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.

ski 2

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?

 

Discovering the Natural Side of the USA

A post to persuade you not to miss out on all the wild beauty the US has to offer!

By Sally Lord, North Carolina State University

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

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

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

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

Canyonlands, UT

k9.jpg

Capitol Reef, UT

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Bryce, UT

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Zion, UT

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Grand Canyon, AZ

k11

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

 

Travelling

One of the best things about America is its diversity. Every state is like a different country, from the mountains of Vermont to the deserts of Nevada, the swamps of Louisiana to the beaches of California, which meant that although I didn’t leave the states for 5 months, it felt like I’d travelled to a multitude of different countries. I visited 11 states in total, but it definitely felt like I’d seen more than just over a fifth of the country.  If I had to pick a top 3 places I would probably say Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana and of course New York, New York.

nyc fwends

I surprised myself with how much I loved the South.  My preconceptions of the southern states were racism, sexism, homophobia and cowboys, so I was a little apprehensive to leave the comfort of the north. Thankfully though I didn’t witness anything that I deemed hateful. Austin was full of Pride flags and every southerner that I met was nothing but extremely pleasant. What I loved about the South was its extreme Americanness, it felt like there was a lot more culture there and that the people were really laid back and eager to befriend us.

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Texas particularly was everything I’d dreamed it’d be. There were people dressed in cowboy boots and hats everywhere. And they weren’t in fancy dress. People genuinely dress like that because, in Texas, it is fashionable. Whilst in Texas I also visited a real-life saloon. This was amazing. There was a band belting out the countryiest of country tunes whilst everyone gleefully danced the two-step. Even better than this, out the back of the saloon there was an extremely Texan version of bingo being played. The premise: a large grid of numbers was placed in the middle of the yard and littered with chicken feed. Players then paid two dollars to be given a piece of paper with a number written on it, correlating to a number written on the grid. A chicken was then placed on the grid and the chicken defecated on the number of its choice. The player whose number matched up with the number chosen by the chicken won $200.  I felt like I was in an extremely odd dream that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to wake up from.

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New Orleans, took Americanness down a completely different route. As I sat eating beignets at café du monde, gazing at the European style architecture of the French quarter I felt as though I could have been in old Orléans. However, the constant cacophony of saxophones and trumpets coming from buskers on every street corner and the kids tap dancing for people’s spare change really emphasised that New Orleans is the birthplace of the very American culture of jazz. Everywhere you looked there were stalls advertising psychic readings and shops selling voodoo dolls, the latter unfortunately serving as a reminder that a lot of the culture here was born out of slavery.  NOLA was by far the most unique place that I visited in the US and I wish that I had been able to spend more than two days there.

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The final of my top 3 destinations felt more like home than merely somewhere I was visiting by the time I reached the end of my stay on the East coast. New York lived up to all of my extremely high expectations and even though I visited the city almost every weekend whilst I was studying at Rutgers, I felt as if I could wonder its streets for the rest of my life and never get bored. Time square really is that mesmerising. Brooklyn bridge really is that huge. Dollar pizza really is the best thing you will ever taste.

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The opportunity to travel the states for so long is something that I am extremely grateful for, and something which I never would have had the opportunity to do without study abroad. Whichever university you end up at whilst you are abroad, be sure to make the most out of travelling to its surrounding states/countries. It will make your experience unforgettable.

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How studying abroad helped me during my final year at Manchester

By Isaac Brooks

Having finished my final year at Manchester, and now getting ready for my graduation next month, it is unbelievable that it is over a year since I returned from my year abroad at Arizona State University. Reflecting back on this time it is impossible to ignore the ways that studying abroad has had a positive impact on my final year, as well as looking into the future, the next steps after graduating.

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Thank You and Goodbye UMASS!

By Doris Ngai, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA

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This time last month, summer vacation officially began for me when most of my friends at Manchester are still revising for their end of May and early June exams. I went to Orlando Universal Studios and Disneyland with my significant other that I met during my semester abroad at Umass. I think the best things in life really do happen to us so unexpectedly.

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‘It won’t happen to me’

Before leaving to go to America, the prospective exchange students were made to go to a meeting titled ‘it won’t happen to me’, where we had to sit through a PowerPoint of horrific incidences which previous exchange students had been involved in, e.g. being caught up in natural disasters or deported for underage drinking.  The aim of the PowerPoint was to encourage us students to be vigilant whilst on exchange and consequently, I completely ignored any advice that was given.  ‘Nothing like that is going to happen to me’, came my irritatingly annoying thoughts, ‘nothing like that ever happens to me’. When I saw the price of health insurance for one semester ($1200) I very nearly refused to get it, purely as a matter of principal. Thankfully though, I was eventually persuaded, and  I cannot begin to articulate how thankful I am for that.

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