The last one, or adjusting to life back in Manchester

 

by Rhiannon Jones, (formerly) University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

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A rare nice day in Manchester making it good to be back

 

As my time in Illinois is replaced by an obligation to talk at study abroad fairs, the moment has come for my last blog post on this site. I’ve actually come back to Manchester twice now, once over summer and once for the start of term so this is a little overdue. Having started this paragraph in October and finally finishes it in December, I suppose I have been putting off the last piece of studying abroad.

Continue reading “The last one, or adjusting to life back in Manchester”

Reflections on Studying Abroad (just another excuse to keep talking about my year abroad, really)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So this is my eighth and final blog (try not to get too upset) and its basically just a short one to talk about what it’s like being back in Manchester, post-Illinois.

Continue reading “Reflections on Studying Abroad (just another excuse to keep talking about my year abroad, really)”

Summer travels, or the reason I need a job

By Rhiannon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA)

Our time at Illinois had finished. Finals were done with, emotional goodbyes were had and we had a month left on our visas before we got deported from the country. We were heading to the West Coast.

The initial planning wasn’t the laid-back ‘Cali’ lifestyle that the trip itself promised. With seven of us to book flights, hostels, car hire, coaches and entrance tickets for, a month to remember started out more as an exercise in herding cats. Thankfully someone more organised than me was fluent in Google Docs and the phrase “check the spreadsheet’ became a mantra, chanted back at you if you wasted precious planning time with stupid questions. Yelp, Hostel World and AirBnB became our new best friends. The driving spotify playlists were curated months in advance and in our 1am revision session, procrastination came in the form of looking at restaurants four states away.

Our first stop was San Francisco. I’ve never been to California before so stepping off the plane into pleasantly dry heat and palm tree-lined streets was incredible. It had felt like this trip was such a long time coming. Even before I’d left for study abroad I knew I wasn’t just there to study but to explore the States. This was the last big adventure and admittedly the end of my savings. My highlight of our couple of days in San Fran was cycling along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was immensely satisfying to see our seven-man bike convoy roll up to the base of one of the most famous landmarks in the US knowing that we’d worked against gravel and a significant head wind to get there. We also stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts on the way. Not actually a palace but an imagining of a crumbling Roman ruin, and favourite for wedding photographers, meaning that I got some great Instagram material. My main tip for San Francisco (or SF to the cool kids) is to bring a good pair of shoes. As students who were looking at another three weeks of travelling, we walked a lot (maybe too much) in the city famous for its hills. A contrast to the boringly flat Midwest, some roads even had a 40° incline. It meant walking around the corner from our hostel could give glimpses of the most amazing views over the city below but you basically had do leg day to do so.

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SF from the top of a hill, Alcatraz watch tower and a stroll around the Palace of Fine Arts.

We picked up the cars on our last day in in SF and made our way over to the first proper stop on our road trip, Yosemite National Park. ‘Only’ 3 hours away from the city but nestled in mountains higher than anything in the UK, it’s understandably popular with Californians. This gave me a problem though; I might have forgotten during my desperate panic to ship stuff home that I would actually need warm clothes to go hiking in. An issue especially considering we saw snow on our second day. Cobbling together something from the overweight bag I dragged around the country with me, we prepared to hike the ‘strenuous’ climb to Nevada falls. The hike started at 3000ft and climbed another 2000 meaning the view from the top was literally breath taking and looking back at the photos we also got incredibly lucky with the weather. It’s fair to say we’re not exactly gym rats but we still managed the climb in 4 hours. A brief moment was had for the poor pair of sunglasses that got taken back down the hike via a torrent of water hurtling off the side of the cliff face. I would absolutely recommend Yosemite to everyone, regardless of you hiking ability (there’s more gentle ones too!) but go during the week. The weekends get very busy and the paths a little slower to navigate.

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Sunset by the roadside, the spectacular Yosemite falls and the climb to the top.

Coming back down to sea level and warmer weather, we travelled most of the journey south along the Pacific Coast Highway. Unusually for US highways this road actually has bends in it as it follows the coastline and gives continuously beautiful views of the ocean the whole way. We made smaller overnight stops at Monterey and Santa Barbara, to break the two-day journey down, and serve as an opportunity to have some amazing seafood. This lead to our next major stop, Los Angeles, which I would describe it as amazing and weird at the same time. Around the corner from our house was a hipster ice cream shop that allowed us to try flavours like rose water, lavender and olive. In the end I opted for the classic salted caramel. Everything there is incredibly spread out so your only travel option is to take a car and unfortunately they all drive like assholes. Thankfully we had decided to not return our rental cars and so got to see sunset over the city from the Griffith observatory, people working out on Venice Beach and a quick tour around UCLA. I also had a major nerd moment when I realised that we’d driven through the Back to the Future tunnel (smaller in real life than it looks).

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The Pacific Coast Highway, between the Walt Disney concert hall and having a look around UCLA.

The final stop of our road trip was a straight drive from LA into the desert. On our way there we watched the temperature rise and rise as we got closer to the unmistakeable Las Vegas, to handily coincide with Angus’ 21st birthday. We said goodbye to the cars (a more emotional event for some more than others) and took to the strip by foot. The city is ridiculous. Every building is draped with lights and is a monument to ridiculous extravagance. In recovering from the night before we went to an all-you-can-eat sushi place. I actually felt disgusted by how much food we ate, to the point the waitress actually commented on it. It was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten but in hindsight, maybe eating that much fish in the middle of a dessert wasn’t the smartest move. We had an amazing weekend and I like to think we celebrated our friend’s particular milestone in memorable fashion, but don’t think I’m ready to go back again anytime soon.

P.S. To save this blog being longer than it already is (and this was only the first half), some things didn’t make the cut. These photos are the best of the rest

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Chicago theatre during a packed graduation, the Berkeley bear and the Grand Canyon.

 

Reflections on Leaving, or Excuses Why I Didn’t Do This Two Months Ago

By Rhiannon Jones (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA)

The best time to write a reflection piece is probably when it’s still fresh. For me, that would have been around the time of my last exam in Illinois two months ago. The problem with studying abroad (although there aren’t many) is that you never seem to have the time to sit around; to appreciate that what’s going on around you is actually pretty crazy. Two months ago I was sitting six time zones away, significantly warmer, bitching about how I’m going to fail finals. Now I’m revelling over the fact that I can’t believe its over.

Continue reading “Reflections on Leaving, or Excuses Why I Didn’t Do This Two Months Ago”

End of exchange reflections (penned somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I really should have been trying to sleep)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So 10 months later and I’m permanently back in the land of real bacon, correct spellings, day/month/year and people who know how to make a proper cup of tea (I’ve had 12 already). For my final blog, instead of getting all sappy and emotional about how amazing this year has been I thought I’d finish off by sharing some of the worldly wisdom I’ve acquired since August. Here are a few of my top tips and insider hints for studying abroad at the University of Illinois, navigating the USA in general, and for all of those things you think will never happen, but actually did:

(interspersed with various photos from UIUC post-spring break and summer travels)

Continue reading “End of exchange reflections (penned somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I really should have been trying to sleep)”

Spring Break Travels (or Cuba: Fun yet Maddeningly Frustrating)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

“Fun but maddeningly frustrating” is the line used to describe Cuba on the back of the Lonely Planet Guide and by the end of our second day in the country, it had pretty much become our mantra for the trip.

If you’d asked me a year ago where I thought I’d be spending my spring break while on exchange in the USA I’d probably have said Mexico, or Florida, or some other typical location known for its beaches and partying. Then one day someone mentioned off-hand, “Guys, wouldn’t it be hilarious if we went to Cuba for spring break?”.

I’ll admit there was something enticing about the idea of, while on our American exchange, spending our break somewhere that Americans can’t actually go (at least not just for tourism reasons) and after triple checking with the international office at Illinois and various embassies that, yes, we would be allowed back into the country after having gone to Cuba, our spring break plans really started to take off.

Continue reading “Spring Break Travels (or Cuba: Fun yet Maddeningly Frustrating)”

Semester Two Update (or its midterm season again so seems like the perfect time to start writing another blog)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

I’m now five weeks into my second semester here at UIUC, so it’s probably a good a time as any to talk a bit about what it’s like being back on campus, what I’ve been up to so far, what’s different about this semester and what’s very much the same.

Continue reading “Semester Two Update (or its midterm season again so seems like the perfect time to start writing another blog)”

Before I came back home.

By Rhiannon Jones, Chemistry, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

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As I lay here feeling like I’m dying from a cold, it seems like the perfect time to give an update on what I’ve been up to back in the “Land of Lincoln”. After flying home for a much-needed Christmas with the family, I cut my one-month winter break short and Continue reading “Before I came back home.”

Goodbye 2015, or being overly dramatic that another year is over

Saying goodbye is never easy, and although I’m coming back to Illinois in January, I won’t be joined by some of the craziest, most entertaining and enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. Continue reading “Goodbye 2015, or being overly dramatic that another year is over”

Academic differences in the USA (because it’s not called “study” abroad for nothing)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So now that I’m officially half-way through my exchange and no longer in the midst of the panic and stress of final exams I thought it would be a good time to take a step back and talk about the actual “study” part of studying abroad. Continue reading “Academic differences in the USA (because it’s not called “study” abroad for nothing)”

Thanksgiving Travels (or the real reason I went on study abroad in the first place)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So here it is. After 13 weeks, 8 midterms, 9 lab reports and countless homeworks and surprise quizzes we finally got a week off. Thanksgiving break; the first decent length of time I’ve had to escape Illinois and actually see some of the country I’ve been living in for the past three months. As any of you who are friends with me on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat will know I definitely made the most of the (much needed) time off as me and a couple of other fellow Brits set off on an East coast adventure I like to call “One Week, Four Cities”.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving Travels (or the real reason I went on study abroad in the first place)”

Academic differences, or the reason I’m going to fail tomorrow’s midterm

By Rhiannon Jones, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This blog starts negative but picks up at the end, because being away from home can be hard sometimes…

Before leaving the UK, I knew that jetting off to another country was never going to be a complete breeze, especially when;

  1. this year actually counts towards my final grade,
  2. you study chemistry; and
  3. you’re reminded before you go that the chemistry course at Illinois is ‘the hardest in the US’.

Continue reading “Academic differences, or the reason I’m going to fail tomorrow’s midterm”