But it wasn’t my first choice?

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University.

There is always a mix of anticipation, excitement and maybe some ‘fear of the unknown’ in the lead up to the day, on which, you will depart to your new home. This is normal, we are all nervous when we embark on something new. But if you are heading off to somewhere you hadn’t first planned to, perhaps you might be feeling these nerves a little bit more strongly. Most people, when they apply to study abroad, think really hard about what to put for their top three choices or maybe top five but think a lot less about the other remaining choices. That’s why when the day comes, and you find out you’ve been selected to study abroad but NOT at one of your top choices, you might feel a little disheartened. It might be that you haven’t done much research about this university, or it is in a place that is not well-known or maybe it is somewhere that doesn’t have the most positive reputation, like the southern states of the America, for example. However, panic not! I am here to tell you that wherever you have been assigned, and however deflated you might have felt when you found out – you are still going to have the BEST YEAR EVER!

My top choices were all in Canada and I ended up in North Carolina, a state that, firstly, most people don’t know where it is and secondly, when you tell them its in the South of the US they don’t seem to have much good to say. I was initially a bit upset when I found out that I hadn’t got into a Canadian university but after accepting it, I started to research North Carolina and was very pleasantly surprised with what I learnt about it. It was not a state that I had ever had reason to research before and since it is not a particular tourist destination, I didn’t know much about it. But having spent a year there, I think this is what makes it so special and such a great place to really immerse in American culture.

I think the main benefit of studying somewhere, that you don’t know much about, is that you really won’t know what to expect. This is so good because you won’t have any preconceived ideas, to compare to the reality of what it is actually like; you can just live the reality! Rather than becoming hung-up on comparing your expectations with what its really like, you can just dive right into getting to know the new culture. Furthermore, having little knowledge of the place, where you will be living, will encourage you to learn as much about it as possible, through meeting new people, trying new things, tasting new foods etc. etc.. And this is the whole point of studying abroad, to learn about a new culture, something which I think will seem even more appealing when you don’t know anything about the place to begin with! It will be a much more educational experience if your initial knowledge of the place is zero. There are also likely to be a lot less international influences, if the place is less well-known, and so you will end up getting a more authentic representation of what your host country is actually like.

Secondly, if your exchange location is somewhere unfamiliar to you, the chances are that it isn’t a place that you have thought about visiting. This means that your exchange really will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because you will be visiting a place that you might not have had the idea or opportunity to visit otherwise. It will be a chance to travel and experience things that you may never of heard of, but which may become some of the best places you have ever visited. I know that I had never imagined visiting North Carolina but now I can’t wait to go back and explore the parts of it I didn’t get a chance to visit. I didn’t imagine I’d be spending Christmas in the Smokey Mountains or Easter on the beach near Wilmington but I wouldn’t change either experience. Some of the best beauties in the world are the lesser known ones and going somewhere off the tourist track will mean that you will be able to discover your own special places, in your new home.

So, don’t despair if you don’t get your first choice, you will find a home in wherever you end up. It will all be new and exciting, and there will be so many things to discover! I even bet that by the time you leave, you will be thinking to yourself, why didn’t I put that place as my first choice?

 

Discovering the Natural Side of the USA

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University

If you are going to study abroad in the US I’m sure that you are very excited by this amazing opportunity to travel and discover all the things that the States has to offer. The country is so vast and with each state having its own unique culture and landscape, you will never run out of new things to see! However, whilst most people have the big cities like New York, Chicago, LA, San Fransisco, etc., on their list of things to see,  most people don’t have any of the numerous natural parks on their list. This, to me, is a BIG mistake.

In my opinion the best way to experience America is through its national parks. Each one is so unique and the sheer size of them is enough to take your breath away. I visited four national parks in Utah and whilst they were all within a three hour drive of each other, they all looked so different. It was amazing that there could be so much diversity in the landscape within just one state! They are also unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else in the world, which is why I think that they are so important to visit. Cities might differ from country to country, but such metropolitan life exists everywhere. However, natural parks are one-offs, the scenery and landscapes that they offer and the unique geology that they boast, are features which can be only found in that exact location.

They are also great for day-trips because they do not require much planning. You just turn up, go to the visitor’s centre, look at the different trails on offer, choose one and then set off to explore the wilderness. Another bonus is that most national parks have a driving circuit, so you can experience the beauty from your car. This was something, which was a shock to me, I had assumed that going to a national park would entail lots of hiking but I was wrong. The parks are so big that you have to drive round them and along the drive there are stops, where you can get out, walk for about 20 minutes, see something spectacular, then get back in your car and continue to the next stop. Of course there are also more strenuous hiking trails but if you just want to experience the beauty in a more comfortable manor there is also this option.

So  next question is, where should you visit? My answer is any national park is probably worthwhile your visit, since they all have something different and equally spectacular to offer. However the parks I chose to visit were:

Canyonlands, UT

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Capitol Reef, UT

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Bryce, UT

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Zion, UT

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Grand Canyon, AZ

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As you can see they are all rather stunning and I can ensure you that they look even better in real life! Cities exist everywhere and whilst American cities may be different to cities in other parts of the world, once you have seen three or four it starts to get boring. So get out and explore the natural side of the US because I can guarantee you will not be disappointed!

 

What I learnt from my first semester at NC State

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University

Its Friday afternoon and I am sat in a coffee shop on Hillsborough street. Nothing particularly interesting is happening, I am just catching up with my friend, organising my life and doing a bit of homework. But it just hit me how comfortable I am here in Raleigh, how at home I feel with  the day to day life here. My life in England feels so far away and in some ways it is! Its been 5 months since I left the UK and whilst I definitely do miss it, and miss the people there, it really hasn’t been on my mind as much as I thought it would. I’ve really settled into my life here at NC State, to the point where I can’t quite believe that I am going to have to leave here in 4 months, leaving behind everything that has been my entire life for the past 5 months. It is such a bittersweet feeling, it makes me sad that I am going to have to leave but also makes me feel incredibly lucky to have had this experience in the first place. So in the light of this realisation, I decided it was time to reflect on my first semester here at NC State and share some of the things which helped make it such a great semester.

Firstly, I loved having the opportunity to work as part of a group in one of my classes. It was for the Physics Lab module I had to take and I worked with two Americans on a group project for the whole semester. The reason I loved it so much is that I formed such a close relationship with both of the guys because we were spending so much time together. I learnt so much about America from them and we would regularly discuss different issues, comparing the average British view on the topic to the average American view. It was such a fun environment to work in and I left every class feeling as though I had learnt something new about America. It really made me feel as though I was having a true exchange experience because I was sharing my culture with people who were very interested in it and they were sharing theirs with me. It felt like I was getting an authentic insight into America and what it is like for the average person. So I would recommend to everyone that they try and take a class that involves group work. It is the best way to meet different people you might not otherwise come into contact with and it is the best way to learn a lot about the country you are studying in.

Secondly, one thing that I learnt last semester is that it is very important to get a good work-life balance, even more so than in Manchester. Being on exchange is like being on a holiday that never stops, people are always up to travel, experience new things, hang-out, the list is endless, but one thing for certain is that it never stops! Therefore, it can be overwhelming to try and manage uni work when everyone seems to be constantly socialising and the fear of missing out is real. It is also made harder when your year abroad counts towards your final degree and most other exchange students are just on pass/fail. This is something I found particularly difficult because I actually had to try with my classes, whilst all my other friends were cruising through them doing as little work as possible because it didn’t matter too much. It took me a while to get to grips with this lifestyle but once I worked it out it didn’t feel too bad. One thing that definitely made it easier was that over here people love studying together, which meant that having to stay up late studying could be turned into something social. I often find myself going with a  group of people for a study session at the library, which makes it feel not as bad. You can work for a couple of hours, then take a break together before getting back to studying. You kill two birds with one stone; you are productive but surrounded by friends which is great!

Thirdly, one of my greatest realisations after being here for a year is just how small the world is. It sounds ridiculous but it is true and it haws already had such a positive impact on my life. Since being here and loving living abroad, I have applied for a research internship in Germany this summer. This is not something I had thought about before and if I hadn’t studied abroad I am not sure I would have decided to apply. But living in the US for the past semester gave me the confidence to apply because I now have the mindset that no matter where you are in the world you will never feel that far away from home. Facetime and social media mean that no matter where you are in the world you will always feel connected to home. I facetime my family once a week and this regular contact with them makes me feel as though I am not really missing anything and that I am still a part of a home life. Also having met international students from all over the world helps make the world feel smaller, because there is a comforting face in so many places. Australia no longer seems alien, I know people from Ecuador, India is now in my top three places to visit and South Africa seems like a viable travel destination. I am now so excited to explore and having contacts all over the world means that this desire to discover the world is a much more achievable dream. The world feels like my oyster and I just want to take every opportunity I can to discover it, because I know that I will never be too far away from home.

My top 3 Weekend trips from Raleigh, NC

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University.

When people find out that I am an exchange student, their first question is always: so why did you choose to come to North Carolina? My reply is that I wanted to be somewhere which was well placed within the United States, so that I would have ample opportunity to travel. I also wanted to be somewhere which had a diverse range of scenery and North Carolina is perfect for that! With a beautiful coastline to the east and then the Smokey Mountains to the west, you can really experience the best of both worlds! It even gets better in the fact that NC State, which is located in Raleigh, is equidistant from the mountains and the beach, so both are really accessible.

Therefore, when I arrived in Raleigh in August I was already jumping to go and explore North Carolina and the surrounding states. I was excited to see what North Carolina had to offer and also see how North Carolina compared to the states it bordered. Four months on from when I arrived and I have now visited both the Smokey Mountains and the Atlantic coast and even ticked off six new states! It is really easy to travel here and there are a lot of really cool places, which are driving distance from Raleigh, making them great for an easy weekend away. Since most people are interested in travelling during the time abroad, I thought I would share with you my top three destinations which are within driving distance from Raleigh and are great to visit for a short break.

1. Asheville, NC

First up on the list is Asheville, which is located in the south west of North Carolina close to the start of the Smokey Mountains. Asheville is a great place to visit in the sense that it is very different to most American towns. It has a very relaxed, quirky vibe and is a very liberal city with a large artistic flair. It has lots of very nice places to eat and is a haven for vegetarians, making it noticeably unlike everywhere else in Southern America, where the only thing on the menu is chicken! It is also known for its chocolate shops, which sell everything from ice-cream to giant slabs of chocolate, to truffles and hot chocolate.

Asides from the charming little centre of downtown, Asheville is a great base for going up into the mountains and exploring the countryside. There are multiple trails which start close to Asheville and I would definitely recommend going for a hike because the scenery is BREATHTAKING! I have been twice, once in August – when it was all luscious and green, and then again in the Autumn, when everything was turning a golden orange. Both times were gorgeous and I was really glad I got to experience it in two different seasons because it almost felt like two different places! Asheville is also close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is one of the most scenic drives in the United States, especially in the Autumn when all the leaves are colouring.

2. Charleston, SC

Second on the list of best places to visit is Charleston, South Carolina. It is a quaint, historic town situated about a four hour drive away from Raleigh and boasts both beautiful beaches and a boojie downtown, with lots of independent boutique that are great for window shopping! I spent three days in Charleston over the MLK day weekend, and I would say that this is the perfect amount of time for visiting the city. On the first day you can explore the historic downtown, weaving your way through the streets lined with palms and funky coloured houses. On the second day you can visit the beach and enjoy being by the sea, making sure you stay to watch the gorgeous sunsets that can be seen there. We visited Folly Beach, which is a 20 minute drive from the downtown and is a little beach town in itself, with lots of souvenir shops, cafes and an old wooden pier, which really adds to the aesthetic! The highlight of my trip was definitely watching the sunset over the pier because it was the most gorgeous blend of purple through to yellow, and was definitely up there with my top 10 sunsets!

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3. Washington DC

Finally, third on the list is DC, which is definitely more well-known than the other two, but an equally great place to visit. It is only 4 and a half hours away from Raleigh by car and is also easily accessible by both train and bus – so there is no excuse not to visit!  Exploring DC is very easy, since it has a metro which is easy to use and most of the main sites are concentrated around the National Mall so everything worth seeing is pretty much within walking distance. Another bonus is that most of the things worth seeing are free, with the majority of the museums having free entry and all the main monuments being outside and so easy to explore.

DC is definitely done best across a few days. Take one day to stroll down the National Mall, starting at the Capitol Building, passing the White House and the Washington Monument, before reaching the World War II memorial and finally the most impressive of them all – the Lincoln memorial. This ticks off all the main monuments and memorials to see as well as the two most important buildings in DC – the Capitol Building and the White House. Then on day two, choose a couple of museums to explore, which won’t be difficult as DC has museums for everything, from art to natural history, a holocaust museum and a museum of African American History. Another great thing to do is visit the Capitol building, which is completely free and comes with a guided tour and a chance to visit the Senate and the House of Representatives! This was without a doubt the best thing I did in DC, because it provided such an education into American politics and the building was beautiful, just be sure to book in advance!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjusting your attitude and approach to studying

It has now been exactly two months since I arrived at NC State on the 14th of August. We have had eight weeks of teaching, though very few of these weeks have consisted of a full week of teaching what with national holidays, Hurricane Florence and Fall Break! The midterms for all my classes have now been completed and so I wanted to reflect on the changes I have had to make to my daily schedule, study style and expectations of the classes.

Firstly, something that I had to adapt to was how my daily schedule here was going to be different to my daily schedule in Manchester. I wasn’t going to be able to cling onto the routine I had become accustomed to in my first two years back home, instead I was going to have to readjust my schedule to fit with the norms of college life in the US. Mainly what this meant was that I was going to have to get used to working much later! Students here tend to work late most nights of the week, which is something I prefer to avoid in Manchester. At home I tend to travel into uni for my first lecture and then stay until around 7pm, or later if I have work due, and then go home, eat and relax. I do all my work before I head home and so when I get home I know that I can relax, I rarely work at home or late at night.

However, in the US most people take a break from around 5pm until 8pm, during which they go to the gym, socialise and eat. Then they resume studying in the evening and work from 8pm until 12pm most evenings. This is something I had to really adapt to because I had tried so hard to get all my work done during the day in Manchester and leave eating dinner as the last activity of the day so that I could spend my evenings unwinding. However, I quickly had to move my average time for dinner earlier by about 2 hours from around 8 or 9pm at home to 6 or 7pm here. I then had to mentally readjust to the idea that the late evening was for work and the early evening was for socialising. This complete flip is something I feel that I have only just about got used to.

Secondly, I had to rethink my study style, in particular my attitude towards the weekly homework assignments I am set here. At NCSU, like in Manchester, I am set weekly problem sheets for my physics classes, however the big difference is that at NCSU the weekly problem sheets are graded. Since the assignments are so similar, it took me a while to shift my attitude and start taking the homework problems more seriously. My attitude had to shift from just trying my best and then revising anything I didn’t understand in the tutorial, to aiming to get everything right. Part of this shift in attitude was realising that I needed much more time to complete the homework properly and then giving myself this time. I feel like this is something that is very common across all disciplines; the need to adapt to the fact that everything that is set as homework is linked to a grade. Even reading, which you may feel you can get away with not doing for seminars at home, you have be vigilant with here since there is often a small quiz based on the reading, which counts as part of your grade. Everything is important because everything counts and because of that people tend to work consistently throughout the week.

However, it is not all bad! Whilst I do feel that you have to stay on top of your work and work most evenings, I think that if you work into the late evening during the weekdays you don’t have to work that much on the weekends. I haven’t felt as though I have had to work too much during the weekend. I sometimes spend Sundays working but I have also already had four weekends away and it hasn’t hindered me too much! Second positive is that studying is a much more social activity here than it is in Manchester, at least in my experience. Therefore, whilst you might be studying later rather than hanging out with friends at the pub during the week, you are probably going to the library with friends, so you aren’t spending the evening alone. This also helps with the fact that all the homework is graded – people love to study together so you can work with them to complete your homework as long as the final write-up is yours.

Finally, the third thing I had to change was my expectations of the classes. They are much more informal, and it is true that the Professor has much more control over the course logistics and content. In one of my classes, we were set to have an exam and some of the students in my class asked if it could be changed because they had another exam the day after and he just agreed to move it to the week after! The classes are much more interactive which creates a more informal atmosphere, similar to that of an A-level class rather than a uni lecture theatre. My exam expectations were also something that had to be changed – they are very very different to Manchester exams, mostly due the informality of them. This is partly because there are so many exams, which makes them a lot more familiar, and partly because they are taken in the classroom without any invigilators or long announcements. However, they are still important because they typically count as 20-25% of your grade, but the frequency of them means that people typically only revise in the few days leading up to the exam.

On campus living: what its like sharing a room.

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University.

I have now been at NC State for just over a week and so I thought I’d share with you some of the things I have learnt about living on campus!

I am living in Alexander Residence Hall which is part of the Global Village. It is a fantastic place to live as it is so central, on the one side is the gym and the other the student union and the welcoming atmosphere of all the residents has made the beginning of my semester a great one! I am loving living on campus in a shared room, my roommate is lovely and the environment of living on a corridor with about 50 other people is exciting and great for meeting new people!

However, before I arrived there was one thing that seemed daunting and a bit strange to me, the rooms were shared! I know that sharing a room is the norm here in the US but I had never had to share a room before, let alone with a stranger. The thought of having a roommate seemed very personal, unmanageable and there was always the question, ‘what if we don’t get on?’ So naturally I was nervous at the thought of sharing a room, but as it turns out there is little to be worried about! My two biggest worries about sharing a room actually turned out to be nothing at all.

Worry 1: I will have no personal space.

Having a roommate is far less invasive than you would imagine! Firstly, you don’t actually spend that much time in your room, or at least I haven’t so far, you are busy going to classes, having food and socialising. Secondly, even when you are in your room it is quite likely your roommate won’t be because you’ll probably have different schedules, do different extracurricular activities and have some different friends. Therefore, there is plenty of time in between to spend chilling in your own space if you want to.

Worry 2: We won’t get on.

This is natural worry for most people but I think a lot of work actually goes into pairing roommates. For Alexander Hall we had to fill out a preferences questionnaire and people were paired based on their responses to the questionnaire. Obviously not everyone is going to end up living with someone who matched all their answers but you at least know that your roommate will share some similarities with you, which is definitely reassuring. They will be more like you than you think! And even if you aren’t alike, there are lots of other people on your corridor whose rooms you can hang out in and in each residence hall there is usually a big social space which you can relax in.

So as it turns out having a roommate is not as scary as it seems and it is likely that you will end up loving your shared room, Another cool thing that I learned was that you have a lot of freedom over how your room is customised. You can move the furniture around, move your bed up and down and personalise your space much more than you can at home!

Finally, I just thought I would as mention some of the other really cool benefits of living at NC State:

  1. FREE LAUNDRY!!! In Alexander Hall you can do your washing for free which seems like such a blessing after having to pay a lot to do washing in our hall at home
  2. FREE gym, pool, sauna and exercise classes . This is such a great perk, everything within the Carmichael gym complex is free for students to use and the facilities are extensive. Another bonus is that it is just across the road from Alexander Hall.
  3. For $5 you can use all the buses in the Raleigh and Triangle area for free, which means you wont need to spend any money on transportation whilst you are here.
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The front of Alexander Hall, complete with a Lime Bike. Lime Bikes are dotted all over campus and are like the Mobikes of Manchester.
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The inside of Alexander hall, complete with furnishings which can be easily purchased from Target.