Getting started in the USA

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

Before I even left the UK I ran into some travelling difficulties… I knew I might have a troublesome experience at Heathrow when my passport was scanned at the check-in desk, only for the desk to erupt with flashing red lights. It turned out that the US State Department had put me on their high-security list to make sure that I didn’t have anything in my bags (I didn’t) to suggest I was planning on violating the terms of my J-1 visa – so be careful when packing would be my advice to any future visa holders. New York was brilliant, as always, despite a few patches of Manchester-style weather and a rather loud New Yorker complaining to me that there were too many tourists in the city. I was guided round the city by some family friends, one of whom had studied at Amherst College (which is as close to UMass Amherst as the name suggests), meaning that I learned about Amherst as well as New York during my brief stay. A lot of the usual tourist items were on my New York agenda, but the local knowledge of my friends gave me a whole new perspective on life in the city and made the experience much more rounded and fun than following any guidebook can do. Also, the view from my bedroom over the East River was brilliant, a great place to watch the city rush by.

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I then took a bus from the New York to UMass, meeting fellow University of Manchester students on the way, as well as international students from countries as far afield as Australia and South Africa. Getting introduced to a lot of people so early on made life so much easier on arrival at UMass, with big group trips to buy bedding and other things for our rooms taking place about 45 minutes after we arrived at the university. One of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed between British and American universities is the school spirit – you can’t avoid the sheer volume of UMass apparel. The support given by the students to their sports teams is also incredible, with the 9,000 capacity Mullins Centre used for ice hockey and basketball games – the atmosphere is always incredible, there’s even a brass band playing at every home basketball game.

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The weather here is one thing that I’m still adjusting to, with snowstorms making the occasional appearance and making the freezing temperatures (somewhat) worthwhile. The coldest day that I’ve had was about -18 degrees Celsius, with the wind chill taking it down even further to -26. On that note, the university has closed today due to an overnight snowstorm, so I’m going to wrap this up and go sledging!

Until next time.

Two Nights in New York

By Helen Sheldon (Stony Brook University, New York, USA).

I currently have a couple of hours to spare before I take the train from New York Penn Station to Stony Brook University, so I thought it is prime time to write an update on my journey here to NY and my two nights staying in Times Square itself!

I arrived into New York’s JFK airport Monday lunch time, and I had to travel an hour on the train and subway to the center of New York.. I could have taken a cab, but being a student again means I must save money where I can! The journey was rather painful because my suitcase, which came in at just under the 23kg mark, is not the most agile of cases to travel with! Luckily I made some Irish friends on the plane who were taking the same journey as me to Times Square so I wasn’t travelling alone. This proved to be very useful as when me and my suitcase got stuck (I mean completely stuck – it was horrendous) in a turnstile when entering the Subway and I had to be rescued by three men (no joke), I could laugh it off instead of dying of embarrassment as I held up hundreds of NY lunch time travelers..

When I finally arrived at 42nd Street Subway, I left the building to be greeted by the bright lights and bustling crowds of Times Square, but tiredness and desire to let go of my suitcase meant I headed straight for my hotel after bidding goodbye to my Irish friends.

Here is a picture of the amazing view of the Empire State Building from the bedroom window!

View from the room!
Room with a view!

That Monday evening I wandered around the typical tourist sights in and around Times Square, however admittedly this isn’t really my cup of tea. It is nearly impossible to walk on the pavements as they are packed with tourists taking hundreds of photos, people are constantly trying to sell you mini Statues of Liberty and every other imaginable gimic, and sadly there are a few dodgy characters around who aren’t afraid to come up and talk to you, which unfortunately ruins the initial NY magic for me. However, aside from the overcrowded tourist destinations, it is very east to find some lovely areas of Manhattan. There are plenty of small parks dotted around which are lit up with fairy lights in the evenings, lots of beautiful old architecture which stands out against the shiny new sky scrapers, and of course, there are plenty of amazing shops! Sadly though I have had to refrain from buying much as I don’t think my suitcase can hold any more! The shops think of literally everything – they even provide outdoor seating areas for the husbands who are tired from shopping!

For the men who can't cope with any more shopping..
For the men who can’t cope with any more shopping..

Despite the not-so-pleasant trip around Times Square the day before, the day after on Tuesday I took a trip over to New Jersey, which has the most beautiful sights, immaculate buildings, and a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty herself! I took a short ride on the subway to get there, and took the ferry back over to Manhattan. This is the view that you are greeted with as soon as you leave the subway exit – one of my favourite so far.

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I am soon to leave the hotel and meet Edgar, another University of Manchester student who will be studying at Stony Brook University, at the train station where we will travel to the University together. The excitement is beginning to build at settling in to my new home! It is now time to close up my suitcase again and start the next leg of my journey!

I will be in touch again shortly!

Helen