By Gavin Dunn (University of Maryland, College Park, USA)
Well, it’s a few days before I start my trip to the University of Maryland, College Park, and to be honest, it hasn’t hit me yet. I’m definitely nervous, but being back in Manchester to finish work has really got me thinking I’m going to be starting my second semester here. Generally, most of my ‘to-dos’ on my to-do list have been crossed off, but I still feel so under prepared. With alternative assessments taking up the majority of my time over Christmas, there hasn’t been much time for anything else!
Overall, this exchange has been around a year of organising. Applying to the International Programmes Office in Manchester, being accepted. Applying to the University of Maryland, being accepted. Applying for an American visa, being accepted. A lot of paperwork, a lot of time, but finally I am now preparing to go. My thoughts are now on how I’m going to cope with America East Coast winters. With temperatures going into the minuses I think I’m going to need some boots, a big jacket and obviously the trusty Manchester University bobble hat we’ve been given.
I guess I’m nervous about a few things. Being away from my friends and family for the longest time in my life. Moving to a country that I’ve only visited once before. Sharing a room with someone I haven’t met. However, this is an opportunity that I won’t ever get again. I am excited to actually visit the country I am doing my degree on, but I think there will be a culture shock. I’m definitely going to have to get used to their slang like pants being trousers, biscuits being something completely different, even the spelling. But these things will come in time, I’m just going to have to go out there and do it!
The next time you hear from me I’ll be in the big U.S of A!
Leaving The University of Maryland was really hard. I knew it would be difficult to leave new friends behind and to let go of the travelling bug I’d caught during my time abroad. But what I didn’t expect was to find it so difficult to understand leaving. It felt almost as if I had started over and built a new university experience because everything was so different and exciting. So when it came to the end it was hard to comprehend the fleeting nature of my time abroad, and to let go of everything I had enjoyed so much. I’m the type of person that loves change – I moved around a lot as a child, was constantly switching schools, joining new clubs and fitting into now spaces. I took on Maryland just as I took on any new change, but this was one of the hardest places to leave behind. You feel special when you’re abroad; everything is exciting and everyone is excited with you. You learn to act within and relish in a new framework. I loved all of my classes, I loved the campus, I loved the friendships I made, I loved the atmosphere. So leaving was a hard pill to swallow.
The main difference I think I appreciated the most between Manchester and Maryland was the exuberance of the Maryland students and the amount of school spirit every student had woven through them. It was so fun to be in an environment so excited about the school and so passionate about its success. It was great to watch sports games that would end up on television and wear fun Terp merchandise around campus. The school spirit made everyone seem part of one big community and it was cool to feel a part of something so vast.
The classes were great, my teachers were engaging and interested in my success. The teaching style was very different from the UK, and I found that the lecturers were mostly focused on student progression and seeing them grow throughout the course – and they were allowed to do so within the system of constant assessment. Yes, I resented this at first. Yes, I was disheartened by lower grades at the beginning of the semester. But by the end of the semester I really came to appreciate how much it helped me academically.
I think I’ve gushed about my friends enough in my previous blogs, but of course they were integral to my time in Maryland and they are all very special to me. So thanks guys.
All in all I cannot imagine having a better experience abroad. I wouldn’t change a thing about it and I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity to study abroad and run with it, because it’s an experience you’re unlikely to be offered again. I had an incredible time abroad that I won’t ever want to forget.
While I did work very hard at Maryland, and it was occasionally difficult to balance work and play, I had a great opportunity to explore the US while on exchange, and explore I did! I think an exchange really teaches you to seize the day, it feels like such a waste to sit around watching Netflix all day and so I’ve become much more proactive with my time. As a result I have had some awesome experiences while I’ve been here.
Sports at American College are a must, and so we attended a few basketball games at Maryland’s incredible Comcast Centre.
We explored DC, and obviously saw The White House. It was great being in College Park because of its proximity to DC and the ease of getting in on the metro! I’m sure I’ll appreciate my short trip into London much more when I get home.
I did an 8k and a 5k run down in Virginia Beach with my family while I was here, one was for St Patricks’ day and the other was a colour run – so fun!
I visited Baltimore twice, such an interesting city with so much history and so many beautiful sights. It also didn’t hurt that we had a local tour-guide to escort us around (thanks Annie!). That is another great thing about studying abroad, and in American in particular, your friends will be scattered everywhere!
My first big trip of the semester was to Philadelphia, and although it was still pretty freezing while we were there, it was great to see the city and explore.
And then Spring Break rolled around and of course I had to jet off to the Bahamas! This was such an incredible experience, if a little strange to be in 30degree heat while it was snowing back in Maryland. And there wasn’t much of an opportunity to show off our tan when we got back, but the satisfaction of being an English Rose (nice way of saying very pale) and brown in March made up for it!
And then I had my 20th Birthday in College Park and my wonderful friends came for dinner with me at our campus restaurant.
Of course what would an exchange in America be without a trip to New York City?! We saw three plays in three days (Newsies, Once and Of Mice and Men), got into the MoMa for free, ran into President Obama and chilled out in Central park in the sun, could it get much better?
And then Annabel and I took a trip to the theme park Busch Gardens, which was simply incredible.
I also joined my extended family in Kiawah Island in South Carolina for (American) mother’s day and a wonderful few days of relaxing and amazing food.
And now I’m finished my exams and set to spend almost my entire summer by the beach and working by the oceanfront. I’m so so sad that my semester studying in Maryland is over, but at least my time in America is not! Now I’m going to run outside and get a tan!
(P.S. I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who made my travels and semester possible – all of my exchange coordinators, my parents, my extended family in America, and of course all of the wonderful friends I’ve made in Maryland (yes, and you Annabel). You all know who you are – so thank you!)
By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).
I think one of the things most British exchanges are nervous about when studying in America is the prospect of having a roommate. I know I was worried when I arrived – what if we didn’t get along, what if they stayed up too late and were loud or messy? There are most definitely many things to worry over.
When I arrived at The University of Maryland, having received my room assignment maybe only a week before, my roommate wasn’t due to move back in for a few more days. I’d done the obligatory Facebook stalk and she seemed like she would be a nice girl. When I first walked into the room I was faced with a wall full of Doctor Who posters – ok, well at least she was into the British thing. I saw that she was a gymnast – so she would be out of the room for practice a lot. Things were looking great.
And then she arrived. I’m not going to use her real name, so we’re going to call her Amy. Lets just say that when Amy arrived most of my fears of having a roommate were realised. Every moment in the room together was awkward, every conversation seemed to stall, we had opposing sleeping habits (she got up at 4am to go on gymnastics demonstrations!), she disliked my late (midnight) nights on Saturdays – the list goes on. But, no big deal, I didn’t need to be her best friend and we could co-exist peacefully enough. Bigger but – I had no friends. So I set off into the rest of my dorm to make them. I left a note on my door saying that I was new and asking people to knock and say hello. No one ever did. I would try to strike up conversation when washing my face in the bathroom, but was mostly met with blank faces. I sat in the common areas and tried to mingle, but to no avail. Things just were not going well that first week. See, I had been put in the assigned Orthodox Jewish dorm, and had been told by many that they were not very welcoming to newcomers. No judgement, they like what they like, but it put me in a difficult situation.
Then I made the best decision I have all exchange. I asked for help! I went to the head of my dorm, explained my problems and he agreed to move me that week! Really, it was that simple. I’m not going to say it wasn’t a little awkward packing up my stuff with Amy in the room. I’m not going to say I didn’t lie about why I was ‘being forced to move’. But soon I was out and making the short move into my new dorm – Dorchester Hall.
I moved in with an Australian exchange I’d met that happened to have a room to herself and soon settled in. What a difference. My now roommate, Cinddy (I know she won’t mind me using her real name) is the kindest and most considerate roommate I could have hoped for. Sure, sometimes we go to sleep at different times, but we are always respectful and quiet if the other is sleeping, and that’s what sleep masks are made for (this is a must have item)! We are both equally a little messy and we both loathe mornings. She doesn’t get mad if I’m dying of hunger and I steal one of her tasty Australian cookies (TimTams) and I let her use the fridge my aunt Donna loaned me (Thanks Donna!). She is one of the greatest friends I have made here. And the dorm is much friendlier too. I’ve met some wonderful people (shout out to Annie, Kate, Natalie, Paulina and Jackie) in Dorchester and am so so happy I moved.
So the moral of the story? Yes, things weren’t great for me when I first arrived. But I wasn’t going to sit in my room all day with no friends and cry about it! I took action and ended up in an excellent situation. If on exchange you’re unhappy with anything, please go and speak to someone, ask how they can help make your situation better. We’re only here for a brief period of time, and thankfully I didn’t waste any more than two weeks of it being unhappy.
And now, with only a few weeks left of exchange, I’m actually quite sad to go back to my own room with no one there to moan about my day or to laugh with. I’m going to go now, before I start lamenting over my exchange coming to an end.
By Madeleine Taylor (University of Maryland, USA).
So, I really haven’t been keeping up with this blog very well lately and I am about to explain part of the reason why.
The academics here in America could not be more different than back in England. I’ll lay out the differences simply:
Method of assessment: Here in Maryland I have at least 4 methods of assessment for each of my classes, with participation (attendance, talking in class and sometimes bi-weekly response papers) usually counts for around 20% of your final grade. For me, a massively keen student, participation grades have been great – but if you’re not used to showing up for class then this’ll be a harsh change!
Volume of work: Obviously with a minimum four assessments instead of the usual two in Manchester there is a lot more to get done here. In Maryland they call it busy work – work that isn’t particularly difficult but that takes a lot of time. This is what has been the most difficult adjustment for me. I have at a minimum seven or eight hours of work for each of my four subjects a week and then on top of that any work I have to do for assessment deadlines. This may not seem like a lot, but compared to the amount of work I did back in Manchester I would say in Maryland I do triple.
Mid-terms: Almost every class will have some sort of assessment halfway through the semester, and this is usually in the form of an exam. So be prepared to revise more. However sometimes this is an advantage as teachers may choose to only put material learned after the midterm on the final exam, which means less information to cram in when it comes to the last week of the semester!
Grading: Here is where the sun shines on this so far bleak account. I have been in Maryland for a little over two months now and I have yet to receive any grade below a 92% or an A-. Considering the volume of assessments I’ve had I think this is pretty impressive. And no, this is not me bragging about my intelligence – this is me saying that if you come here and do the work, you will get a good grade. Say goodbye to 65s and 68s.
Teachers: The teachers here are pretty different. I’ve found that they are much more willing to help you improve if you get a bad grade or even if you just feel a little flustered with the task at hand. They’ll give you extra credit (which is awesome: you can come out of a class with over 100%), or check your drafts, or discuss the lecture topics with you etc. Its not that my lecturers in Manchester won’t do this, its just the my lecturers in Maryland are much more accessible and approachable in these matters – they put the help out there for you to grab, rather than making you seek for it. Maybe this is babying, maybe this isn’t in the university spirit, but I sure appreciate it. They also have no qualms with knowing who you are, how engaged you appear in class and which piece of work you did and applying this to your grade. No anonymous marking here.
Getting to class: This may just be for me, but Maryland is a campus university and so I live a four minutes walk away from all of my academic buildings (yes, specifics help me sleep longer).
Breaks: Spring break (a week) is the only break you will get in your semester in America, so don’t expect the same amount of time off we get in the UK.
I hope this has been a comprehensive (and not boring) list for anyone interested in American university academics. Some things may vary institution to institution, but I hope this gives you a good idea of what to expect if you fly out here on an adventure of your own. Do not be put off, things may be different and things may seem harder or more strenuous, but I’ve found the work here to be enjoyable and engaging; anything different is exciting! It is definitely worth it! And now that my mid-terms are over I hope to update more frequently.
The prospect of flying nine hours across ‘the pond’ for eight months is pretty daunting. There will be so much to adjust to and appreciate, and so little time to do so. Not seeing my family for that long is going to be difficult, but I am excited to strike out on my own and throw myself into life at the University of Maryland. After all, my well known motto is: You are a strong, independent woman. And I plan to fully realise this alter-ego on my trip (we’ll see how that goes).
Packing was a struggle; how could I possibly fit eight months worth of stuff into two measly (when I say measly I mean behemoth duffle bags, but still) suitcases? Well I tried and I failed. Unfortunately I had to resign myself to the fact that I could not bring thirty books and a dozen nicnacks and my two dogs. Oh the struggle.
Once my packing was finished the real nerves set in. This was actually happening. I would be out of touch with Manchester life for over half a year and eventually something completely new would be my norm. I am, however, very lucky to have an amazing family living only four hours (a very short distance by American standards) from the University of Maryland, who will no doubt treat me too well and help me get settled. So shout out to my amazing family!
I have been assigned a roommate, which I am very apprehensive about, but hopefully everything will work out, and I know my move-in date. I’ve filled out all of my paperwork, checked my passport is in date and contacted my advisor in Maryland. I think everything is covered, and now all there is left to do is vegetate for nine hours whilst watching terrible movies and eating questionable food (yes, this is how I see flying) before my adventure begins. Wish me luck!
So I have been in the USA now for just over a week and I am stressed! I’ve sorted out a bank account and my mobile phone. I’ve studied for and taken my Virginia driving test (I passed, yay!), and re-registered my cousin’s car in my name (which I bought from her – thanks Ariel for the sweet ride!).
I’ve registered for classes and bought a parking space at Maryland. I’ve checked and rechecked my train tickets from Virginia Beach (where I am staying with my family) to Maryland and checked the weather schedules. Lets halt there at the last one – there has been a polar vortex this past week, with temperatures in the US dropping to record lows. So I’ve had to constantly check the weather schedules. Fingers crossed for a week clear of snow!
And lo and behold, on move-in day a blizzard comes to town and the school is closed. Thankfully I was staying with my Mum’s best friend Kate in Maryland at the time, so didn’t have to worry about extending a hotel stay. We also had an awesome day shovelling snow, drinking hot chocolate and making homemade pizzas, so I’m not really complaining.
I am equally nervous and excited for move in, but can’t wait to officially start my semester abroad!