Quick advice for anyone who wants to play elite level sport while they’re studying abroad in North America.
(experience from the University of Toronto in Canada)
What is Varsity?
It is essentially the first team for any sport at a university in North America, except they receive far more funding than UK sports teams do as they tend to lead into American and Canadian professional sports like in the NFL or NBA, and there’s usually only one team rather than A, B, C teams. It also gets big crowds as school pride is huge in North America, so be ready to play in front of hundreds or even thousands of fans.
How High is the Standard?
I was playing soccer (I know it should be football, but they get confused out here) and I was expecting the standard to be low because Canada isn’t exactly famed for its soccer ability but I was very wrong. It was evident even from just the first few weeks of training that my teammates had little else that interested them and so they were a high standard, and most had played in specialist academies or had international club experience. Therefore, if soccer can have such a high level, then so can any sport in North America.
What is Involved?
Varsity is a great experience in elite sport but it does take an incredible amount of time and can force you to sacrifice other experiences, so you have to be sure that sports is your main focus of your year abroad. I had to wake up at 6am for 7am training most days and gym sessions in the evening which meant sacrificing nights outs with new friends as well as passing up on travel opportunities as matches are usually at weekends.
However, the additional opportunities you get are great (Although I can only speak from a Toronto perspective). You get elite level coaching and physiotherapy daily, priority access to counselling services and dietician services. Away from sport varsity athletes are often recognised on campus and are always the centre of attention – especially with a British accent.
Is it Worth it?
This is a question only you can answer. On one side, it is a great opportunity to play elite sports in front of large cheering crowds. On the other, it does take a lot of commitment and may detracted from the myriad of other experiences that can make a year abroad even more special. The choice is yours and good luck!
Kasha Yip, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
(TL;DR at the end.)
You really don’t think a worldwide, society-stopping, economy-crumbling, mass panic-inducing virus would become a big problem in your lifetime, especially not when you’re studying nearly 5 and a half miles away from home for a year. Luckily for us, the coronavirus came to say hello for who knows how long.
So… how do you prepare? What do you do?
Honestly, that’s the question I’m asking myself right now. The past week has been so turbulent with the various updates either from UCSB or about how other countries are doing.
On Tuesday 10th, the Chancellor told us that the rest of Winter quarter (dead/the last week and finals week) and Spring quarter until the end of April were turning into remote instruction. Between then and Thursday 12th, I found out 2 of my finals would be online, my last final would be optional and we could use midterm grades if we wanted (yes), and the musical production I was involved in would be cancelled.
Sure, okay, I have 2 weeks spring break now because my finals end early, and then 4 weeks of home schooling with no commitments because everything is cancelled. Doable. My aunt lives in DC and asked if I wanted to stay with her during this time, but my grandparents are also staying with her so I told her I’d think about it.
On Friday, it came out that there might have been suspected cases in Isla Vista (IV). Some people went to a music festival in San Diego with their friend who just came back from Italy, and they were now self-quarantining. I was definitely not going to stay with my grandparents, and it was probably for the best to stay put here just in case.
Just yesterday, Saturday 14th, the Chancellor updated us that the whole of Spring quarter would be remote instruction. “Students who can safely leave are urged to do so.”
Excuse me? What on earth do I do? I can’t go to DC or go home – I don’t want to have or catch the coronavirus in the airport or on a flight and give it to my family. But what if all my housemates leave and I have to stay here by myself? How depressing and isolating is that? And what if I stay here and then get stuck here, because who knows how this will develop by summer? Should I go and stay with my family when it’s the end of the world? So much overthinking, so many questions…
In a time where it can already feel lonely and away from so many people you care about, not having any choices to do anything and being forced to stay inside and away from people really hits hard. It’s isolating, feels hopeless, and gives you so. much. anxiety.
It’s hard to talk about; everyone’s affected in different ways. Some people have sunk (back) into depression, some people have overwhelming anxiety, some people have immunocompromised friends and family, some people don’t care and think everything has been over-exaggerated.
I definitely did not expect this to happen on my year abroad. There is no way to prepare. There is nothing you can do.
I still don’t know if I should go home or if it’s better for me to remain in IV and just not leave my house. Things are changing so rapidly, and there’s no way to predict what will happen next. At this time, we can only wait and see.
So, yeah, “it won’t happen to me” until it does. But I was thinking more of, you know, an “I broke my leg, and now I have to pay a lung and a kidney to deal with it” type situation, or maybe a “there are campfires and we should evacua—”. Oh wait, that already happened the week of Thanksgiving. Never mind. You know what I mean.
I have no useful information in this post besides to tell you all to practice social distancing and stay safe. I know this has affected everyone around the world, including home students. I don’t know how other students abroad are dealing, or what’s happening with them (I know a girl who has to go back to the UK from Toronto in the next few days), but this is what’s happened in the little old town of Isla Vista this past week.
I’ve tried to keep this as neutral and panic-free as possible, and I’m sure there will be updates along the way. Stay safe everyone! (And don’t let a global pandemic stop you from studying abroad. It’s great apart from this. I promise.)
By Noor Namutebi (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA).
Driving from Newark Airport to my accommodation (Easton Avenue apartments) was surreal as 1. I was extremely sleep deprived 2. This was the first time I had ever stepped foot in the USA and it was, for lack of a better word, crazy. The drive was not entirely representative of what my university area would look like, as it was mostly the outskirts, but I got incredibly excited when every 10 minutes we would pass a well-known American food chain (like Olive Garden).
Growing up in the hustle and bustle of London has skewed my ideas of what a ‘city’ entails, I admit. I would describe (the very little I have seen of) New Brunswick more as a college town. Imagine if the main university campus was in Fallowfield, almost. New Brunswick is one of three, big university campuses of Rutgers, the others being Newark and Camden, with Newark being the more metropolitan campus I believe (and where the airport is). What I didn’t entirely grasp before I came was that New Brunswick was split into another 5 campuses. I live on College Avenue which is considered quite social (it has the frats, bars, if you’re 21, and has the train station which is one direct train into New York) but there are others including Livingston, where I have two out of four of my classes. There is a free shuttle bus system which operates between the campuses and has peak and quiet periods depending on the time or weather. Whereas this was difficult to get used to at the beginning, as societies were are held on different campuses and I was making friends who did not live on my campus, it can be quite refreshing. The other campuses are way greener and calming than the hurry of College Avenue and therefore I would recommend either taking a class on another campus or joining a society based there, for a change in scenery and to get out of the bubble that can come with living so close to your classes. Plus, the bus to/from Livingston passes by the Raritan river which goes through New Jersey so sometimes, if you’re on it at the right time, you can get a good view of the sunset on the journey home and make people on Snapchat jealous.
Having a roommate
Having a roommate is not a thing at all in the UK so the idea of having one in a completely foreign country was quite daunting, especially after hearing horror stories online. My roommate, luckily, is lovely and easy to get along with but the first couple days was quite an adjustment. It felt like someone kept walking into and sleeping in my room but I couldn’t do anything about it because they paid half the rent. However, it feels more normal over time and when she goes home at the weekend the room feels unusually empty and I wonder how I used to spend extended amounts of time in my room alone before!
Goodbye to lectures and seminars which now come under the umbrella of one ‘class’. One interesting thing which I found out upon arrival and going over the syllabus of each of my classes is that active participation is a big deal in America. In one of my classes, up to a third of my overall grade is based on ‘participation’ which includes attendance and punctuality as well as vocalising your opinion in front of your peers. This has been good so far as not only does it absolutely force you to go to every class unless you are on your actual deathbed, it forces you to think about the topic at hand more, in order to ask questions or say something smart.
Side note: Speaking with a British accent in front of an all-American class kind of feels like you’re obliged to say something interesting because they’re already paying close attention to the uncommon sound.
I have dedicated a whole section to Walmart because I genuinely think a whole book could be written about how it is an allegory for the whole United States.
At the end of my orientation day they had ushered us into a coach to go to a retail park to shop for some essentials as it was impossible to walk to any of the bigger supermarket chains. Everyone automatically flocked to Walmart as it is, truly, one of the biggest cultural exports of the country. The coach driver told everyone to come back to be picked up in either an hour or an hour and a half. I had written a shopping list so I thought I would be in and out in 30 minutes, at a push. Really, how am I going to fill an hour? I thought naively.
From the moment I entered, my senses were ambushed. Not only did it have the size and feel of an industrial factory as well as tens of people running around, there was a McDonald’s inside to your right as soon as you entered. That was the first time I had truly felt like I was in America.
I walked around the store approximately 5 times trying to balance buying food as well as necessary things I needed for my apartment. Table mirror? Check. Tortillas? Check. However, I was not prepared at the sheer amount of choice that was presented to me. In the UK, when going to buy kidney beans at Tesco, for example, I expect there to be maximum of three, maybe four, options. In Walmart, and the country which is the number one defender of free market capitalism, there were at least 20 (I wish I was exaggerating).
I had so many ideas for healthy dishes which I had made at Manchester (in cooperation with Lidl) and would hopefully prevent me from gaining the dreaded ‘freshman fifteen’ or supersizing myself. However, these ideas suddenly seemed so drastically distant when the news dropped that this Walmart had. No. Vegetables. They had drawn me in with the beans but apart from those that were in a can, vegetables were not present in the building. I looked in shock at the worker who informed me that you had to go to a ‘Super Walmart’ for that rare, rare produce. Why is it the vegetables, and not the Mcdonald’s or the film section or the clothes section, or the thirty different ice creams, which makes a Walmart ‘Super’? I thought to myself. Oh America.
I eventually found vegetables in a local Hispanic supermarket and an Aldi nearby but I will never forget that Walmart experience, a cautionary tale which I tell every American when they ask me how my experience has been so far. And now I pass it on to you, it’s my first amendment duty.
At UMass we were lucky enough to be given a 10-day break for the Thanksgiving recess, so a group of 8 other students and I decided to head down south and embark on an 8-day road trip across America. We travelled to 7 different states, driving for over 40 hours in total and were lucky enough to be able to see lots of amazing sights.
Day 1 – New Orleans, Louisiana
We began our adventure by all meeting on campus and catching the Peter Pan bus to Boston Logan airport. We caught a short flight to New Orleans, where we picked up the car and minivan that we’d hired to drive us around the country. After stocking up on some essential road trip snacks and with a long drive ahead of us the next day, we checked into our air bnb and decided to get an early night.
Day 2 – Nashville, Tennessee
Waking up bright and early, we began our long drive to our first destination. Driving through Mississippi, we stopped off in Birmingham, Alabama for some typical southern BBQ food before heading on to Nashville. After exploring the city, we ended up on a dancefloor being taught how to line dance whilst being accompanied by a live country music band!
Day 3 – Chattanooga, Tennessee
We began the day by heading to a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens, situated in a park just outside of Nashville. We explored the city centre some more before stopping for some brunch on a rooftop restaurant. We broke up the drive by stopping at a waterfall in Tullahoma, then headed to our wood cabin where we’d be staying for the next two days.
Day 4 – Exploring the Smoky Mountains
We spent our fourth day discovering the Smoky Mountains and its beautiful surrounding national park. The views whilst driving through the winding roads were breathtaking and provided lots of great opportunities for photographs. We stopped off at a typical American diner for dinner, where the food was delicious but the portions were enormous!
Day 5 – Charlotte, North Carolina
We travelled to a small historical town called Cherokee in North Carolina for a pit stop on our way to Charlotte. We had many interesting stops on our drives, my favourite of which was the Peachoid, which is a 135-foot-tall water tower that resembles a peach located in South Carolina.
Day 6 – Montgomery, Alabama
The morning of our sixth day was spent discovering Charlotte, famous for museums and the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We hired electric scooters to whiz around the city and explore the local attractions. We made a slight detour to briefly visit Atlanta, Georgia where there was a Christmas lights festival in the botanical gardens, as well as Christmas markets situated in the Centennial Olympic park. We then headed to Montgomery, where we’d be staying in a treehouse for the night, surrounded by acres of greenery and trees. Being out of the city meant the stars were fully visible and were amazing to gaze up at.
Day 7 – New Orleans, Louisiana
We completed our round trip by driving back to where we started. Our 7th day happened to be thanksgiving, which meant the roads were very quiet. However, disaster struck when the van got a flat tyre in the middle of the highway and we had to be towed to the nearest shop that was 30 minutes away! Nevertheless, we eventually made it back to New Orleans and spent the evening exploring the busy and vibrant city.
Day 8 – Boston, Massachusetts
We ended our exciting trip with a flight back to Boston, where we visited local museums and indulged in a bit of black Friday shopping, despite the shops being very busy and chaotic!
Overall, despite a few mishaps and alterations to our original plans, we had an incredible trip and felt very fortunate to be able to travel to so many spectacular places.
I genuinely have no idea what I’m doing or why this photo was taken in Guanajuato, Mexico
By May last year not only was the Toronto cold beginning to lose its bite as the snow melted into a optimistic Spring, I was all done and dusted studying at U of T. Home time? Well no, not quite yet. The explorer inside me, (Insert a hilarious Dora the Explorer joke here) had some unfinished business to attend to.
*Maryland Dhoom is The University of Maryland’s competitive South Asian Fusion Dance Team.*
Dancing used to be a hobby and now it’s a passion of mine. Therefore, before travelling to America, I knew I wanted to join a dance team. However, I didn’t know whether to carry on doing Bollywood and Bharathanatyam (Indian classical) or experience every American college girl’s dream- getting on to the cheerleading team.
I decided to audition for a few teams before auditioning for Maryland Dhoom. Pretty much all the teams rejected me because they required at least one year commitment and I am only there for a semester. It was upsetting because I spent so much time and effort to prepare for the audition (especially the cheerleading one) and for that to be dismissed for a reason that I have no control over.
Due to the previous experiences with auditioning, the first thing I asked at Maryland Dhoom’s teaching day was “Can I join even though I am only here for a semester?”
“Of course you can!” said one enthusiastic Maryland Dhoom member.
After this moment, I felt so excited to dance! I took off my hoodie, placed my phone in my bag and started to stretch a bit.
“Before we start teaching you the dance, let’s sit in a circle and introduce ourselves” said one of the captains. I sighed. (There was about fifty people in the hall). When it was my turn: “ Hi, my name is Thul-”, the biggest reaction happened. A lot of gasps, a lot of “oh my gods” and a lot of “ she’s British!” When I tell you the Americans love the British accent, they LOVE the British accent.
Other than that, the audition process went smoothly and our team had our first social the following week. I felt like a grandmother at the social. Everyone apart from the captains were freshmen (first year students). But it felt wholesome. I felt like I was going to be part of a family.
Rehearsals were taken pretty seriously. Every week I had ten hours of dance rehearsals. It was very organised too because usually they use Fall semester to prepare for competition season ( Spring semester). Unfortunately, I would not be able to travel to different states and participate in competitions as I was only in America for the Fall semester. But I still had a few exciting events to look forward to: dance team photoshoot, audition filming day, Dhoom Venmo challenge and an exhibition performance in Washington D.C.
You’re probably thinking what ‘audition filming day’ is. We dedicate a day to film our audition tape. The audition tape needs to perfect as it determines Maryland Dhoom’s competition season. There are more than 100 bollywood/ fusion competitions in America. And the more you attend and place, the more points you get and the more likely you get to the Nationals (the final stage). This is the overall picture, obviously there are more rules.
Let me be honest, audition day was stressful. If someone made a mistake midway through, we had to start again. And after a few times, it did annoy people. Also, it was humid that day too; that did not help at all. But it was a good bonding experience. * A few hours later * we got two perfect takes!
You’re also probably thinking what is “dhoom vemo challenge”. It’s such an innovative method to raise money. So, Maryland Dhoom came up with a few dares with prices (the more daring the higher the price) and posted it on their social media. Friends and family of Dhoom members can venmo (the American version of Paypal) money along with the dare and who they’re daring.
Here are a few:
When November commenced, rehearsals started to become intense as we only had a couple of weeks left until show day. The week before show day was called ‘hell week’. (Literally hell week for me because I had two mid-terms that week too!) We had practise every evening, and we would rehearse until the captains were satisfied. Ex-captains and the captains’ friends would come in too to help out. A variety of things were involved during hell week: improving stamina by repeating routines with 30s breaks, improving techniques by getting into partners and criticise.. costumes, last min changes to the routine and formation, and a lot of drama ! The hell week was worth it though, I could tell that everyone improved dramatically!
16th November 2019. It was show day! But to me, it felt like a girls’ day trip and night out! It was so fun. We spent the morning getting ready together, drove to get lunch together, and then got to the venue. Everything was going so smoothly, and then it came to our turn to have the stage rehearsal.
A couple of the dancers slipped on stage and injured themselves, formations weren’t perfect, and it didn’t meet the captains expectations. So obviously there was some tension in the room. However, we pulled ourselves together and did last minute touch ups on both our dance routine and make up. We sat in the audience before performing, and boy, I was so excited to see the performers. I was literally on the edge of my seat. The energy levels were INSANE! The costumes and the use of props were too phenomenal. I didn’t want to stop watching but then they called up our team. I remember being so nervous backstage, especially after watching the other performances. But when I got on stage, the vibes were surreal! Soon after our performance we hurried to get to the after-party. It was a fun night out with the girls but my legs were dead by the end.
After the performance we did not have any rehearsals but we had a Christmas special social event. It was so wholesome: we watched Wizard of Oz (that’s Dhoom’s competition theme), did Secret Santa and had ordered take away. We undertook secret Santa with a little twist, instead of writing the person’s name on a tag we had to imitate our person and the others had to guess it. When it got to my turn I got so emotional because they gave me a goodbye present too. It was so heart-warming and honestly I will miss them so much.
That’s when I realised: joining Maryland Dhoom was one of the best things I did whilst studying abroad. I made some good friends outside of my class and it made me feel less home sick. It gave me an opportunity to carry on doing what I love, on campus. Also, in hindsight, I saved a lot of money too, because if I didn’t join the team I would have spent my free time travelling around America, splurging on sightseeing activities. (I have a few friends complaining now that they spent too much on travelling).
I loved being part of Maryland Dhoom and I will cherish the memories I made with my Dhoomies. To those thinking about studying abroad, join a society – it’s worth it!
Kasha Yip, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Week 5 has come to an end, and so has my first set of midterms. After 6 weeks of experiencing life on the West Coast, it’s time to share a few of my first impressions of UCSB and the little, neighbouring town of Isla Vista. (I have pretty pictures at the end.)
1. People say “hi” to you on the street.
In England, it’s not a usual occurrence to strike conversations with strangers around you (or at least during the day). Now that I think about, I don’t even smile much at people when I’m going about my day in Manchester, never mind greet a random student I walk past around campus.
But the moment I stepped out of my Lyft in Isla Vista, a random girl walked past me and my suitcases and said “hi”. I’ve come to realise that you can walk or even bike around IV, and people going past might smile at or greet you, or even chime a passing sentence into your conversation.
2. My timetable is so empty…
You need to take a minimum of 12 units a quarter to be considered a full-time student, and at UCSB, that generally means taking minimum 3 modules each quarter.
My current modules only consist of 2 lectures lasting an hour and 15 minutes each a week, which altogether adds up to 7 hours a week of contact time. Compared to my ~16 hours a week at Manchester, I’m practically never in classes. (Note: some modules do come with sections, which are like seminars that complement the lectures, that are around 50 minutes long.)
Don’t let the small amount of contact hours get you excited though…
3. Readings are compulsory.
In Psychology at Manchester, majority of the set readings are supplementary and optional. Though there are some modules that will test on the reading (Social, I’m looking at you), most lecturers will only test on the lecture content.
At UCSB, though, reading is compulsory, and you can bet there will be a question on your exam that delves into an article you were set in Week 2. If you don’t keep up with your readings, you will end up having to at least skim through them the day before your exam.
4. Exams in Week 4 and 90 is an A?!
So Midterms are a thing in the US. It felt like I’d only just started school and then suddenly I was having 2 exams a day after each other 2 weeks ago and then another one just last Thursday. I now have 2 weeks “off” (I have a paper due next Monday and a 500-word blog for Friday) before I have another 2 Midterms and then Finals 3 weeks after that.
From the perspective that 60% is a 2:1 and you’re doing really well, it might seem that getting 90% is impossible. Even further, the equivalent 70%/1st in the UK is not easy to get. But, and I’ll get into it more in a separate blog, I personally think getting a 90 here is easier than getting a 70 at home (for my classes at the moment, at least), so I wouldn’t worry about passing! (I didn’t say don’t revise, though.)
5. Wait, I’m broke.
Food is expensive. Everywhere. But compared to the prices at places like Lidl and Aldi, grocery shopping here is not cheap. My first shop costed $100. Granted, that included necessities such as shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, suncream, etc., but I definitely cried a little inside when I saw the total.
My average shop will cost around $40-50 at the cheaper supermarkets, which is not that expensive considered this is Santa Barbara (rich people) and it’s equivalent to around £30-40. But Aldi gives me my weekly shop for £20 if I’m indulgent. And $50 doesn’t even include snacks. You can understand why this makes me sad.
6. Oh yeah, the beach!
So 5 would have been a nice number to end on, but I couldn’t have gone this whole blog post without talking about the beach. If you’re planning to come to UCSB, it’s probably one of the things you’re most excited for, and I don’t blame you.
Everyone living at UCSB and in IV is within a max 25-minute walk and 10-minute bike ride (if you’re slow) to the beach. I’ve even been lucky enough to live in a house on Del Playa Drive, where my balcony overlooks the ocean.
Whether you want to tan, swim, surf, or watch the sunset, the beach is the place to go. It’s beautiful and it’s amazing, and it still doesn’t feel real that it’s my back garden for the year. Just to inspire you (and because I have like 50 pictures of the sunset so far), here are a few pictures. Like, have you even been to IV if you haven’t taken at least one sunset picture?
I don’t think I’ll ever not stop mid-cooking to take multiple sunset pictures. Maybe one day I’ll wake up early enough to get a sunrise.
It’s only November, and it feels like everything is going so fast already (thanks, quarter system). But Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and I definitely know what I’m thankful for.
My alarm is usually set for around 7:00 as my classes here can start as early as 8:30am. Attendance is recorded so there’s no sleeping through my alarm! I’ll shower, get ready for the day and head to one of the four different dining halls on campus for some food.
7:45am – Breakfast
As if it isn’t mentioned to us enough, UMass dining is rated number 1 in the whole country, so unlike the catered halls I was used to in my first year in Manchester the food is actually enjoyable! There’s a lot of variety and so many options to choose from. Today I resisted the tempting chocolate banana bread and opted for fresh fruit with granola instead.
8:30am – Classes
After breakfast, I head to my first class of the day which is around a 10-minute walk away. The college campus here is gigantic and can take up to 30 minutes to walk from end to end. Luckily all my buildings are grouped close together so it’s never too far to get to. I had four classes on this day back to back, so I didn’t finish till 2:15pm. I had a surprise pop quiz in one of my classes, meaning the professor decided randomly to give us a mini exam on concepts we had learnt in the previous few lectures. I’d never had one of these before, so it caught me by surprise (as I’m sure they’re intended to!). It has definitely taught me to stay on top of all the work and assignments I’m given and to be prepared for the unexpected.
3:30pm – Studying
After picking up a quick lunch from the grab and go at one of the dining halls, I head to the library to make a start on all the homework, quizzes and projects I’ve been given. It’s non-stop work and assignments here! I think this is the earliest point I’ve ever been to the library during a semester – typically I only venture to the library in Manchester in the final few weeks of the semester in the approach to exams. One of the benefits of studying in the library is the incredible view! It’s the third tallest library in the world, with 28 floors making it a great spot to study at.
5:45pm – Yoga
After finishing some homework, I meet up with a friend and head to one of the free gym classes at the recreation centre on campus. This day I went to a yoga class, which is a good way to unwind after a long day of classes and take my mind off all my assignments. The sun was beginning to set during the class, which provided the most incredible view to look out on to!
7:00 – Dinner and chill
After grabbing dinner with friends, we decided to have a card night and watch a film. Despite the intense workload, I find there’s still the opportunity to enjoy spending time with friends and meeting new people. Finally, I head back to my dorm ready for the next day.
I study Chemical Engineering, and I am only taking Chemical Engineering modules at UMD. So the differences listed below are based on what I have experienced. (It may be different for other courses at UMD).
1.Everyone writes in pencil here! Over the past few weeks, I have realised how much I cross out with pen and waste so much paper.
Let me tell you a funny story. In one of my classes, I decided to take notes on paper using a pencil instead of pen. I had to erase something, but I did not have a rubber in my pencil case. So, I turned to the person next to me and asked quietly if I can borrow her rubber. She stared at me weirdly, and obviously I was confused. What did I do wrong? Oh, maybe she didn’t hear me I thought. Hence, I repeated myself “can I borrow your rubber?” and pointed at the end of her pencil. She gave it to me like she didn’t want to give it to me. For the rest of lesson, I was just baffled. My next class was in the same room; I sat next to my friend and I told her about the awkward situation. She burst out laughing! I was even more confused. She immediately went on her phone and showed me a page on urban dictionary: “ Rubber: (American English) a condom, (British English) an eraser”.
Now it all made sense! From then on, I am very careful on what words I use, yet I am still curious if there are other words like this!
2. As a chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions. As a US chemical engineering student, you are expected to be good at unit conversions both in imperial and metric system. The conversions that my Year 7 teacher told me to memorise have finally become useful.
3. I feel like I am back at school! We get homework every week, and they get graded and count towards your final grade! (There is no such thing as catching up/cramming for exams during the holidays here :’) ). Also, during the semester, we have mid-terms and presentations to do… so you really have to be on top of your work. One of my friends said that a lecturer said, I quote: “if you’re not ahead you’re behind”.
4. In most UK Universities to achieve a 1st class you need to obtain an overall grade of more than or equal to 70%. Whereas to get a grade equivalent to a 1st in the USA, so an A+, you need to obtain an overall grade of 94%. I have realised when I was studying at The University of Manchester, I was not aiming for perfection, I just wanted to get a good understanding of the topic and be able to answer questions. But here, I am driven to be a perfectionist. My work ethic has changed because of the different criteria.
5. You are allowed to bring your dog to class here! (If the lecturer and all the students in the class are okay with it). In my Protein Engineering class, most of the students are dog lovers, so we’ve had at least someone bring their dog to class a few times so far this semester!
6. I assume that Universities all over the world take cheating in exams or homework very seriously. In my opinion, I feel like UMD are a little over the top with “academic dishonesty”. For every mid-term exam or quiz I have sat, as well as writing my name and module on front of the paper, I have had to write “I pledge on my honour that I have not given or received any unauthorised assistance on this examination/assignment”.
7. Being a chatterbox is fine in the US! You get credit for it. It counts towards your final grade. At the University of Manchester I am used to having 80% of my final grade being based on my exam and 20% based on my coursework. Whereas at UMD, (it varies from class to class) the grades get weighted as: 30% final exam, 20% homework, 20% midterm, 20% presentations and 10% participation.
People have asked me which education system I prefer…. during the start of the semester I said I liked the UK system as I am used to it. However, now that I am half way in, I am starting to like this system; I have immensely improved my work ethic and time management because of the consistent stress throughout the semester. Moreover, it has made me into a perfectionist which in my opinion is a benefit in the workplace (let’s get them bonuses!). Best of all, I do not need to spend this year’s Christmas break revising aka cramming for January exams (except for one distance learning module). #onemonthoffreedom
Thulase Sivapooranan The University of Maryland, USA
Tuesday 20th of August 18:30
I was standing in front of numerous tall, looming crimson-bricked
and white-pillared buildings, both my small hands occupied: one holding onto a
suitcase the size of me and the other clutching my phone with a mere 5% charge.
No one was around; I did not know where to go; I was hours late to check-in at
my accommodation! Did it get worse? Yes. Booming claps of thunder echoed from
above and a heavy downpour of rain followed. There were booming bursts of thunder and it
suddenly started to rain heavily. I never felt so isolated; I just wanted to
cry with the clouds.
Eventually, I saw a figure in the distance, so I ran towards
them, quite slowly (because I had to drag this heavy suitcase with me too).
“Hi ! I’m Tee, could you help me, please? I am an exchange
student! I just landed! I don’t know where to get my keys from! Do you know
where I can get them from?” I panted.
“Yes, sure! Don’t worry, I got you “said Josh calmly ( a
junior home student at The University of
Maryland ), and took hold of my
oversized suitcase kindly.
He helped me move in, and then we went to the closest sushi
restaurant to have dinner. We probably spent an hour at least, talking about
Maryland, America, Manchester, our hobbies, ourselves. In that moment, I was
overjoyed- I had an enigmatic smile painted on my face. I just made my first
friend abroad, and I got a gut feeling that I was going to love it here.
Wednesday 21st of August 09:00
First day of Orientation
“Welcome to the University of Maryland! We are very happy to
see you here. Our first session will start shortly, for the time being feel
free to interact–“
I turned my head to see who was next to me and I smiled at
them and introduced myself. It finally
got to me that I was not in Manchester anymore; I realised that I was back at
square one. New campus. New people. New everything. But as the day went by, I
felt more welcomed and less overwhelmed. The orientation sessions were very
informative; the staff were very welcoming, and all the exchange students were
just as excited and nervous as I was.
Thursday 22nd of August
Most of the orientation sessions were as expected, including:
how the US healthcare system works, Academic integrity and a Washington DC trip
with all the exchange students. But, the safety and security session …oh boy,
it gave me the heebie jeebies! UMD’s police department came in to give us the
talk, and half an hour in they gave us a short “active shooting training”
session. RUN. HIDE. FIGHT was the motto. It became very clear to me that I was going
to be living in a high gun to people ratio country for the next four months. I
need to be vigilant.
Friday 22nd of August
Last day of Orientation and I learnt a lot about the
American Culture and History of Maryland. It’s good to see how far Maryland has
come from the very severe racial segregation which was not too long ago, to now
one of the most diverse states. (UMD is one of the most multicultural universities
in the US too!)
We ended the day with a massive BBQ dinner outside the basketball courts! The atmosphere was amazing- full on High School Musical vibes. Just as I thought I would have time in the weekend to catch up with my family and friends back at home… one of my new friends popped the question “should we go to New York this weekend, seeing as we don’t have class homework to worry about yet?” And the next thing I knew, at 11pm Friday evening, the four of us were on a coach to New York!! As born and raised in London and Manchester, it is safe to say that New York is something else! I will be sharing my experience via my vlog and Instagram posts!
It’s only been a week since I have moved to the States, and I have to say that I am loving it so far! If you’re planning on coming to America, here’s two things that I’ve learnt so far:
Take advantage of your British accent, the Americans
Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow –make the most
of your time here.
Studying abroad in America has taught me many things. It has taught me that no matter how many American TV shows you watch on Netflix; you will still get an insane shock at the difference between our two cultures. It has taught me that having an English accent can get you very many privileges in the US (even if you’re from Birmingham). And it has taught me that Britain is a very, very tiny country.
The thing that I will most take away from my time abroad is the friendships that I have made from people all across the globe; friendships which will hopefully last a lifetime. I now have plans to visit friends from Australia, somewhere I have always wanted to visit and am excited to embark on a new travelling adventure.
I am not sure that studying abroad has changed me in the dramatic and cliché way that I thought it would. Upon my return to England it felt as If I had never left, I slipped back into British life with extreme ease, picked up my friendships where they had left off and started drinking tea again. America began to feel like a strange dream or a past life. However, I would say that my six months across the Atlantic has definitely noticeably improved my confidence. Being thrown into the deep end, completely alone has forced me to speak up more and to try not to hide behind other people– especially in classes were my participation counted towards 30% of my grade. I think it has also helped me to become better at dealing with stress – dislocating your elbow on the other side of the world with no mother to provide you with comfort and thousands of pounds worth of medical bills being thrown at you is very, very stressful. And, after 20 years of evading exercise, the fear of American food making me obese, finally forced me to join the gym. Aside from that though, I would say that I am still the same old Liv.
I have been asked so many times over the months since my return, ‘How was America?’ and I always struggle to answer. The question is so weighted. How can I reduce six months of my life down to a single sentence answer. How was America? I usually pause for a long moment and then just say ‘Weird’. I then normally follow this by stating that it was ‘an interesting life experience’ and then waffle on for about five minutes about how cool Texas was or how insane it is that the drinking age is 21, whilst the person who asked – and probably expected me to say something like ‘ it was good’ becomes increasingly bewildered by my random response. I don’t think that I have fully been able to process my time studying abroad yet. It would take me a month to properly answer that question. Maybe in a few years’ time when I have had the time to reflect properly on my experience, I will be able to categorise my feelings in a way that allows me to give a response to that question that doesn’t end up in a ten minute rant about the fact that their cheese tastes like plastic. However, until then, in order to evade me going into meltdown, I would advise people to ask me a more specific question than, ‘ How was America?’