Why I Chose to Stay in America Over Christmas

I decided to stay in America over the Christmas break instead of flying back home and I would encourage other students to do the same.

I was lucky enough to travel to Montreal, New York, Boston and Miami and each destination was completely different from the last. After overcoming the initial loneliness of spending Christmas away from my family, I really valued the opportunity to travel and spend time with other exchange students who were in the same position.

Before coming to America my friends and I decided to spend Christmas together in Montreal. This was an easy choice to make for me as the flights home from Cleveland are extremely expensive. Instead, I decided to use the money and travel around as much as possible. I flew out to Montreal on Christmas eve, got a freezing cold greyhound to New York, spent less than 24 hours in Boston and took a spontaneous trip to Miami to finish off the holiday. The four cities could not have been more different and Miami has since become my favourite place I have visited.

Montreal:

I spent my Christmas day and New Year’s Eve in Montreal alongside other students from Manchester studying abroad. We stayed in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood and I would recommend taking the walk-up Mount Royal to get great views of the city and to go ice skating.

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On Christmas Eve, we were invited to have dinner with other exchange students from all over the world. Spending Christmas away from family can be tough, but it felt special to meet so many other students making the most of their time abroad. All of us were given Christmas cards despite being complete strangers and it was a sweet gesture.

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On Christmas Day, we managed to successfully cook a full Christmas Dinner for 10 people in an Air BnB, which was as chaotic as it sounds. We went on a Christmas day walk, watched Love Actually and exchanged presents; it felt like a home away from home.

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Being in Montreal in the middle of winter was tough and you should not underestimate how cold it will be. But the city had a lot of culture and history and was a great location to spend time with friends.

New York:

We took an 8 hour Greyhound to travel from Montreal to New York and stayed there for 5 days. New York was packed with things to do and great food but was as hectic and busy as you would expect. The city was full of character, the street scene was interesting and all the tourist attractions were definitely worth visiting.

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We visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Centre, High Line, Times Square, Central Park, the list could really go on. I would not miss visiting the World Trade Centre Memorial as it was breathtaking.

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Even though we were hit by a massive snowstorm across the East Coast, we managed to pack in a lot in the 5 days but it was not nearly enough time to cover such a great city.

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Boston:

We stayed in Boston for a night but this was not nearly enough time. Compared to New York, Boston is a laid-back city with a lot of open space. Having visited Boston since it has really grown on me. It is a nice city to walk around with my favourite area being North End where there is familiar European architecture. If you have limited time like us, I would not miss Faneuil Hall Marketplace. There are great food stalls selling Boston treats like Clam Chowder in a bread bowl.

 

 

Miami:

In a rash decision, I decided to extend my holiday for a few more days and join some friends in South Beach, Miami. After battling – 20 degree weather and snow storms the warm beaches and palm tree-lined streets were much needed. Miami has now become one of my favourite destinations. I loved the bustling strip of hotels on South Beach, the colourful art deco houses and the idyllic sandy beaches.

 

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Little Havana was a great neighbourhood to walk around and try delicious Cuban food. The downtown area was flashy and extravagant, like most of Miami. Be prepared to spend quite a lot of money in Miami, but I would go again in a heartbeat.

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A year ago, I would not have pictured myself jet-setting around North America instead of spending Christmas at home in England. Yet my holiday was one that will be remembered for a long time. I loved the way students in a similar position came together and supported each other during the time and I would urge other people to do the same.

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Tour of Campus

By Olivia Stevens (Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA).

One of my favourite things about studying at Wellesley was the campus. It is truly beautiful and the polar opposite of the one in Manchester. The college is situated in Wellesley, a small town around 12 miles from Boston. As it is out of the city, it has a lot of space. The campus covers 500 acres and from an observatory to a cinema, a lake to an art museum, it has everything you could want!

So I thought I would write about some of my favourite places on campus. 

Tour of Wellesley College

 

The End… Almost

By Hamish Russell (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA).

Now that final exams at UMass Amherst are over, I thought I’d fill you in the goings on of the last few weeks. First up was the UMass Spring Concert, which featured the Goo Goo Dolls as the headline act – they were seriously good, despite it being almost unbearably hot and cramped in the Mullins Centre’s standing area.

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The weekend after the concert, I headed over to Boston to pay a visit to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, where I was given a bigger event than I was expecting… The game happened to feature a memorial ceremony before play began that paid tribute to the victims and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing that was carried out last year, and included a moving performance by the UMass Minutemen Marching Band.

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Once play was underway, the Red Sox lived up to the occasion, winning the game in impressive fashion by coming from behind and winning with a walk-off hit in the ninth – and final – inning (I had to check that with my roommate, still working on my baseball terminology).

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After the Red Sox game, exam season began to loom at UMass with essays being written and revision being avoided – almost as if I never left the UK. Despite this, the fun didn’t stop, with impromptu games of touch American football being organised among some of us international students. A few of us, with the help of a couple of Americans, even formed an intramural softball team which was enormous fun, especially when we managed to win a game. And now, with exams all over and my time at UMass up, my trip still has nearly two months left before I return home, so I’ll be posting about some of the adventures that I’ll be embarking upon… As long as I don’t run out of money.

Bye for now

Marathon Monday

By Olivia Stevens (Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA).

Last week, I had one of my favourite days while being at Wellesley;Marathon Monday. This tradition occurs every year on the day of the Boston Marathon. Wellesley College is famous for its Scream Tunnel, where students line the section of the course that passes next to the college grounds to cheer on the runners. Many runners who had take part in the marathon say that running past Wellesley is the best part of the day. As Wellesley is at roughly the halfway point of the route, the cheers from the students really did seem help to boost the runner’s spirit and encourage them to continue to the end.

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Even before the marathon had officially begun, the campus was full of people. There were many different television crews as well as an official documentary team. Following the terrible events of last year, the people of Boston seemed determined to show that they could overcome the tragedy. The week before the marathon there been a memorial for those who have lost their lives due to the bombings, and the marathon itself seemed to be more a celebration of the Boston spirit.

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The first people who went past were the elite runners. They seem very focused and determined and did not really seem to pay attention to us which is totally understandable considering they were competing against each other. But then the other runners came and the excitement began. The mood was electric. Everyone was cheering and it was great!  Another Wellesley tradition is to try and get runners to kiss you as they go past. Students make signs saying “kiss me I’m <insert adjective here>”. Of course had to go for ‘kiss me I’m British’ and it worked very well! I got quite a lot of kisses as well as a few of the runners wanting to take selfies with me just because I was from the UK!

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Students at the college also made signs before the event to cheer on people they knew who were taking part in the marathon. I managed to spot one with a Union Jack on which I was very pleased to see!

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The Boston Marathon attracts over 30,000 runners so we were shouting for a very long time! After I had cheered until I thought I’d lost my voice, my friend Melanie and I went to Munger Meadow, an area on campus that had been set up with lots of food and many activities from a Bucking Bronco to a photo booth. They also had a band playing which was lovely and really added to the fun feel of the event. Luckily, and a huge change for the majority of my time here, it was a great day weather-wise. The sun was out but it was not too hot, a relief I’m sure for those taking part.

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Marathon Monday was a truly great day. Many Wellesley students say it is their favourite tradition while at the college and I can definitely see why. I was so impressed by the determination of the people of Boston to overcome the events of last year and celebrate what is a truly great city.

 

The World of Wellesley

By Olivia Stevens (Wellesley College, Massachusetts, USA).

One thing I had noticed since coming to Wellesley is the number of events going on around the college. From soap making to concerts, culture shows to dance classes, there always seems something to do or see. I don’t know if this is because Wellesley is a campus based school, and therefore students here want to have things to do without having to travel anywhere, or if it is more due to the enthusiasm of the people here to take part in different activities. Either way, I have tried to get involved in as many as possible and have had a great time doing so.

I have been to too many events to talk about them all so I am just going to mention a couple I have been to recently that I really enjoyed. Last week, I went to a session organised by the Japanese Club on how to make your own bento box. The activity was run by Debra Samuels, a food writer and cooking instructor based in the Boston area. She spoke to us at the start of the session about how she had fallen in love with Japan and Japanese culture when she went to study there for 6 months. It was great to hear about the positive effect studying abroad had had on her, while being in a similar position. She also spoke about the key features of Japanese cooking, as well as a comparison between a typical packed lunch for an American and Japanese child. Unsurprising, size was a key difference!

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Next it was our turn. We were given our ingredients, pre-made by Debra, as well as a temporary bento box of our own and got started putting together our boxes. It was great fun and tasted even better.

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Debra also brought her collection of bento boxes. Some were very pretty, while others were just a bit odd!

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I love watching films and going to the cinema so the fact that Wellesley has its own cinema makes me very happy. The film society put on showings every Friday and Saturday night. Each week has a theme and two films are selected that fit in to that topic. However one of my favourite screenings was arranged by the Davis, the museum on campus. They are currently showing New Gravity, an exhibition by artist Tony Matell. To coincide with this exhibition, the museum arranged for Tony to pick 4 films that had influenced his work to be screened over the semester. The first one chosen was 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film I had never seen before but had always wanted to. Therefore I was very excited to be able to see it for the first time in a proper cinema. What made the experience even more interesting was that Tony spoke before the film about how it had impacted him and his work which was a fascinating insight into the life of an artist.

Another interesting event was the visit by former mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino. Menino, who stood down from his position in January after serving for 21 years, making him the longest serving mayor for the city. It was clear from the reaction by the students and professors in the room that Menino was very well respected in the Boston community. The large number of people who turned out to see him also reflected this. During the speech, Menino spoke about his time in office. He also focused on the importance of young people, particularly girls, getting involved in politics, a point that clearly went down well here.

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That’s all I have time for now. I will try and write again soon and tell you even more about my adventures across the pond!

Trips, Travels and Adventures!

By Christopher Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).

So having just returned from that holiday made famous in numerous American TV shows and films: Spring Break! Now seemed like a good time to tell y’all about some of the trips I have been luckily enough to go on during my time here. What follows are the much abbreviated highlights. Sorry for skimming over some things but otherwise you would be confronted with an almighty essay. Hopefully this gives you a brief taste though.

Fall Break:

This was a great little holiday roughly half way through the first semester here which I guess equates to the NCSU version of reading week that we all get in Manchester…except its only 4 days rather than a whole week, but I know I can’t really complain too much. For this break my room mate and I as well as a few other friends decided a trip to the city of Asheville was in order. This is a city out in the west of North Carolina located in the stunning Appalachian Mountains. The timing of this was all too perfect. It was still warm enough that we wouldn’t have to worry about freezing up there whilst also being far enough into autumn that we would get to see some of the great foliage that parts of the USA are known for during autumn. The views didn’t disappoint. We managed to kill an entire day simply driving up possibly the most stunning road in the world, the Blue Ridge Parkway and admiring the views out over the mountains whilst occasionally stopping to wander around rivers and waterfalls that dot the landscape. If anyone is ever in North Carolina in the autumn this is a must do trip. Asheville itself is a great little city. The city is known to be extremely liberal buy the states standards and it showed where on the very first night we were there we encountered an open air drum party in a small park in the city. Luckily another girl from our halls is from the area and so was able to show us around and even house us one night which resulted in wondrous home made pancakes and the always amusing demonstration of how we in England say aluminium. Overall it was a great break and is somewhere I would highly recommend.

Thanksgiving:

Whilst my room mate was kind enough to offer me his house for this break I also had the opportunity to stay with up in central Massachusetts for this break and so I decided to head up to New England for my turkey dinner. I will confess that this trip did make me slightly sad that I wouldn’t be having a full Christmas dinner a month later as I would be staying in the USA over Christmas and the traditional meal is slightly different here. However the only reason that Thanksgiving inspired this reaction in me was because it was an equally epic turkey dinner that left me unable to move for a few hours. I can safely say I will be campaigning for its introduction to England because why not have another great big celebratory meal in the year? You can never have too many. As with many things in the USA I appreciated the fact that it was perhaps slightly less formal than what I am used to in England. Sure I like all the stuff that goes along with Christmas but it was nice to just eat and then relax (and not have to deal with family). This was also the first of what would be much snow over the course of my year.

Christmas:

I again found myself up in New England, this time with even more snow! Having slightly more than 4 days to explore the area this time was very nice. I have been to Boston before but it is such a historic and rich city that there is always more to see. I have to say I liked Boston a lot. It felt a bit more like home than many places I have been too in the USA whilst still being very American. It is amazing how much of a difference a city having curves and winding roads as opposed to a grid layout makes. It being so old certain parts looked especially good in the snow such as Harvard. There was also the chance to see some pro sports here in the flesh. It did occur to me that it was slightly odd to be considerably warmer inside at the ice rink for the Boston Bruins hockey team than it was to be outside to see the New England Patriots American football team, especially considering how all of my previous experiences of the sport at NCSU have been in bright sunshine. A stereotype of America that I was very pleased to see was true is the over the top decorations that many households employ. Indeed there is a house near to my host where they actually close off of part of the road so you can pull over and admire it such is there decorating enthusiasm. As previously mentioned the meal wasn’t the vast turkey dinner I was used to but was still fairly substantial which is all I really want. I must also thank their hosts. They gave me a wonderful time, constantly took me out and about and allowed me to be amused at things that to them must be very every day. They also gave me so many presents that they confirmed the suspicion that I was already having that I am going to have to buy another suitcase at some point in order to accommodate all the things I have gathered.

Spring Break:

This is the big one that we have all been looking forward to. For those of you who are unaware Spring Break is famous for partying in the most American way. Films and TV have portrayed it to us in a way that makes it look so much fun that none of us could wait. Now due to some slight financial constraints placed upon me by my desire to have even more trips in my future I was unable to go to Cancun (Mexico), Jamaica or Americas #1 spring break destination, Panama City Beach (Florida). However a group of us did bandy together and rent out a beach house in the outer banks in North Carolina for the first half of the week. The outer banks is a huge sand bank off the coast of North Carolina running the length of the state and pretty much existing as a beach/summer home locations. So we had a good few days there checking out the area. There is actually a lot of history there e.g. the Wright Brothers first flight and one of the first U.S colonies. There was also a fair few shenanigans and spring break fun but I’ll leave it at that.

Spring break this year ended on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day so for the second half of the week I went to where I figured I would get the most Irishness and St. Patrick’s Day fun probably anywhere in the world, back up to Boston. This trip was made even better by a band called Dropkick Murphy’s playing their traditional St. Patrick’s Day shows on this particular weekend. This band epitomizes and is loved in this city. Barely an event happens that they are not invited to play and they really represent a lot of its spirit and so it was awesome to see them there around the time the city was celebrating its heritage.

Alas all good things must come to an end and I am now back here at NCSU. Never fear though, my travelling isn’t done. A group of us are off to Chicago for Easter and I am finally making my way to Washington D.C. not long after. Following that we then have 30 days to explore the USA between classes ending and our visas expiring so I am sure there will be many adventures during this time. Currently I am definitely going to Colorado but who knows where else!

Vacation in the States

By Lisa Scott (Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada).

As my first semester at Queens University had ended and my second semester would be starting in two weeks, I decided to make the most of my Christmas Vacation and visit the states. My first stop was Chicago where I eagerly awaited at the airport for my brother to arrive from London, England. It was lovely to see a member of my family after four months away from home and we certainly had lots to catch up on whilst we traveled to our hotel.

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Chicago was a little warmer than Canada so it was nice to put the snow boots aside and wear some nicer clothes. We spent our first few days touring around the city and we visited the museum district, wandered along navy pier, ate a lot of chocolate in the Hershey’s shop, shopped until we dropped on magnificent mile, sang our hearts out at the candle lit carol service and took lots of photos next to the big bean that acts as a huge mirror. When Christmas day arrived and we were over 3000 miles away from home we decided to make it a Christmas to remember. We started our day ice skating in the snow, then we went out for a lovely Christmas dinner with cocktails followed by a trip up the tallest building in Chicago which had a very scary glass box to stand in and then we finished the day by relaxing in our hotels rooftop heated swimming pool and sauna.

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On Boxing Day we left Chicago and flew to New York City. It has always been my dream to visit NYC and I loved every minute of being in the city. We celebrated the New Year at central park, where we watched the sky light up with amazing fireworks and danced in the open park until our legs were tired. We spent a lot of time being tourists and visited; the empire state building, Rockefeller center, Times Square, Brooklyn bridge, Statue of Liberty, New York public library, Central park, 9/11 memorial and watched Spider man the musical in Broadway. After seven days it was time for me to say goodbye to one of my favorite cities and head to Boston.

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Luckily we managed to catch a flight just before a snow storm hit New York which lasted several days and cancelled most of the departing flights. We spent the last few days of our vacation in Boston, visiting Harvard, playing in the snow and tasting more of America’s amazing food.

Christmas Vacation away from home was a totally new experience for me and it was very strange not being surrounded by family and friends opening presents on Christmas day. However, I can definitely say I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to visit the states again on my next vacation.

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