I feel some things are just rightly assumed about the long-run advantages of doing a year abroad – yes you become more cultured, yes you’ll gain confidence, yes you’ll view life differently, yes there’s new opportunities… but what actually are some examples of these?
A (by no means exhaustive) post on how my year abroad impacted my life.
By Benjamin Spencer, Arizona State University, USA
Chicago – making the most of being stateside!
I hadn’t even considered the fact that I was in a whole new country with 50 states to explore before arriving in Arizona, but now I see why so many students pick to move stateside.
Chicago, or as my friends exclusively refer, CHICAGO BABY! is a truly magnificent city, especially for those looking for some rest bite from the culture of the West Coast.
THINGS I LOVED:
We picked up flights for only £56 direct return from Phoenix and sharing Airbnbs with a large group saw 3 nights’ accommodation over the weekend only come to about £50 each.
Chicago boasts quite the architectural prowess. Everywhere you look is a huge skyscraper and each is just as impressive as the other. We visited Trump tower (it was free!) upto the 20th floor and used a lesser-known ‘hack’ to avoid paying the $30 charge at the Willis Tower. If one is looking for a view up in the clouds of Chicago then go no further than the The Hancock Tower, once inside there is a bar on the 95th floor which is free to access and provides a stunning 360º of Chi-town.
Oh me, oh my. If you’re a foodie then Chicago is the place to be. Whilst living off the diet I consumed during my weekend would leave you with some type of clogged arteries or heart disease, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t ‘pig out’ when there. I recommend two places specifically for the two key ‘traditional’ foods of Illinois: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for deep-pan pizza ‘pie’ and Luke’s Italian Beef for a classic steak sandwich. Both of these will leave you in a much-appreciated food coma.
Also, they have Nandos which is really cool.
THINGS I LIKED:
I liked the bean, it was cool and attracted a large crowd, which is kinda funny considering it is a bean.
The north of the city has numerous parks, particularly in Lincoln Park, which also has a free zoo. Views of the skyline are superb from here and it’s nice to be able to be at one with nature in a city that has a concrete jungle vibe at times.
Some of the shops we visited reminded me of those we find on Oxford or Bond Street in London. Equally, as Christmas was around the corner (I visited in mid-November) there was a lot of decorations already up, which always puts you in a good mood 😎.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:
There are many tales about the Chicago metro, and whilst you might think that they’re overblown, they’re not really. To put it lightly, there are a lot of ‘dodgy blokes’ lurking about and I wouldn’t want to travel alone at night on it (I’m a rugby prop for reference!). We had to get an Uber for our flight back thanks to a stabbing at a station up the line. During daylight it’s fine and a cost-effective method over taxis – so use this service at your own discretion.
The Contemporary Art Museum.
I love art and history a lot and often visit the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum, IWM North Museum and the like, but this museum just annoyed me. If it was free then fair enough, but the CMA costs $12 as a student and $15 full fare (I think) but it’s not really worth it. We completed the museum in about 45mins and that was on a go-slow… wouldn’t recommend it. Avoid.
This concludes this little summary of my trip to Chi-town, up next? Accommodation advice for ASU.
Even though COVID-19 put an end to my experience abroad I’ve been thinking about how Arizona State University is quite different from Manchester.
First of all, there is a designated week for final exams while the rest of the semester has different deadlines. For example, only in March, I had to write three papers, one poster and an oral presentation, a group project report, and an online quiz. All these assignments are worth between 5-20% of the course. This changes my time management quite significantly because rather than having one long paper that is worth 100% of my course and four months to write it, in this case, I have many short tasks to complete, which are spread throughout the semester.
Secondly, not all courses have finals. For example, for one class the professor chose not to have us writing the final but rather presenting a group project, so the last week of the semester I will be free from that class load work and I will be able to focus on the rest.
Third, there are no official mitigating circumstances, instead, it is the student that by talking to the professor works out a different date for the assignment. This speeds up the process and, for me, it alleviated much anxiety that could be caused by the negative response of the request in some cases. In addition, attendance is mandatory and affects the final mark, so there are no podcasts like in Manchester and missing a class means lowering one’s average. This guarantees that students are almost always present and participating, even though months after the class there is no chance to rewatch it online.
All these differences made me feel as if I was in high school again, where I had less autonomy and more time constrictions. Even my relationship with the rest of the class is very different because I have about 15-20 classmates versus 90 in Manchester. So I know all of them quite in-depth, I have participated in activities with everyone, and overall I have a better idea of who I am sharing my classwork with. However, the style again resembles that of a high school and it is far from being that of a lecture, which made me lose the habit of taking many notes and staying focused for longer.
Overall, these two systems are very different but I don’t find any better or worse, it is just a question of preference. However, I also think that having the possibility to try them both was amazing because it helped me become more conscious about my study habits and preferences, and I definitely became more flexible!
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.
One of the classes I have taken during the second semester at ASU is Geography of World Crises. This is taught by Dr. Larson and involves the class as a group discussing different issues that the world face today. These can range from gender inequality to the rise of extremism and the damage we are doing to the environment. Aside from these discussions, we also had to take part in two days of service, where we volunteered either on campus or in the local community to help sustainability projects and those who are less fortunate than ourselves. The two projects I took part in was orange picking for the campus diners and the United Food Bank who provide food for families that cannot afford their own.
The orange picking was done on campus. The Tempe campus at ASU grows their own oranges that they then use in their diners to provide students with fresh, healthy orange juice which is made using the best organic ingredients. The picking was actually very simple to do, the main tool was a basket with an extendable handle. As you extended the handle to reach the oranges which were high up in the trees, you used the basket to knock the oranges off the branches which you then caught with the basket and brought them down to place in the bucket we were each given. In total myself and my partner picked oranges from four different orange trees, and we even had a family come up to us to ask us if they could take some oranges themselves, which we of course let them do.
The second day of service was larger. The day itself was called ‘Devils in Disguise’ and was a university wide event. This involved multiple projects in the community, the organization I got involved with was the United Food Bank. The day involved meeting on Campus at 7am before getting the shuttle to the Food Bank which was in nearby Mesa. Once we were there we were split into teams to work on different parts of the production line with the aim of getting the donated food from the donation bins into sorted boxes ready to be sent to the people who need them. I was involved in the initial sorting of the food, which meant that I had to check that any items that were out of date, damaged or that didn’t contain their own nutritional labels were thrown away. Once this was done I then had to sort the food into different groups such as meat, fish or soup and then place these boxes onto the conveyor belt for further sorting. In total we managed to sort 10, 000 lbs. of food in the four hours that we were in the warehouse for which was a new record. This made me feel proud of our achievements as a group, and it was good knowing that I had helped to give back to the community that has been so welcoming to me for the year that have been here for.
After I had got back from Texas, which was a trip to celebrate the end of my exams, I arrived back just in time to celebrate Christmas here in Phoenix. This was a good chance to spend time with the new friends I have made in my first semester both from the US and abroad. All in all I cannot believe how fast the last few months have gone, and it is weird to think that I am already past hallway through my year abroad. This is a good chance to reflect on my first semester, as there are a lot of key differences between ASU and the University of Manchester. I think the largest is how much more intense the learning style is here compared to at Manchester, this is most apparent in the form of exams which I must take every couple of weeks here whereas at Manchester they are only at the end of the semester usually, which is the case with Geography anyway. Another big difference is that the lectures are usually split over two a week rather than one, and there is greater interaction in the lectures, with participation actively encouraged and even given extra credit in some classes. These are some of the differences I wasn’t aware of when I first came here, although I knew that the weather here was going to be a lot better than in Manchester, it was so warm I got to spend Christmas Day round the pool!
After Christmas I was lucky that my parents flew in to visit me from the UK on New Year’s Day. Las Vegas was one of the places they had always wanted to go and so we arranged to meet there, as it is only a quick 45 minute flight from me. After spending a few days with them there, we organized a road trip to get back to Phoenix as my classes started the following week. This road trip started at Las Vegas, and then we crossed into Arizona at the Hoover Dam and took a tour of the dam and power-plant. We then went to the Grand Canyon West Rim, and did the sky-walk there, and then went to the South rim which I think it the best place to go to see the Grand Canyon. We then went up north to Horseshoe Bend and the Lower Antelope Canyon near Page, before crossing into Utah to go to Monument Valley, which is where a lot of the old western films where shot. On the way back down to Phoenix we then went stayed in Winslow and went to the meteor crater there, which is the oldest proven meteor crater on earth. My parents then stayed an extra week in Scottsdale in the sun before leaving back for the UK, while for me classes started for my second and final semester here at ASU.
I had decided before my year abroad that I wasn’t going to come home at Christmas and instead commit to the full year and make the most of the time by seeing more of the US. To celebrate the conclusion of my first semester here at ASU I decided to take a trip to Texas, as it was another place that I had always wanted to go. The flight from Phoenix to Dallas only took a couple of hours, most of which I spent asleep as it was during the night, and I landed at 6am local time, as Texas is an hour in front of Arizona. After a couple of hours in the airport catching up on my rest, I took a bus to the railway station and then the train to Fort Worth, which was the first stop on the trip. At Fort Worth, which was traditionally the gateway to the west, I went to the Stockyards and Cowboy Museum, and also saw a cattle drive down the main street with Texas Longhorn cattle.
Dallas was the next place I visited, which is where JFK was assassinated. At the Deeley Plaza, where it happened, a guide gave me information on the site and how the events unfolded. Just outside of Dallas I also visited Southfork Ranch, which is where the famous TV show Dallas was filmed, although I haven’t seen the show myself the tour was still interesting, and I am glad that I spent an afternoon there. After Dallas it was a short two hour bus ride to Austin, which is the state capital of Texas as well as the live music capital of the world. I visited the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum as well as the State Capitol Building, which is where I had a guided tour which took me through the history of the building and also Texas itself.
My final stop on my Texas trip was San Antonio. Despite arriving in the rain, this my favorite place which I visited as this is where the Alamo is, the site of the famous last stand at the Alamo. Taking place in 1836, it was one of the first battles for Texas Independence from Mexico and is famous as the Texans held out for 13 days despite being vastly outnumbered. As well as visiting the Alamo I also went to the Rainforest Café at San Antonio, which is located on the Riverwalk, a winding canal in the middle of the city with bars and restaurants on either side. My Texas trip ended with a night in the San Antonio International Airport, as my flight was cancelled due to a power outage at the Atlanta Airport where the plane was coming from. The next available flight was 6 am when I was originally meant to fly at 9pm, which all in all ended quite an eventful Christmas trip to Texas!
My Fall break in October was the first time that I didn’t have classes since the semester began all the way back in August. Although It was only four nights, as ASU doesn’t give a full week because it splits it up with the later Thanksgiving break, I decided to go somewhere that I had always wanted to go, the San Diego Zoo. Instead of just going straight to San Diego, I thought that it would be a good idea while I was in California to visit LA, as they are only a two hour bus ride apart. Because LA is so much bigger and there is so much to do there, I decided to split my time into two nights in LA and one in San Diego, however with the travel times included it worked out to be two full days in each, as I was making use of the Greyhound Bus system and travelling through the night.
My trip started at the Phoenix Greyhound bus station to get the 1am bus to LA, however I ended up spending the night in the station with my fellow passengers as the bus was delayed by 6 hours as they couldn’t find the driver! Despite that start the eight-hour bus ride was uneventful as the scenery was mostly desert until we reached the urban sprawl of LA. Arriving in the early afternoon, I used the subway to get to Hollywood where my hostel for the next two nights was. The rest of the day was then spent along Hollywood Blvd. The next day was spent in Hollywood, climbing up Mount Hollywood to the Griffith Observatory to get a good view of the Hollywood sign, walking along the beach and pier at Santa Monica, which is where route 66 ends, and then looking round Beverly Hills and Rodeo Dr.
The next morning involved the two hours bus ride from LA to San Diego down the Californian coast. Once I arrived at San Diego I decided to go first to the USS Midway Museum, which is a retired aircraft carrier used in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. On the ship there is also decommissioned fighter-jets, bombers and helicopters that had been used all the way since World War Two. The final day of my Fall Break trip was then spent at the San Diego Zoo, and because my bus ride back to Phoenix was late that evening, I decided to get up early and make it to the zoo for the opening time, so that I could make it a full day there. Named the best zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, it has over 600 rare and endangered species and 3,500 animals altogether, and so even though I was there all day I probably didn’t get to see everything! Overall my favorite animal that I saw was the Giant Panda, and it capped off a great way to spend my Fall break.
One benefit of studying in Arizona is the amazing landscape, and nowhere is more famous than the Grand Canyon. The International Student’s Club at ASU ran a trip there at the end of August and this was the perfect chance to get to this once in a lifetime site. The trip included a tour of the South Rim, including a hike down the Bright Angel Trail, as well as an IMAX film exploring the history of the canyon. One thing I didn’t realize until I watched the film was that the Grand Canyon has been inhabited for thousands of years by Pueblo Indians, and a town in the center is the only place in the lower 48 states that mail is still delivered by pack mule.