Returning to Manchester

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

It’s strange to think that I’ve been back in the UK for as long as I was in America and the time has gone so quickly since my return. In a way my whole semester abroad feels like a distant memory, but sometimes it feels like just yesterday.

The adjustment back into Manchester life took a little longer than I had expected, although socially I felt like I slipped straight back in, the workload and teaching style I had been so used to here in first year came as a shock to the system. I feel I have forgotten slightly how to revise for one cumulative final exam, instead of the midterms to which I had become accustomed. Nonetheless, it’s now like I’ve never left, except I have so many incredible memories and friends from all over the globe.

If you’re reading this in doubt as to whether you’re going to miss out in Manchester – don’t worry! There are definitely conversations I can’t join in, but the semester flew by, and all of a sudden I am back to the same old routine and adventurous weekends involve a trip into Piccadilly as opposed to New York!

The only thing now that I’m struggling with is keeping up with my international friends dotted all over the globe, as with my class schedule and time differences it’s tricky to coordinate Skype. Thankfully social media makes it easy enough to keep in touch! I can’t believe it’s really all over but I’m making plans to see my friends, sofa hopping around Europe this summer and have some American friends coming to visit this summer too, so Stony Brook is definitely not just a distant memory!

Back to Manchester

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

I can’t believe I’m writing this already, but I am now at the end of my first week of lectures back in Manchester. I always knew that four months was going to be a relatively short time to spend in New York, but it flew by even quicker than I expected. Upon leaving I had mixed feelings, obviously heading home for Christmas with the family and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen since the summer was a great prospect, but leaving so soon was tough. I’d quickly gotten used to the way everything worked in Stony Brook, in what is basically its own little community. For all the foreign exchange students, living together, travelling together and generally experiencing life in the US for the first time had meant a lot of strong friendships were formed despite the short time we spent together. Saying goodbye to everyone felt strange, especially given we were all heading home to different countries, and for people like the Aussies and Kiwis, there is little prospect of seeing them again any time soon. Luckily, we were able to get a couple of big social events organised for everyone before we left. There were various promises of reunions in the near future and it will be great if we can make this happen.
Group Goodbye

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time abroad and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Meeting new people and making new friends from all over the world was great fun and now means I’ve got free accommodation in about fifteen different countries if I go to visit. I had the chance to see places I never would have been able to otherwise and I now know New York better than most Americans.

On the other hand, it is nice to be back in Manchester. As great as the Stony Brook campus was, it was in the middle of nowhere with few shops within walking distance and bars that half our group weren’t allowed in due to the 21 age limit on drinking. Having everything I need on my doorstep is a welcome relief, and I never realised just how much I’d missed the Magic buses. I can also easily nip home for the weekend, which obviously wasn’t an option from the other side of the Atlantic.

I had not had to revise over Christmas, having done all my exams before I left, so it was a bit of a shock to the system this week with essays and a dissertation all looming ahead over the coming weeks. I’m living with a group of other second years who I hadn’t actually met before moving in.  At one of the pre-departure socials in Manchester I did a deal with a guy who is doing his study abroad this semester and so needed someone to take over his room. This worked well as it meant I wasn’t worrying about accommodation while I was away. I’ve managed to settle in quickly and get on well with everyone in the house. I think this is definitely a good way of doing things for anyone going abroad in first semester next year.

As of next week, I will be a mentor to two students undertaking a study abroad programme here in Manchester. It will be exciting to meet people just at the start of their experience and I hope I can help them to have as much fun as I did with mine.

Leaving America

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

Sunsetting on my time in NYC
The sun setting on my time in NYC.

I originally wrote this blog the day I landed home from New York, but in the hustle and bustle of Christmas I’ve only just found/posted it!

I’ve just landed home from the seven hour flight that marks the end of my time studying abroad in New York. The last four months of my life have flown by, and sitting here reflecting on them it almost feels like a dream.

There were ups and downs and definitely moments when being in Manchester would have been much easier, but the memories I have come away with are some of the best of my life. Here are the things I wish I could go back and tell myself at the start of the journey.

  1. The time will fly by. The prospect of being away from Manchester for four months seemed pretty daunting at first, but that time flies when you’re having fun, and that really was the case for me.
  2. Don’t wish the time away. Pretty similar to above really, but there was one point about a month in where I wished that time would just move a little faster and I could get home and back to the ‘real world’. By the end I was willing the clock to move a little slower
  3. Be in the moment. There was no use worrying about missing out on Manchester life at the start, I quickly accepted that I was having a huge adventure and it would all be back to normal soon but that being in the moment/country you’re in is the most important thing.
  4. Always say yes. I think I did this anyway, but being abroad gave me so many opportunities to travel and experience things out of my comfort zone. It was great to be able to have the independence and live somewhere completely different.
  5. Take lots of pictures Being able to reflect on everything I did and remember the amazing times I had is something I will treasure, the pictures are a way of me sharing with everyone back home the amazing things I did.

I could go on, but now I’m going to get back into London life and enjoy being at home and my comfy bed! The move back to Manchester in January is the next big event in my calendar, which is strange after having travel plans almost every weekend for the last four months, but I’m definitely looking forward to the break!

Travelling Stateside

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

One of the main advantages of living so close to New York City is being within travelling distance of plenty of other major cities along the East Coast. I was keen to make the most of this and have managed to visit Washington DC, Philadelphia, Toronto and Boston during my time here so far. I enjoyed them all, but had surprisingly different experiences at each of them.

Washington DC

I visited the capital city quite soon after arriving with a group consisting of three Aussies, a Danish guy and Annabel, the other Manchester student. My residing memory of this weekend is always going to be the sweltering heat. The temperature was well in to the 30s all weekend and although I have seen this in parts of Europe before, the humidity that came with it was something new for me.

Washington is great in that the vast majority of the major attractions are contained in one small area of the city. We were lucky enough to find a nice, cheap hostel within walking distance of all of them.

Whitehouse

The White House was obviously something we were all keen to see. As it was Labor Day weekend, quite a big deal over here, I was expecting it to be extremely busy, but there was only us and a few other foreign tourists. Well, there were also a couple of protestors, one of whom – an old guy with a huge beard – is apparently there all day, every day playing the same recording on a loop. The complex itself was very impressive, as was the level of security. There was an armed cop or even more armed military personnel in every direction. The view of the White House is almost identical from both sides with high railings, a large fountain and immaculately kept grounds leading to the building itself. From the rear of the building, the huge Washington Monument is in clear view. This is a very tall obelisklike structure that was pretty much in the centre of everything we wanted to see. It had the White House to its right, the Korean War Memorial to the left, the Lincoln Memorial ahead and the Mall with countless museums behind. As it is raised and looking over all of these things, it was also the spot for probably the best views I’ve seen within a city. We spent time here and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Martin Luther King’s famous speech, deciding to save the museums for the following day. This turned out to be a good idea as there is a huge number of museums within such a small area, much more than we initially realised, and each on was large enough to spend a full day in (and they are all free!). Obviously we couldn’t see them all, but we did manage to fit in the Air and Space, American History and Natural History museums before heading to the National Archives. This was a highlight as it is where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are kept.

Lincoln Memorial

On the final morning before leaving, I woke up very early and did one of my favourite runs to date. I revisited the White House which was deserted, not even the beardy protest guy. I then looped around the Washington Memorial and up the Lincoln, again almost completely alone, before circling the Mall and heading home.

Overall, I would say that Washington DC was less busy, less culturally diverse and generally a lot calmer than the bustling streets of New York, which I found strange given it is the capital city. I don’t think this is the case in any of the European countries I’ve been too. It was a brilliant experience though and a big box ticked on my American to-do list.

Philadelphia

I went to Philadelphia with my twin brother who had flown over to visit me and his friend from Uni who was also in the States at the time. It is a much smaller city than either New York or DC and had less to offer in terms of quantity of major tourism landmarks. It did however, have both the Liberty Bell and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, better known as the place that has the steps that Rocky ran up.

Rocky

The area we were staying in was, according to the bus driver, not the nicest place in the city. On first sight I had to agree, but I tried not to be too judgemental and the hotel itself was nice enough. Walking back there late at night was, however, the least safe I have felt during my time in the States.

Whilst there, my American friends had advised me that I was obliged to try the local delicacy; the Philly Cheesesteak. Apparently they’re very proud of it, and we managed to find a local restaurant specialising in them. This claimed to be world-famous and to be fair, did have signed pictures of some pretty impressive people eating there. These included former presidents, famous sports stars and Denzel Washington. Needless to say, my expectations were high, but I was to be disappointed. The Philly Cheesesteak is basically a beef sandwich with some poor quality American cheese melted on top. I didn’t have the guts to say this to any of the locals though.

The nightlife in Philadelphia was a highlight. The barstaff and locals were all very keen to ensure that we had a great time and visited their favourite places, and just generally to look after their new British friends. Whilst I enjoyed my time in Philly, I probably won’t be revisiting it in the near future. It doesn’t offer as much as the other places I have visited.

Toronto

Quite a large group of the exchange students went to Toronto together. Some by plane, whilst others decided to brave a thirteen hour coach journey. By the time we had all arrived and checked in at the hostel it was early afternoon, so we headed out to explore the local area. Very close by was St Lawrence Market, a huge and very impressive multicultural food market with everything from Belgian chocolate to Indian spices. Just further was the Old Town; this looked almost Victorian and was very different from anything I had seen in any of the American cities. It included a bizarre sculpture, a microbrewery and the best chocolate shop I’ve ever seen.

Following this, we headed into the centre of the city to go up the CN Tower. I knew this was tall, but it towered over everything so much that it almost looks out of place in the skyline. We unintentionally timed our visit very well as the sun was setting, so we got both a day and night time view of the city. This was obviously a brilliant view, but the most striking thing for me was that, even from the top of the tower, Lake Ontario is too big for you to see the other side. It genuinely feels as if you are next to the sea because it’s such a huge body of water with its own ports, harbours and tides.

Toronto

The day after, we had booked on to a coach tour to Niagra Falls. This was about a ninety minute drive away. The Falls themselves were mind-blowing and it’s probably my favourite experience of travels so far, but I was disappointed by the surrounding area. It is hugely commercialised and organised into a main strip which feels more like Las Vegas than Canada. Luckily our tour took us to a nearby town, which was much more like what I was expecting. On the way back, the tour made a pit stop at a vineyard where we got to taste the local speciality, Ice Wine. The grapes are harvested when they are frozen in winter, meaning there is very little liquid and the wine is extremely sweet.

That evening, back in Toronto, we were able to sample the nightlife as a big group together. This hadn’t been possible so far due to some of them being under the drinking age (21 in US, 19 in Canada). It’s safe to say they made the most of it.

Niagra Falls

Toronto Island is a small island in Lake Ontario about half a mile from the city. This gave brilliant views of the city’s skyline. Apart from that though, it was a bit strange. There was a small “zoo” which basically consisted of some farm animals in a barn. There was also a roller coaster and log flume which were closed for the winter. Most intriguingly, although I didn’t check it out personally, there was a nudist beach.

Overall, I would say that Toronto is my favourite city to have visited. It’s a lot cleaner and calmer than New York, with the British and French influences it has a lot to offer culturally and the Canadian people in general are extremely polite and actively keen to help.

Boston

Me and a group of friends visited Boston over the Thanksgiving weekend. After avoiding the Black Friday crowds and enduring a four hour bus journey, we arrived to find Boston covered in snow. The city itself looked more European than anything else I’ve seen over here, with fewer skyscrapers and more old buildings like the town hall and countless churches. The hostel was perfectly located, close to just about everything we planned to do over the weekend.  First stop was ice-skating at Boston Common and Public Garden which is a small park in the middle of the city that had a rink set up for the winter. Despite being a lot worse than most of the people there, including most of the very young children, falls were kept to a minimum and serious injuries avoided. Mission accomplished.

The following day the hostel was running an unofficial tour of Harvard. Unofficial meant free, so we all signed up without hesitation. The campus itself was slightly underwhelming, and it was more the stories that the guide and other locals told us that made the tour interesting. Various souvenirs were bought and we decided to walk the two miles(ish) to MIT. This was vastly different to Harvard, with huge manufacturing facilities, technological hubs and multi-storey labs dotted everywhere around.

Boston State House

We had left our final day in Boston dedicated to completing the Freedom Trail. This is a three mile trip, marked out by a red brick line, which encompasses all the historical points of interest in the city. Many of these, including the City Hall, State House and various churches, all tied in heavily with when this area was under British rule. This was interesting, yet inevitably led to a few jokes aimed in my direction. The trail passed through Quincy Market; we had heard good things about this and weren’t disappointed. This a basically a giant food hall with stalls selling food from all over the world. We decided to sample the local delicacy, clam chowder, before crossing the bridge over the river and reaching the end of the Trail. This was close to the USS Constitution, a 200+ year old ship from the US Navy. It was only after I’d spent a good few minutes admiring the cannons that I realised this ship is primarily famous for the number of British ships it sunk. After this, a slightly more modern boat, a water taxi, took us back across the river allowing great views of both sides of the city. A final visit to Quincy Market and we battled the Thanksgiving weekend crowds back to New York.

USS Constitution

First Visit to NYC

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

The first weekend at Stony Brook arrived and me and a group of friends decided we were going to take the earliest opportunity we had to go in to New York City. So far, all I’d seen of the city was a brief view of the skyline from the runway at JFK before being taxied out to Stony Brook, so I was understandably very excited. There is a coach service that runs from the campus directly into the centre of the city so we turned up bright and early to wait for this. By the looks of it, almost all of the other 200 exchange students had had the same idea. I was expecting a Megabus style experience, but this wasn’t the case at all and 90 minutes of luxury later (leather seats, air-con and free snacks), we arrived in NYC.

Having seen a few of Europe’s major cities I wasn’t expecting to be as overwhelmed as I was by the size of everything. After a few minutes of standing around staring at everything, the plan we formulated on the bus came into action. First stop, Central Park. After a slightly longer than anticipated walk, we arrived and were greeted by various groups. Guided tours in different languages, a running team, a yoga session and a gaggle of old women on segways were all within a stone’s throw of the entrance. We managed to wander about halfway across the Park before hunger got the better of us and we decided to move on. Next stop, Times Square. During the walk between Central Park and Times Square, we came across a myriad of street vendors selling souvenirs, music, art and food. I’d seen this in other cities before, but never to the extent on show here. Eventually, we reached Times Square and immediately made the most of the photo opportunities. We had to be careful, though, to avoid the people dressed up as characters ranging from Minnie Mouse to Iron Man who are apparently known for jumping in to ruin your photo and then demanding a tip for doing so.

Times Square

After a few more minutes of standing around staring at everything, we decided to head to the SkyLine. This a relatively new addition to NYC that consists of a boardwalk raised about 30ft in to the air on platforms so you can walk through the city with a view from above the roads. I was surprised by how much more we could see even with an elevation so tiny in comparison to the skyscrapers surrounding us. We could see down to the Freedom Tower at the south end of the city at one side and over to the river on the other. It was also strange to be in the middle of such a bustling, vibrant city without having to worry about being run over by a taxi. The final major landmark we managed to visit that day was Grand Central Station.

Grand Central

With over one-hundred tracks, this is by far the most impressive station I’ve ever seen. There seemed to be more tourists there just to view the station than people actually using it for travel. The marble floors and huge arches made it look more like a palace than a train station. I can certainly see why so many scenes for films are shot there.  Evening came and we decided to head back to Times Square to eat in the Hard Rock Café. Here, we met a waiter who claimed to be able to remember the order for every table he had ever served and promised if we came back in the future he would know exactly what we all wanted (I am planning to test him on this at some point). This Hard Rock café, like most of the things I’d seen that day, was similar to ones I’d seen in other cities, only twice the size. Beers and burgers were consumed and eventually home time came. A two hour bus journey later and we were back on campus on Stony Brook. There were plenty of attractions we didn’t manage to fit in and so much more for us to see that we’ll no doubt be back in the city again very soon.