The Big Apple

By Annabel Savage (Stony Brook University, The State University of New York, USA)

I’ve just returned to SBU from Thanksgiving, and while passing through New York, on the way to visit friends, I realise how much I have taken my proximity to the city for granted. Life will be a little less magical when it is no longer a bus ride away.

No matter how many times I go into the city, it will never loose its charm. Only a bus ride away from campus, and with four months to explore, I was convinced I’d tick everything off my list. Instead, everything is still very much unchecked and I find myself with only 2 weeks to go.

Although there is still a list of things I would like to do, I feel I’ve explored the city as more than a tourist, and often find myself wandering around, trying out different cafes and taking in the atmosphere downtown.

Here are some of my highlights:

  • Bike Rides in Central Park – My brother came to visit for a weekend in October and the weather was still nice enough to enjoy all the Park had to offer. The Park itself is huge, so you’re slightly limited by foot, but renting bikes allowed us to get all the way to the top of the Park, see the different lakes and get a little exercise (so we could pretend to justify the food we ate later).
Bike rides through the park
  • Ice-Skating in Central Park – Running theme; the Park is beautiful! To celebrate our last weekend together in the city before Thanksgiving and exams, some of the internationals and I went into the city for the weekend; and no Christmas trip would be complete without ice-skating. It was picturesque and relatively quiet and felt like we were on a film set!
Ice-Skating in Central Park
  • Broadway – Coming from London, I’ve seen quite a few West End productions, but there was something magical about seeing Matilda the Musical on Broadway! I took a 7 year-old family friend, and I’m not sure who enjoyed it more! I was also lucky enough to see a play with my brother which had transferred from the West End.
Even the set was incredible at Matilda
  • Top of the Rock – For such a tall city it’s difficult to see it from above, but the Rockefeller, at 70 floors high, gave us a great vantage point over Central Park, the Empire State and the rest of Manhattan. I’m still hoping to fit in a night-time trip too!
Central Park from the Top of the Rock
  • Long walks – My dad also came out to visit and we spent 8 hours walking from the Park down to the World Trade Centre Memorial. The Memorial itself has been beautifully done and it a lovely place for reflection. We explored Downtown – Soho, Greenwich Village, Tribeca with amazing shops and cafes!
  • Shopping – No trip to the City would be complete without a little shop! I’m saving myself for the last weekend here, so I don’t run out of money before I return home, but with cheaper prices and numerous exclusive chains and boutiques it would be rude not to!
  • Eating! – Finally the food! Although the portion sizes often leave me defeated, it’s hard not to be lured in by the endless options of quirky cafes. I’ve eaten overlooking the Grand Central concourse, tried out ‘kronuts’ and shared a table with Jake Gyllenhaal in Soho at breakfast! Certainly beats eating in the Uni canteen!
Gelato in Eataly

Thankfully I still have one weekend after finals to explore before I head back to England! For now it’s back to the library!

Continue reading “The Big Apple”

The US Exam System

By Joe Vis (Stony Brook University, The State University of New York, USA)

The Differences in the Exam Process

Studying is obviously a massive part of my time abroad and I haven’t really mentioned it in my blogs so far, so am going to cover it here.

The exam system works a little differently over here and this comes with some pros and cons. Obviously Stony Brook is the only place I have studied, but from what I can gather, these differences are widespread in the US. First of all, there is no January exam period. At Stony Brook, the assessment is continuous throughout the semester. This means that the exams I take towards the middle of December will be my last. There will be no revision over Christmas and January will be completely free which is obviously a massive bonus. However, given I have been in uni since the middle of August as opposed to the end of September, the total study time for the semester is very similar.

The cumulative assessment works differently for different courses. For one of mine, there are three exams throughout the semester, each covering of a third of the course and each worth the same amount. Another splits the grade between three midterm exams worth an increasingly higher proportion, and two essays. One is based just on two essays which I write and my lab module is based on a weekly lab report, weekly quiz and class participation. All of this means that, at times, the workload can be very intense. Due to the nature of the courses, it is very possible to have two essay deadlines in the same week as two midterm exams and a lab report. These weeks can be tough but the thought of a revision free Christmas period helps in getting through them.

Whilst some of the first year modules at Manchester did have online assessments throughout the semester in my first year, they only totalled around 20% of the grade for the module or even less, meaning an individual assessment could be worth less than 5%. The exams at the end of the semester contributed by far the most. This meant that having exams in October that contribute very significantly to my grade was a bit of a shock, but did ensure that I was learning the material from the start rather than cramming close to exam time. Obviously, this is never an advisable tactic, but I’m sure most Manchester students have done it at some point. With the system here, it’s just not possible. The lack of a large pre-exam revision period felt a bit strange at first, but I have found that learning the material in smaller sections as I go long is actually a better way of understanding it.

Another big difference I have noticed is that the major/minor system over here means virtually none of my classmates are studying four higher level biology classes like I am. They will choose maybe two third-year neurobiology classes but then have two “electives”. From what I can gather, pretty much anything goes. One of my lab partners does a first year political science class, whilst another does one about film studies. They seem genuinely surprised that, as a neuroscience student, I would only choose neuroscience or at least biological modules. Some of the other foreign exchange students have taken advantage of the chance to study something different but, all my classes had to be approved by the Department of Life Sciences back at Manchester before I left. They were, understandably, keen for these to match closely with what I would have been studying had I not been abroad. In addition to the extra workload I seem to have compared to my American classmates, I am having to get used to the different grading system. Over here, an A or A+, which is roughly equivalent to a first at home, requires around a 90% average over the course as opposed to 70% in Manchester. This is a little intimidating, and knowing that my grades will be scaled down upon my return means that I am finding myself disappointed with scores that are much higher than I would be achieving back home (percentage-wise).

I have been managing to enjoy myself on top of all the studying. I’ve already visited Washington DC, Philadelphia and Toronto and intend to see Boston before I come home. My family have been to visit, which was eventful but brilliant, and a friend from home is coming to visit soon too. I’ve been taking advantage of being so close to NYC by heading in as much as possible. It feels strange to have such little time left here already but I’ve loved it so far and am looking forward to the time I have left.

A lot can change in a year

By Annabel Savage (Stony Brook University, The State University of New York, USA)

This time last year I was trawling through blogs trying to decide if I was going to apply for the Study Abroad Programme. If this is you today… DO IT! A year ago I was sitting in Manchester, searching through the lists of different universities, trying to match up courses and wondering if perhaps it was too much of a challenge, and that was just the application let alone the move! Now I’m sitting on Long Island, packing for a trip to Canada, with New York my closest major city… This blog focuses more on the studying, which is the biggest aspect of my time on campus, so choose somewhere with courses that appeal to you, not just for the reputation or location. I am hugely lucky that I get all 3! The time is flying by and choosing SBU is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Academic Differences

When I arrived in America I wasn’t sure how the teaching between Manchester and SBU would match up. However, 7 weeks in, I’m starting to feel like the similarities may be fewer than the differences.


Unlike at Manchester, there is no break between classes and exams to consolidate your knowledge. I’ve just finished my first round of midterms and, although there is less content, the techniques and study skills required here are very different. There’s always room for improvement and I’m still learning, so hopefully this will reflect in my scores next time.


In the first week I had wondered why the American students in my classes gave me slightly odd looks when I listed off the classes I was taking. Turns out no one takes four third year Biology classes without risking social suicide. The credit system here is set up so that as well as taking classes from your major, you also have to take electives, which will be first or second year courses. However, the professors are amazing and the content is challenging but interesting and the library has quickly become my refuge!


Unlike Manchester, the lectures here start at 8.30am, which has been fine on sunny days, but I’m dreading when winter sets in. The lectures also all run for an hour and a half, something I am still getting used to. It’s great because the content is taught thoroughly in large blocks, but it’s also a challenge to stay focused for such a long time period and I find myself needing to review the last 15 minutes more thoroughly than the first after the lectures!

It hasn’t been ‘all work, no play’ though. Since I last wrote, the Uni organised a trip to a Yankees baseball game, with the Yankess beating the Toronto Blue Jays by 5 runs to 3. Hearing the whole stadium sing ‘New York, New York’ at the end is something I will never forget.

We also had our homecoming game (Varsity but on another level) which was incredible. I spent it with American classmates and got the ‘true’ experience. The loyalty to the Seawolves was evident all over the parking lots and the atmosphere inside the stadium was electric. Unfortunately, we lost the game in the last minute and a half, but it was still a day I will never forget.

I’ve also seen friends from home, been to a Broadway show and seen the city from the ‘Top of the Rock,’ so I am certainly making the most of my free time. This weekend a group of international students are making a trip to Toronto to see Niagara Falls and my mum is coming to visit the weekend after, so there’s a lot to look forward to. With time is flying by, we’re already planning ahead to the end of November!

Study abroad has already provided me with many challenges and amazing memories, I can’t wait to see what the next few months will bring!

At the Yankees Stadium!
At the Yankees Game!
Empire State of Mind
Empire State of Mind
On top of the World
On Top of the World
Germany, NZ, England and Australia at Homecoming