never going to be a complete breeze, especially when;

  1. this year actually counts towards my final grade,
  2. you study chemistry; and
  3. you’re reminded before you go that the chemistry course at Illinois is ‘the hardest in the US’.

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Two Weeks Already? Making UIUC Home

By Rhiannon Jones, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Hectic is definitely the best word to describe the last two weeks. Strange is probably another. It’s so weird to think that time has gone by so fast since I got here, and yet that first night where I slept off my jet lag under nothing but a cardigan feels like an age ago. A conversation with a friend the other day went along the lines of “Wow, it feels like I’ve known you for ages. I can’t believe it’s only been a week and a half”.

Some of the massive positives living in the US are that everyone is a lot friendlier and open, especially when you have an accent. I’ve had four people ask if I can give them and their friends a shout-out in my British accent, and do I mind if they film me while I do? I have been playing it up far too freely to diffuse awkward encounters. Too slow counting change? Prattle on about how you’re just not used to the currency yet. Have no idea what’s going on in labs? Mention loudly how it’s not the same as at home, people are more than willing to help out. The weather has also been great apart from the odd thunderstorm and even I managed to get a tan while sitting outside having lunch. It’s quite humid but there’s aggressive air conditioning for that. Finally, the food! It is possible to write a whole blog about just the amount and variety of the food here. Mains are very much the same, but the desserts are something else; who knew that everything could be put in a pie (my favourites so far have been smore and sweet potato). I’ve also had three more burritos since my last blog, which partly inspired me going to the gym again.

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A Rushed Pre-departure and First Impressions

By Rhiannon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

I suppose that the self-reflection blog usually comes at the end of the year long exchange, not as the first blog, but I feel like I’ve already learnt a lot about myself. Turns out I am actually quite unorganised and left an embarrassing amount of preparation for my study abroad until the last week. It’s been easy to put it off; I’ve had a full time job all summer meaning (in my head at least) I had an excuse to leave things like my immunization records until next week and the next until suddenly the day before I flew out I was collecting letters from my GP. I somehow managed to just about get everything done, which turned out actually to be a lot less stressful than I thought it would be.

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