Reflections on Study Abroad on my return to Manchester

By Hamish Russell (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA)

It’s been six months since I landed back at Heathrow, and almost four since I started back at the University of Manchester after my semester abroad. Getting back into everyday life with family and friends was easy, but adjusting back to the university work in Manchester was actually quite difficult. Having been working at a very different pace while in the US, the workload that I’ve been hit with so far in third (and final) year has been tricky to adapt to. As well as that, it’s been almost strange not always planning a trip to somewhere new, as if that’s the norm for a student.

One thing I have enjoyed since I’ve been back is helping current study abroad students. It’s been quite fulfilling being able to guide people through their preparations for their own study abroad exchanges, giving them information and details that were very helpful to me, and were perhaps not given to me before I embarked on my trip.

Returning to Manchester has also impressed upon me the importance and significance of studying abroad. Every time I talk to someone about university, or opportunities for after leaving university, I am always asked about my time abroad. I won’t have brought it up specifically, but it’s on my CV and seems to be something that catches peoples’ eyes. As well as making my time at university that bit more special, studying abroad has already begun to have a positive impact on my future.

After some time in Amherst

By James Eyke (University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA)

Well the first few weeks of being here certainly have been very interesting. When I first got off the plane the first thing that struck me was the heat; the first full day was the hottest day of the summer so far. So for the first two weeks we had what felt like tropical weather, which was all very nice.

After we were taken care of and settled in nicely by the brilliant International Programs Office, we had a good few days of leisure before classes started. One of the more interesting nights was a frat party at a frat house. One could say it was very interesting to view this completely new, male-dominated subculture.

Classes here are taught very differently to back in the UK. They are generally much smaller (my Advanced Inorganic class has six students in it) and closely resembles secondary school / college classes. There is much more one to one discussion with the professor which is extremely helpful if you are unsure about some of the work. Homework is also a thing here, with set pieces of work given at the end of most classes.

Away from the academic side of things, the scenery here is absolutely fantastic. Being 90 miles west of Boston, we are pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Here is a photo that I took from the top of this fire watch tower located on top of a hill a few miles out of campus; it really gives you a sense of just how large this country is.

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One of the highlights so far has been a day trip to Boston. It really is a wonderful city full of history. I was lucky enough to stumble across a guided tour of the Freedom Train just as I got off the bus. I can now happily say that I know just a little bit more about the start of the American Revolution now. After that I went on a boat tour of Boston Harbor, with commentary of course.

The day after Boston we headed down to a local swimming lake called Puffers Pond that is often frequented by college students. The water was surprisingly warm and there is even a large rock to jump off.

The weather now has finally started cool a bit and the famous fall colours are starting to appear in the trees. Trips coming up soon are New York and Six Flags New England, which I am certainly looking forward to. In about a month the demonic winter weather will descend upon Amherst, and who knows what that will bring.

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Arrival and first two weeks

By Lucas Smith (University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA)

So I have touched down in Massachusetts, got settled and started classes. On one hand, it seems to have all happened so fast. However, it does seem a long time ago since I last sat down to write a blog piece just before my departure. The first two weeks here have been amazing. As to be expected, the first few days were a shock, and this probably was not helped by the continuous travel from Manchester to Amsterdam, then Boston and finally Amherst, all in the same day. However, in the following days I got out and about the campus. The campus here is really breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the standout features are the Du Bois Library which offers amazing views of the surrounding area and incorporation of nature with man-made structures all over campus.

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The weather so far has been hot and humid, which was difficult to adjust to at first, but a group of us made the most of it by making the trip to the nearby Puffers Pond for one relaxed afternoon. The International Programmes Office here, as well as being extremely welcoming, put on a number of trips for the incoming students in the first week such as a short hiking trip up Mount Sugar Loaf which offered scenic views over the valley. Despite all the leisure activities I have now started classes, and if I am being truthful the work load has come as quite a surprise. I had been forewarned about the amount of reading and now I am working to get into a routine that it seems many US students abide by. This involves completing work and readings during the work day in order to be able to make the most of the weekends. Despite the work load all my classes are interesting and the more open discussion style of teaching I am enjoying thus far. In the following few days and weeks I hope to join societies such as the ski club here and meet many new people. All in all it has been an incredible start and my only worry is the speed at which time seems to be travelling! I hope you enjoy reading and stay tuned as I document my adventures this year!

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Pre-Departure to Amherst

By James Eyke (The University of Massachusetts at Amherst).

After a long summer, all the preparation and sorting out for travelling to America is about to come into effect. Visa in hand, I will soon be stepping off the plane into a completely new environment full of opportunities and heading to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Naturally, one starts feeling very nervous around this time. Having not travelled as far as Northern Spain in the past 15 years, thousands of miles across the ocean is quite a daunting task. The thing I am most apprehensive about with regards to my journey however, has to be getting from Boston International Airport to the town I will be living in, Amherst, which is only a distance of 90 miles away.

The partner University has events during an orientation weekend set up for international students; this will include general admin help as well as two organised walks in the nearby hills and a day trip to Boston which I signed up for. As well as this, the International Programs Office there has a buddy system set up where I have been assigned another student who will hopefully be happy to help with any issues that may arise, making the whole process a bit less stressful.

As for packing, I am thinking it will be best to pack lightly to make way for any memorabilia I collect during the year. This is thinking far in advance, but with airport baggage restrictions one cannot be too liberal with clothes and luxuries.

For when my next blog post comes around I will have been at the University for a few weeks and I look forward to sharing what I have done and what I have seen. Below is a picture of my suitcase! University of Manchester hat in tow, naturally.

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Post-UMass Travels, Part 1

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

So now that my time at UMass is up, the travelling has got underway. My first stop was staying with my roommate and his family for about a week and a half and seeing the Boston and Cape Cod areas. After making the journey from UMass to his house – during which we had to turn around and drive back to UMass because our room keys were still in our pockets, and we didn’t fancy the $150 fine – we had a couple of days of just chilling out after the exam period.

Once we’d recovered, our first stop was Martha’s Vineyard. The Island has some truly beautiful scenery and weather, but we arrived pretty early into the tourist season so a lot of things were closed or not in full swing. Even so, it was well worth a visit.

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After Martha’s Vineyard, we headed to Cape Cod to see that area before heading to Boston. The Cape was similar to Martha’s in a lot of ways, probably just because of the coastline and the sun. In order to cram as much of the Cape into the little time we had, we drove up and down it, taking scenic roads and stopping to see the highlights and for the occasional beach break.

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When I got to Boston, I did pretty much everything. I did parts of the Freedom Trail, I saw Boston Harbour, I spotted the owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC (but was banned by my Bostonian friends from approaching because they deemed it “disrespectful and inappropriate”), I visited a ‘Cheers’ bar, saw the site of the Boston Marathon bombings and went to a Red Sox game. Of course, the history and culture of the city was very interesting, but as a sports fan, the baseball was the highlight.

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The next leg of my travels is a road trip from Philadelphia to Savannah (in Georgia), so hopefully I won’t end up driving on the wrong side of the road or opening the door when I try to change gear.

 

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

Visiting Philadelphia

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

Spring break was a really nice change of pace for me; having already done the clubbing sort of holiday with my UK-based friends I was more interested in hearing the tales that others brought back, and staying clear of the fray myself. So, while many of my friends from UMass headed to Cancún for the week, I caught my flight from Boston to Philadelphia. As soon as I landed I was thrown into the culture of a new city, with new terms for seemingly trivial things replacing the new words I’ve become accustomed to while in Massachusetts. I was told off for being difficult with the security people at Philadelphia Airport for insisting I didn’t have any tennis shoes with me, but it turned out that any form of sports shoe is known as a tennis shoe across Pennsylvania – which I did have. Even sandwiches have different names, ‘grinders’ in Massachusetts and ‘hoagies’ in Pennsylvania; any food confusion was avoided however as my uncle was keen to use me as an excuse to break the strict diet rules that my aunt tries to make him follow – making Philly Cheese Steaks our first choice for lunch.

While staying with my aunt and uncle, I visited the town of Gettysburg, the site of the US Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg. You’re allowed to drive around the battlefield without a tour guide, stopping at points of interest crucial to the outcome of the battle. While similar to visiting First and Second World War battlefields, this site has a different feel – you can easily visualise each attack and movement.

View from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
View from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

After Gettysburg, I visited the city of Philadelphia itself. The National Constitution Centre, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and Reading Terminal Market were my main stops. Reading Terminal Market is Philadelphia’s answer to London’s Borough Market, with a plethora of stalls, stands and choices. However my lasting memory of it will, unfortunately, be being knocked from behind into a small girl sending her slice of pizza flying… I apologised to almost the entire market before buying the girl and her brother some replacement pizza before leaving as quickly as possible, my face burning red with embarrassment. Needless to say my other stops are much less painful in the memory, and all incredibly interesting.

Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Philadelphia
Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, Philadelphia
DiNic's, Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia
DiNic’s, Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent much of the remainder of the week in the safe confines of the golf course, trying not to humiliate myself too much or lose too many balls to the hazards. Very few of the rules of golf were followed, and the rounds were dominated by stops at the various refreshment stands placed around the course and small wagers on holes – meaning scores were patchy to say the least, but the rounds were huge fun.

Getting back to UMass at the end was good fun, being able to catch up with people after a week away and hear their stories, especially when the first one told was that one of the guys was missing in action having been asked to get off a plane in North Carolina on the way back from Cancún… Still not 100% sure about what happened with that.

Exams, new experiences, and the cold

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

When -6 starts to feel like it’s not particularly cold, you know you’ve settled into New England – or so my new friends tell me. With the weather in the northeastern United States as bad as it has been, I’ve not been venturing out too often since my trip to New York – but a good time is still to be had. Encouraged by some of the Americans I’ve made friends with, I’ve started ice-skating fairly regularly. While fun for us, we’ve had a mixed reaction from some of the regular skaters because of some of our antics, which have included skating round with American and British flags billowing behind us.

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As well as picking up a new sport, I’ve had to get to work due to mid-term exams in all my subjects. While not counting for a huge proportion of the final grades or being particularly arduous, these exams are still taken seriously by everyone here (except those international exchange students lucky enough to be on a pass/fail programme). Thankfully, they’re all scheduled around the same time so that they’re all over quickly and, hopefully, painlessly.

On a slightly more enjoyable note, spring break is in less than two weeks and everybody is planning their various trips with ideas ranging from Cancun, Mexico to Miami, Florida. I however will be flying to Philadelphia for the break to see my cousins at their place, something I haven’t done for almost nine years, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing them all (and the city, I’m here to travel around after all).

Until next time.

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.