On-arrival thoughts & first impressions of Rutgers and New Jersey – Is this it?

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).

New Brunswick

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.

The LX bus on a good day.

Having a roommate

The view from my apartment (it looks better at night).

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!

Education

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.

Walmart

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.

“Voted New Jersey’s #1”?

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).

A film about my first week in America.

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.

The view I grind for, we are not the same.

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.

Our Thanksgiving Road Trip!

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. 

Life After Toronto: Where Next?

By Paul Alex Treadaway, University of Toronto

IMG_0131

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.

Continue reading “Life After Toronto: Where Next?”

Maryland Dhoom: A home away from home

*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.

A few of the photos from the dance shoot.

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:

A few of the venmo challenges

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.

Maryland Dhoom doing the “Dhoom face”.
A snapshot of the performance in D.C.

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!

PS if you want to watch our performance, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ywDo_K9LU

Goodbye presents from my Dhoomies! ❤
Hope you enjoyed reading my blog!

Hello to the Golden State

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.

Where Campus Lagoon (right) borders Campus Point Beach (left).

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.

The view from my balcony! Further in that direction, just around the cliff, will take you to Campus Point Beach, which is actually on the university.

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?

3rd October
24th October
2nd November

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.

A typical day in my life at UMass Amherst

7:00am – Rise and shine

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.

W. E. B. Du Bois Library

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. 

College in America Vs University in England (Seven differences)

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

Start of something new

Thulase Sivapooranan The University of Maryland, USA

Tuesday 20th of August 18:30

Moving-in Day

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:

  1. Take advantage of your British accent, the Americans love it!
  2. Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow –make the most of your time here.

‘How was America?’

A brief reflection on my time abroad:

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.

golden gate

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.

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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.

RUTGERS

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?’

cowgirls

Preparation is key

Why preparing financially, logistically and mentally is crucial before going abroad.

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University

It has been one year since I embarked on my journey to the US and so after some reflection, I thought I would share some tips on how to prepare to go abroad. There are so many things you have to think about before you leave like visas, accommodation, what to pack, which courses to take, which flight to take – the list feels endless! However, I would say that there are three key ways, in which you must prepare for your trip, and that is financially, logistically and probably most importantly mentally.

Preparing Financially

So it might seem obvious that of course you will have to think about your finances before you go abroad, especially if you want to fit some travelling into your budget. However, as much as I tried to budget before I went abroad, I had no idea of half the things I would end up spending my money on. First of all, I had no idea of the sheer volume of ubers I would end up taking, which are not cheap! However, there isn’t much you can do to avoid this because the public transport is non-existent and the distances are so large that if you tried to walk it would take you half the night. An uber costs between $7-$15 dollars, depending on where you want to go, which doesn’t sound much but adds up when you are taking a few a week and people forget to pay you back. It is also a cost that I don’t have in Manchester, since the buses run frequently, and so I hadn’t anticipated it. Secondly, were there were sooooo many travel plans! A lot of the exchange students I was living with, were only there for one semester and so obviously they wanted to make the most of their limited time, by travelling a lot. However, what I failed to realise at the time was that they only had to make their money stretch one semester, whilst I had to make my budget last a year. So, in fear of missing out I tried to keep up with their travel plans and ended up spending way too much money in the first semester. I had a great time, and visited a lot of great places but it meant that during the second semester I had to be much more careful about my spending. So be weary of that; keep in mind how long your budget needs to last and try to stick to it a bit better than I did. Thirdly, don’t expect things to be priced the same as in the UK. Again this might seem obvious, but I was caught out by the extreme prices of some items, which are relatively cheap in the UK, like deodorant. I would never have thought that a can of deodorant could be as expensive as $8 when it is only £1 in the UK. However, it isn’t all that bad because it balances out, with some things being much cheaper than they are at home. I think the most important point though is be flexible and wait until you have got to your host country to make a final budget. It will be so much easier to have a budget you can stick too once you have sussed out the prices of things. So make a rough budget before and then a better one after you’ve been there a couple of weeks, and always remember how long you are going for!

Preparing Logistically

I think the most important thing to say about logistics is UNDERPACK!!! I cannot express enough how important I think it is to not pack too much. I packed way too much. I was going for a year and so I took so many things but, guess what, I ended up buying so many things too! So when the time came to pack up my room, I had about an extra suitcase worth of stuff, and no extra suitcase to put it in. You will amass so much stuff during your time abroad, so take as little as possible. I took two big suitcases and a backpack and I wish I had only taken one big suitcase. Yes, you might not have absolutely everything you need, but how much stuff do you really need. I would say pack once, then take out half your stuff and pack again. You are still going to have a great year if you take three jumpers instead of six, plus you’ll have more room to bring things home.

Preparing Mentally

I think this is definitely the hardest way in which you will have to prepare for your time abroad. You have to come to terms with the fact that you will be away for an extended period of time and that things might be different when you come home. The world keeps on moving and whilst you might be worried about missing out on things at home, you will be having new adventures of your own. You have to get used to the fact that you won’t be able to stay completely up-to-date with your life at home, but that doesn’t matter. Home will always be there, it is always a place that you can come back to. Your year abroad, on the other hand, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you probably won’t be able to have so easily again. So you need to prepare yourself for how to deal with your new ‘dual life’. I would say the best thing to do is leave home behind, as much as that is possible. Tell your friends and family that you will aim to keep them updated but that you won’t be able to talk 24/7 because you’ll be too busy. It is very tiring trying to keep up to date with your life at home, whilst also living a whole new life, half way across the world.  Also you want to have the best experience possible and if you are constantly in contact with your life at home, you won’t be able to fully immerse yourself in this new life. I know the idea of cutting off regular contact with home and flying half way around the world, with little idea of what to expect, is daunting but that’s why it is key to prepare. Prepare yourself  with the idea that you won’t be coming home for a while and work out a communication plan with your friends and family. This will make it much easier to get your head around going away and will let you live your new life, without constantly worrying about keeping up with your friends at home, since you’ve told them you’ll be going off grid for a while!

 

But it wasn’t my first choice?

How to overcome any initial disappointment and realise you are still going to have a great year!

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?