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.

Reflections on Studying Abroad

By Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Manly Hall Residence building – feels weird not to be living here, but I’m not going to miss the stairs!

It has been just over a year since I left to study at UNC, and I can honestly say I wish I was there now – well maybe not right now due to the hurricane! It’s a bit difficult to compare student life in America to student life here at Manchester as there are ups and downs to both campuses. At Manchester I felt it was a lot easier for me to get involved in things – the freshers fair was easy to navigate, and I joined a campus hockey team and orchestra. UNC did offer these things, but I felt they were harder to find, even at fall fest (their version of freshers fair). I also didn’t take my saxophone and hockey stick abroad, I did only have one suitcase! Still, UNC was a lovely open campus, not in a city, with plenty of places to sit outside and eat, and whilst Manchester does have these things, UNC doesn’t have the rain.

Continue reading “Reflections on Studying Abroad”

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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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.

 

Final Road Trip and Goodbyes:

I have now been home for over 3 months and I thought I would write about my thoughts on leaving Case Western and my road trip around California.

The last few weeks of term were extremely stressful with trying to pack up my belongings, say my goodbyes, plan a road trip and submit all my final work. Luckily, I did not have any finals to take and I decided to leave the campus early and meet up with friends from Manchester to travel around the East Coast. But this did mean that saying goodbye to all the great people I had met felt very rushed.

As I am writing this post it is orientation week at Case Western. It feels so surreal to see everyone enjoying themselves on campus and me no longer being there. I think it has finally hit me that year abroad is over – all be it 3 months later.

One of the highlights of my year abroad was all the travelling I did and for the final trip I packed in as much as possible. Starting in Santa Barbara I travelled to LA, San Francisco, Monterey Bay, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.

It is nearly impossible to capture all these incredible places and moments but I did manage to record some of the best ones on my phone. Although I have practically no skills in video editing, here is a video of my travels:

Travelling after Studying

Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Sea Otter at Seattle aquarium

Obviously, studying abroad so I could travel after wasn’t the reason I chose the exchange year course, but I’m not going to lie, it was a perk. Considering a lot of people do this, I figured I’d write down some things I learnt about planning travelling, and actually travelling.

Plan, plan, plan. You can’t plan too much. There are times where you might want to leave things to fate as it were, but other times things need to be booked in advance. A lot of things like hotels and flights are cheaper when booked in advance, which I’m sure you know. It also means that you’ve looked in advance for things to do in the places you’re going to, and so know what to book in advance, and what to leave to the day etc. It also means that you’re more likely to stick to your budget.

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Grand Canyon, West Rim – take lots of water!

BUDGET! If you have saved up and have plenty of money, you will be fine, but I’d still suggest having a budget. You never know, you may wander into a Sephora (or another shop you like). Don’t forget to add suitcase expenses to your budget. I made an excel spreadsheet, with the rows of the places I was going, and then columns of hotel, airplane, food, tours, cash. You can do your own, but it’s a basic one. It might seem a bit too far, but it meant I knew I wasn’t going to get stranded in the middle of America with no money. It also means you know how much you’ve spent, and don’t have to check your bank account a lot, or carry around a lot of receipts with you.

Make a quick list for family. It can be very simple – just the place you are, where you are staying, and the dates you are there for. Gives them peace of mind, and means someone will always know where you are.

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Orlando ft. rain

Hotels vs. hostels vs. Airbnb. Saving money vs. decent living. In some places you are limited by where you can stay. I went to Yellowstone, and I really didn’t want to camp, it was airbnb. There were some hotels, but in this case they were more expensive, especially as they were closer to the car. If you use money saving websites to book hotels, then set your rating of cleanliness to a decent level, that way you can hopefully find a cheap but acceptable place to stay.

Arguments. People do differ, but as a person who needs time to themselves to recharge, I knew being with the same person for 5 weeks was going to be difficult. My advice would be get it out. If something annoys you, or they do something you dislike, say something fairly quickly, That way, when you get tired, you’re less likely to have a massive argument where everything spills out. Also make sure you agree on most things, and compromise when you can’t. A larger group can make this difficult, but at least you’ve tried to include everyone in the planning.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge – not for those who fear heights…

Lastly, a few more singular things I’ve learnt, mainly for America:

  1. Car hire for under 25’s means an additional charge is added on top of the original car hire
  2. If you go to New Orleans, have one day where you do very little, that way you can really experience the night out before, the heat is terrible when you don’t have a hangover, so I wouldn’t try it with one
  3. When are you coming back? So try it whilst you’re there
  4. Pack as lightly as possible – souvenirs
  5. Travel with old towels – you can give them away before you fly home
  6. Share toiletries, and have small bottles that you can refill rather than big ones that don’t run out
  7. If you want to see moose in Yellowstone, they’re most active at sunrise so it might mean a very early start
  8. You can never drink too much water in Vegas, or at the Grand Canyon
  9. America is bigger than you think it is…

I’m sure I’ll think of other tips once I’ve posted this, but as a quick list I travelled to: Nashville, Orlando, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone, Seattle, Vancouver. If you go to any of these places, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Tips and reflection now that I’m home

Having now arrived home from studying abroad for the last year at Arizona State University in America, I thought that this would be a good opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months and even give some tips to anyone looking to study abroad in the future.

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In terms of tips that I could recommend, perhaps one of the most important ones would be to make sure that you sort out your housing out as soon as you know where you are going if possible. I stayed in my first-choice housing on campus and it was really good, and allowed me to get as much as possible from the study abroad experience both academically and personally. Another important tip would be to make friends with locals and fellow international students, having a mix is important as the local students will help immerse you in their culture, while often fellow international students are more inclined to travel in the host country as like you they want to make the most of the experience. I would make sure that you have a Skype account or another way to contact friends and family back home when you are missing them, and finally don’t worry too much about whether you will be able to make friends when you get there. Everyone once they arrive is in the same situation and will be just as eager as you to get to know people as quickly as possible.

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Looking back over the last 12 months, the first thing that strikes me is how fast the last year has gone. It only feels like yesterday that I was travelling down to Heathrow for my flight, and especially in the final few weeks which feel like a blur as I was juggling packing my room away with my final exams. Despite this however I feel like I have done an incredible amount, and I would recommend studying abroad to anyone as it has been one of the best experiences that I have ever had. Because my flat mates were all American, as well as most of my classmates I had the chance to totally immerse myself in a different culture which was lucky because that was one of the reasons why I chose to study abroad in the first place. One of the real positives of my study abroad experience was the chance to try new subjects which I don’t have access to back at Manchester. One of these was Anthropology, which was a subject which I was always interested in but never had the chance to study until now. This was one of the more unexpected positives of my study abroad experience, however a more predictable one was the fact that studying abroad gave me the chance to travel across America more than I could have even predicted. Studying abroad has allowed me to see new places and ways of life that are so different to back in UK, and it is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.

Giving Back

One of the classes I have taken during the second semester at ASU is Geography of World Crises. This is taught by Dr. Larson and involves the class as a group discussing different issues that the world face today. These can range from gender inequality to the rise of extremism and the damage we are doing to the environment. Aside from these discussions, we also had to take part in two days of service, where we volunteered either on campus or in the local community to help sustainability projects and those who are less fortunate than ourselves. The two projects I took part in was orange picking for the campus diners and the United Food Bank who provide food for families that cannot afford their own.

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The orange picking was done on campus. The Tempe campus at ASU grows their own oranges that they then use in their diners to provide students with fresh, healthy orange juice which is made using the best organic ingredients. The picking was actually very simple to do, the main tool was a basket with an extendable handle. As you extended the handle to reach the oranges which were high up in the trees, you used the basket to knock the oranges off the branches which you then caught with the basket and brought them down to place in the bucket we were each given. In total myself and my partner picked oranges from four different orange trees, and we even had a family come up to us to ask us if they could take some oranges themselves, which we of course let them do.

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The second day of service was larger. The day itself was called ‘Devils in Disguise’ and was a university wide event. This involved multiple projects in the community, the organization I got involved with was the United Food Bank. The day involved meeting on Campus at 7am before getting the shuttle to the Food Bank which was in nearby Mesa. Once we were there we were split into teams to work on different parts of the production line with the aim of getting the donated food from the donation bins into sorted boxes ready to be sent to the people who need them. I was involved in the initial sorting of the food, which meant that I had to check that any items that were out of date, damaged or that didn’t contain their own nutritional labels were thrown away. Once this was done I then had to sort the food into different groups such as meat, fish or soup and then place these boxes onto the conveyor belt for further sorting. In total we managed to sort 10, 000 lbs. of food in the four hours that we were in the warehouse for which was a new record. This made me feel proud of our achievements as a group, and it was good knowing that I had helped to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to me for the year that have been here for.

Spring Break in Cabo

Spring Break really needs no introduction, but in case you haven’t watch any American ‘college’ movies, here’s what it is:

Spring Break is normally a week holiday (yes only a week!) that kinda correlates to the UK’s Easter weekend, but it doesn’t always. Spring Break is notorious for college students descending on countries with warm weather, beaches and cheap booze, or places where the drinking age is 18. One of my friends who I met at Davis at our study abroad orientation, joined a sorority, she told me and another study abroad friend about plans to go to Cabo in Mexico for Spring Break. Naturally we hoped on board as we wanted to have the full American college experience.

The weekend that finals finished, off we jetted to Cabo. As soon as we stepped off the plane we felt the heat! We decided to book our trip with an all-inclusive company, with a wristband that meant breakfast and drinks were included in a reasonably priced hotel room. When we first arrived we have to go through an orientation where we got said wristbands, some free merch, and had a safety talk run by ex-cops. They emphasised the 3 big no-nos in Mexico: no drugs, no going anywhere alone and no urban peeing. Once that was over we got a shuttle bus all the way around to where our hotel was.
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Our hotel was lovely, and only a 7 minute walk to the beach. The first night we watched the sunset on the beach, and then got some yummy tacos and margaritas. I have to say as much as we wanted to have the Spring Break experience, we also prioritised just doing what we wanted in order to make the most of a holiday with friends. So for the majority of the week we spent lazing on the beach or by the pool, reading our books, working on our tans, and trying out different restaurants along the strip. At night we would pre-drink in our hotel room, and then go to a few of the bars our all-inclusive wristband had scheduled. Then we would hit El Squid Roe, one of the weirdest and most unique clubs I have ever been to. El Squid Roe had booths all along the sides and smaller tables down the middle, filled with people dancing. There were three stories and upstairs was like a balcony running the whole way round.  Basic club house remixes blared from the speakers, and every inch of the space was filled by bodies dancing away. My favourite club was called Mandala, it played pop and RnB music and had a decent sized dance floor.

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I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about going on Spring Break, my usual choice on holiday is somewhere with a bit more of a traditional cultural experience, with sightseeing etc. If it hadn’t been Spring Break perhaps Cabo could have been more like this, but at the time we went Cabo was overridden with college students, giving it a much different feel. From what I had seen in movies, a lot of Spring ‘Breakers’ can be very entitled and rude to local people and I did not want to be lumped into that crowd. Luckily my friends and I managed to steer clear of anyone that gave off those vibes, and we had a fun holiday together.

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Overall I would definitely recommend going on a Spring Break holiday with your new friends, its a way to bond about more than just classes or being study abroad students, and a fun way to spend a holiday off uni. I would also recommend Cabo as a destination, we had a lot of laughs and fun on the beach and walking up and down the strip.

Tips and Tricks I’ve learnt

by Amy Williams, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  1. Speak to the people who’ve gone abroad before you – you might think you know all the necessary stuff for going abroad, but it can’t help to speak to people who’ve gone before you. They may give you cheaper ways to travel, transfer money, or you simply have someone your age who can just reassure you of the amazing time you’re going to have. Personally, I got told that I could waive the insurance here at UNC, saving me a lot of money.
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    New Orleans – Alligator Swamp Tour!

    Continue reading “Tips and Tricks I’ve learnt”

NC Chapel Hill: Reverse Culture Shock

By Emily (North Carolina, USA)

When I was told about this I silently scoffed at the idea. How could anyone not be comfortable with returning home?

And yet here I am only days after returning home not feeling fully happy with my environment. For those using this blog to help gain an insight into study abroad, I apologise as this will not feel relevant to you until after you return home. This won’t be relatable to many but yet it is here anyway.

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NC Chapel Hill: Life at an American University

By Emily (North Carolina, USA)

In my other two posts I have covered arriving and first impressions as well as covering work life balance. So what else to talk about?

Perhaps an insight into the day-to-day of our lives here.

Monday, Wednesday, Friday I have the same time table. My ENGL343 American Literature Before 1850 at 10:10, then ENGL356 British and American Fiction since World War II at 12:20. On Tuesday and Thursday my first class is at 14:00 is ENGL230 Milton and my next class is at 3:30 ENGL347 The American Novel. In between I spent my time reading and writing for class.

* I’m putting tips and tricks for UNC specifically at the bottom

There are free gym classes every day which are so easy to go to. I have been to yoga, barre, Pilates, a class solely dedicate to abs and a Zumba class.

A friend joined the field hockey team, while another one auditioned for an a cappella choir whilst another joined a theatre production. There are always people at the Pit with sign up sheets for societies, you just have to go up and ask.

I am currently also a contributor for the Daily Tar Heel. They accept applications every semester and you don’t need any experience, just enthusiasm!

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