Cross Road Blues

I knew it would be deflating to say the least when I came home from my semester in the States, but I honestly felt a bit lost. During the semester, I always had the reassurance that I’d be coming back to something – family, friends and life in Manchester. But the excitement of being back in the UK started to be replaced by the sadness of missing my new friends and an exciting life across the pond.

So, I tried to change my outlook over the Summer. Here’s my three main pieces of advice for adjusting to life back at home when it seems really tough:

1. Plan for the future

One of the best reasons for making friends across the world is that you always have a reason to visit somewhere new or exciting. Similarly, you could introduce the glory of Greggs’ sausage rolls to a foreign friend, or become their personal tour guide. The possibilities are endless, and it gives you a reason to spice up your calendar.

I also used my summer to mentally prepare myself for the final year of my degree. Now that I’ve tried a completely different learning style, I can appreciate what works for me in terms of studying. For example, I found studying more often, in smaller work sessions, really improves my memory of difficult materials. Think about getting the most out of your degree in Manchester.

2. Read everything!

Spending three weeks road tripping left absolutely no free time for reading. When I got home, however, I got back into the habit of reading everything around me. Book series are a great way to get lost in another world, whilst newspapers help you connect better to the real world around you. Instead of spending hours mindlessly scrolling through exotic Instagram accounts, try picking up a book and seeing what you can learn from it.

3. Be the support you seek from others

Finally, reaching out to people who care about you is the most important advice I could give. I can still relive memories with friends I made at NC State online, but I also now have time to catch up with home friends and family in person. Make sure that you spend time learning about any life changes your friends and relatives may have gone through while you’ve been away. Everyone needs support at some point or another, so being there for each other makes it easier to talk about any issues or struggles.

 

With the start of uni rapidly approaching, I’m excited (and admittedly terrified) to see what my final year brings. But I also feel re-energised and inspired to bring elements of my American experience to my degree. No one will ever have the same study abroad experience as someone else, it is entirely individual and unique and it doesn’t suit everyone. But I’d encourage anyone interested to just throw yourself into it and see what opportunities jump back.

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Silhouettes

North Carolina’s famous blue sky is now accompanied by the promise of a very warm summer, with Finals week heating up both in terms of the weather and pressure. I cannot fault the efforts of NC State, however, in keeping the atmosphere across campus as relatively stress free as possible. This week I’ve had free ice cream, unlimited access to colouring pages and a full day of waterslides and pizza. Reliving the dreams of my five-year-old former self has been a great way to enjoy my last few days here and I’ve never felt so calm during exam season before. It definitely makes revising seem a lot less daunting than back in Manchester.

No one is mentioning it just yet, but the goodbyes are looming ahead of us. I have been extremely fortunate to have lived with such a diverse and loving group of friends for the past few months. A compass would implode if it had to track all the destinations we are headed to after this semester, but there is always the promise of future meet ups and, of course, a thriving Facebook group chat…

It’s also hard to accept that everything is becoming ‘the last’ of its kind. The last sports event, the last Sunday brunch at Case dining hall, the last time all of us will be living under one roof. But documenting the big, and even small, moments of happiness during the semester remind you how much has been accomplished in such a small period of time.

I recorded videos, took pictures and typed notes throughout the weeks and ended up with a 35-minute video which I screened to my friends. I highly recommend this if you want to re-live the highlights of your study abroad experience. Show friends and family back home what you got up to, rather than reciting your own version of the Queen’s Speech at the dinner table.

As soon as the term ends, I am jetting off to New York with my international friends for what will be the start of an all-American road trip. The journey won’t end in the USA because we will be travelling to Europe together afterwards for a little while, but then I will be right back at the start. I can’t predict how I will react when life at home falls into routine once again. I will probably not be used to having my own bedroom, the grand reintroduction of Maltesers into my life will most likely hurt my teeth soon after and I’ll have to prepare for my final year in Manchester.

But I have the comfort and reassurance of knowing that when I go back, I will be the best version of myself. I’ve learnt so much about my academic strengths (and weaknesses) which will hopefully benefit my studies next year. Living and learning with so many different characters has granted me a sureness of self which I hadn’t realised I lacked, and my sense of adventure has been fuelled enough to last me a lifetime.

Thank you to the University of Manchester and NC State.

Thank you to my family and friends back home.

Thank you Student Finance (I’m sorry, we’ve had some scary moments there).

Thank you to my Alexander family – Peace, love and memes from above, always.

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Till It Happens To You

There is an inescapable bubble that absorbs you when you study abroad. Everything is exciting, everything is new – new friends, new classes, new experiences. You quickly adapt to living at three times the speed of real time, where a week goes by in a day and a month is over before you’ve had time to process yesterday’s reading for class. But I’d implore any potential ‘go abroad’ student to just, if only briefly, think back to that very distant lecture in Manchester that was ominously titled ‘It Won’t Happen to Me’. I admit, it escaped my memory as soon as my suitcase fell off the baggage claim in RDU airport. However, it’s really important to know what your options are if you receive news from back home that temporarily bursts the study abroad bubble.

Last month, I received a text at 3am that reminded me that life at home is not left in a state of perfect paralysis as soon as you leave the country. The death of a loved one hits very hard, regardless of your geographical proximity to them. Being told that I could not statistically make the journey back for the funeral was very painful and frustrating and for the first time since arriving in the States, I felt quite deserted.

Trying to process this news whilst preparing for my first midterm exam that very same day was another challenge in itself. I chose to sit the exam, I had already prepared for it and didn’t want it looming ahead in an already hectic university schedule. But I also decided it might be worth contacting the Study Abroad Office back in Manchester. It did feel slightly awkward and somewhat useless (what could anyone do about the situation?) but it actually provided me with protection for my academic standing both at NC State and UOM. It seems an odd thing to consider during such a period of shock, however it helped to alleviate the stress of working and provided me with some mental space to grieve.

With this in mind, I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to consider your mental health, especially as a student. Thankfully my family and friends at home are all available for me to contact whenever I need to. I am also lucky to have superb friends over here in the States who I’m extremely grateful to for looking after me. Going abroad can be stressful, things can go wrong and sometimes we just can’t be where we want to be. But being out of my comfort zone has prepared me in many more ways than I imagined. Having global support has bridged the distance between here and home, and I am now aware of having a strong support network wherever I may be in the world.

This blog post is addressed to any student who ever finds themselves getting THAT phone call or text. To anyone who is caught in a national or local emergency, or who is struggling, for a short period or every single day, with mental or physical health. It is so important to have open communication between you and your academic institution. Any stress-inducing situation that hinders your academic capabilities is not just your burden to bear. There are mitigating circumstances, there is support and advice available to you, and you are absolutely not alone.

Half The World Away

By Shifra Power (North Carolina State University, USA)

Whilst everyone else was making New Years Eve plans, I was cruising through an 8 hour 55 minute flight from London Heathrow to Raleigh-Durham International airport. Although the official move in date wasn’t until the 3rd January, my dad and I decided to head out to Raleigh on the 30th December to check out my new home for the next term. I was grateful to fly out with someone familiar to settle in for the first few days, especially when an emergency purchase for a new winter coat was needed (cheers Dad).

On that note, a fair warning to future travellers – don’t assume that the average weather temperatures will be loyal every year. I don’t think I was able to feel my toes for the first three days I was in Raleigh. With record low temperatures hitting the United States this January, I could easily convince myself that I am studying in the Arctic circle.

Nevertheless, my first impression of Raleigh has been superb. Despite the cold, the sun has not stopped shining so far and the warm welcome from North Carolinians has been unrivalled. As I arrived before most of the students, there were lots of opportunities to explore the surrounding area before it got too busy. The city is beautiful to walk around with various historical sites marked out along the streets. The actual downtown area was a lot smaller than I anticipated, but it is quite a nice change from the manic madness of Manchester city centre. Having the time to stroll around meant I was able to spot little details around the city that might otherwise go unnoticed. I thoroughly recommend heading into Downtown Raleigh on New Year’s Eve to witness the ‘famous’ Acorn Drop. Think New York City’s ‘Times Square Big Ball Drop’, but more wholesome. The streets are filled with food stalls, rides and a pop-up wedding chapel (complete with a plastic tiara and veil).

 

 

I also managed to accidentally become a food critic. Sampling Southern cuisine became a prime objective before the start of the academic term, with my quest for the finest fried chicken well underway. Thus far, I would highly recommend The Pit Barbecue Restaurant as a mid-range/good quality place to try a range of popular BBQ dishes celebrated in the Southern states. For an infamous American breakfast, the Flying Biscuit Café in Cameron Village (just a 10 minute walk away from NC State main campus) was another great find.

 

 

After a few days of gathering dorm-room essentials and navigating my way across NC State’s vast and beautiful campus, I eventually moved in to Alexander Hall (the Global Village). I had spoken to my roommate on Facebook for a few weeks leading up to move in day, which made meeting each other significantly less nerve-wracking and a lot easier. Who knew two strangers could bond so quickly over a chicken costume and a box of Cadbury Heroes? Being in halls that are half international, half American has definitely contributed to how much I’ve loved my time here so far. Everyone wants to socialise with each other, go for group meals between classes and organise trips for long weekends.

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I’ve only just started classes so I haven’t formulated the main differences between teaching styles in the UK compared to the USA. But considering that I am studying Star Wars in my Film module, I have no reason to complain just yet…

Until next time,

Shifra