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)”

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.

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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.

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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)”

Arrival reflections (how temporary housing turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me)

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

Actually that’s not totally true but I’ll get to that later…

Continue reading “Arrival reflections (how temporary housing turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me)”

Pre-departure reflections (getting ready for American football, cheerleading and Chipotle)

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

So it’s less than a week before I set off to the USA for my year abroad and I’m currently sat printing out every single email I have ever received from my partner university (as per my mum’s instructions) and trying to sum up my feelings about going.

Continue reading “Pre-departure reflections (getting ready for American football, cheerleading and Chipotle)”

Leaving Illinois and Road Tripping The West Coast!

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So it’s been a whole year since I posted my first blog and my year abroad is over! It’s so sad to think that this experience has ended, but it definitely ended on a high!

Leaving Illinois was pretty heartbreaking, especially as I was one of the first to go, but exams and essays made me pretty happy the semester (if not the study abroad experience) was over! The last few weeks were a frenzy of fitting in everything that I had intended to do over the year (and not got round to); they were definitely my busiest and best weeks of the whole year! I will never forget the friends I made this year – all my Illinois locals were incredible and I cannot wait to go back and visit all the people I met! Hopefully sometime during the next year whilst they’re all still around at U of I!

I left Illinois for Texas to visit some of my family, then from Houston flew to San Diego to meet some Manchester friends for our American Road Trip!! The thing that strikes me the most about America is how different every state is to one another: California was like a completely different country to Illinois! It was NOT as hot as we expected! Take a jumper!! But the views are gorgeous and we did get a few really hot weeks! Especially Vegas – 40 degrees!

We rented a car in San Diego and planned our trip up the coast to end in Vancouver stopping in: Newport, LA (twice), Vegas, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle! We hosteled, moteled, couch surfed and camped our way up the West Coast and ended staying in a friend’s house in Vancouver (definitely one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been).

This was by far the most disastrous but most fun trips I’ve ever taken! We ran into so many difficulties (like running out of petrol in the middle of the Arizona desert on the way back from the Grand Canyon) and staying in some terrifying motels (I wouldn’t recommend them), but everything ended okay and we were practically hysterically laughing for the whole four weeks!

I’ve been thinking about the year and have a list of highlights:

  1. NEW ORLEANS! GO! It’s the best place in the U.S!
  2. The Grand Canyon, which was breathtaking!
  3. Seattle – such a young dynamic city!
  4. Vancouver – home to the most beautiful hikes and amazingly cheap sushi!
  5. Spring Break in Florida – like nothing I’ve ever experienced before
  6. Thanksgiving! We need this holiday in England
  7. Halloween!
  8. St Patrick’s Day!

So I ended my year abroad a year older, with a whole bunch of school spirit and having visited 17 states! I will definitely be back in the U.S. to see the other 33!! Here are some photos from the road trip!!

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Post Spring Break in Illinois

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

The end of the Semester is fast approaching; I’ll be leaving Illinois in two weeks today and am heartbroken at the thought! I didn’t think I’d ever be so sad for a school year to end and the summer to start – this half of the semester has truly been one of the best experiences of my life!

It has been a busy few weeks, especially turning 21 (US style!), spring break, midterms, work (school and job) and trips to New Orleans and Washington DC, but it’s been really fulfilling… although I’m exhausted! We also went to Chicago for the St Patrick’s Day parade! They dye the river green which was very impressive!

The workload this semester has been slightly easier than last, perhaps I am just more used to the American system now. I’ve also completely settled in and seem to be meeting new friends every week. I’ve said it once and will say it again, Midwesterners are so friendly! 

For people preparing to come out here in August, you will be glad to know the snow has gone and it’s a consistent 22-28 degrees now, which is a great way to end the school year. Although two weeks ago there were some Tornado warnings, but we’re over that hump!

There has been a lot going on around the campus lately, what with the nice weather. Last week there were free camel rides on the quad, a free outdoor concert with B.O.B, the spring football game, “Mom’s weekend” and Joe Biden (the Vice President of the United States) came to campus to give a talk on sexual assault. So overall there has been a great atmosphere!

Here are some photos up from my trips to New Orleans, DC, St Patrick’s Day in Chicago and Spring Break in Panama City Beach Florida:

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New Orleans


Chicago’s green river!

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I luckily end finals very early, so am taking the opportunity to visit my aunt who lives in Houston, Texas before heading to the West Coast to meet some Manchester friends for a road trip up California! I’m so excited, but at the same time hoping the next two weeks go really slowly!

You don’t quite realise how strange it is getting ready to leave people who have been your whole life for a year, and who honestly you may never see again… It’s a strange feeling that I hadn’t quite prepared myself for. However, I truly think I have made some friends for life here and will definitely be back in Illinois in the future!!


Summing up my First Semester and Second Semester at UIUC

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So, I have been rather sporadic with these posts; it’s just so busy here all the time! I don’t know how the Americans do this for four years!

So, I’m now three weeks into my second semester and having such a great time! I thought I would find it difficult coming back after a whole month at home but I was so happy when I touched back down in Chicago! Knowing what I was coming back to made the process of settling in so much easier and seeing all my friends reminded me what a great time I’ve had here in Illinois!

So, luckily, I think I have managed to miss the worst of the weather, according to a friend it got to -23 degrees whilst I was away! Which makes me happy for the -11 degrees it has been since I’ve been back! It sounds so bad, but I’ve realised in fact that when it gets below -4, it all kind of feels the same – just cold.

In December I took part in a prep session for the Americans studying abroad in the UK this semester. It was funny hearing the kind of questions they asked about England, we kind of take it for granted I guess. Today I took part in the Study Abroad Fair, where I incessantly bragged about Manchester! My family also came out to Chicago to visit me for a week which was great! We went on an architecture river tour and ate some great food!

My classes this semester are really different to those I took last semester. The lectures are a lot bigger so there is less discussion and more focus on assignments, which is an adjustment, but I’m getting into the swing of things. I’m taking a class on sexualities which is really interesting, nothing like any course I have taken in Manchester.

So I thought I would post a few photos from some of the things I got up to last semester and during Thanksgiving (I went to New York which is amazing!) as I haven’t got much to report yet from this semester.


Chicago with my family!

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New York for Thanksgiving!

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Watching the Hockey Game  and Basketball game!

I am going to New Orleans with some of the other British people here in two weeks for my 21st birthday which is exciting, and then there is a festival-type thing here called “Unofficial” for St Patrick’s Day in a few weeks, and then spring break is just around the corner! The time is going so quickly this semester, it all seems to be coming up so fast, but I have lots of exciting plans so roll on semester 2!

Everything you need to know about Illinois

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So, I just wrote a really long post and accidentally deleted it so apologies but I am having to write a condensed version!

I have been at UIUC for two months now! I can’t believe it’s been so long! It’s gone so quickly, but also I feel like I’ve been here forever!


For any prospective students who are thinking about coming, I am going to write a bit about the accommodation. I am living in Hopkins Hall in the Ikenberry Commons, which is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made here. It’s very sociable, a 10 minute walk from the Quad where classes are and it has one of the best dining halls.

Hopkins is a great option as it is a transfer cluster, meaning everyone has either transferred from a different American university or are international students. This is great because everyone’s new, looking for new friends, but aren’t first year students (also known as freshmen – no offence to freshmen!). So if you can, I’d reccommend living here. I’ve made some great friends here on my floor! Oh, and the whole roommate thing is really not as bad as you think it’s going to be! Another great thing is that the Ike (Ikenberry Commons) is right next to the ice rink and the ARC (Activities and Recreation Centre) which is home to two swimming pools, an indoor running track, squash, badminton, basketball and volleyball courts, a sauna, dance studios and four floors worth of gym equipment. ALL FOR FREE!

The workload is high! This is one of the best public universities in the States and they make you work for it. Participation and attendance is recorded and counts towards your final grades, and it’s worth doing all your reading or you risk being shamed in front of the whole class (this hasn’t happened to me yet thankfully!). Once you’re used to it, it’s actually fun being in classes where people are passionate and voice their opinion; I even put my hand up from time to time.

I’ve taken a few trips to Chicago now, the closest cosmopolitan city, and am confident in saying it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited. The city is beautiful, the people are friendly, it has great shops, cool architecture and it’s own beaches! Best of all, almost all the students are from Chicago and it’s suburbs, so when you go you’re basically guaranteed free accommodation (Midwesterners are very hospitable and wonderful people!).

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Unlike Manchester, (sorry Manchester) school spirit is huge here. When you walk across the Quad you’re greeted by a sea of orange and blue; tops, jumpers, umbrellas, water bottles, trainers, even the soap dispensers are emblazed with the Fighting Illini I! And it’s contagious… I am now the proud owner of my own assortment of Illinois gear! Sports is huge and the stadiums are incredible, especially if you sit in the student section for American football games.


So far, I’ve been so busy I’ve not had the chance to get homesick, and I think having a job has been great for that. I’m working for University catering, which hosts events such as weddings and conferences. I’ve made lots of friends, it’s easy and really flexible. Also, if you have a Netflix account, it switches to the American version when you come here, which is awesome – every show your heart could desire! If you miss British shows, you can dowload an app called Zenmate onto Google Chrome which changes your location so that you can watch 4od and iPlayer! (Credit to Ellie Cook for that info.)

Homecoming, Halloween and Thanksgiving are coming up, so I’m preparing myself for a culture shock there. Halloween falls on a Friday this year, so the whole weekend (and apparently the weekend before) have been dedicated to it. Three costumes at the ready!

Finally, the most important thing to know about this state: the weather here is insane. One day you’re bundled up in 10 layers and a coat, the next it’s 28 degrees! So pack wisely and be prepared to mix and match!