On-arrival thoughts & first impressions of Rutgers and New Jersey – Is this it?

By Noor Namutebi (Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, USA).

Driving from Newark Airport to my accommodation (Easton Avenue apartments) was surreal as 1. I was extremely sleep deprived 2. This was the first time I had ever stepped foot in the USA and it was, for lack of a better word, crazy. The drive was not entirely representative of what my university area would look like, as it was mostly the outskirts, but I got incredibly excited when every 10 minutes we would pass a well-known American food chain (like Olive Garden).

New Brunswick

Growing up in the hustle and bustle of London has skewed my ideas of what a ‘city’ entails, I admit. I would describe (the very little I have seen of) New Brunswick more as a college town. Imagine if the main university campus was in Fallowfield, almost. New Brunswick is one of three, big university campuses of Rutgers, the others being Newark and Camden, with Newark being the more metropolitan campus I believe (and where the airport is). What I didn’t entirely grasp before I came was that New Brunswick was split into another 5 campuses. I live on College Avenue which is considered quite social (it has the frats, bars, if you’re 21, and has the train station which is one direct train into New York) but there are others including Livingston, where I have two out of four of my classes. There is a free shuttle bus system which operates between the campuses and has peak and quiet periods depending on the time or weather. Whereas this was difficult to get used to at the beginning, as societies were are held on different campuses and I was making friends who did not live on my campus, it can be quite refreshing. The other campuses are way greener and calming than the hurry of College Avenue and therefore I would recommend either taking a class on another campus or joining a society based there, for a change in scenery and to get out of the bubble that can come with living so close to your classes. Plus, the bus to/from Livingston passes by the Raritan river which goes through New Jersey so sometimes, if you’re on it at the right time, you can get a good view of the sunset on the journey home and make people on Snapchat jealous.

The LX bus on a good day.

Having a roommate

The view from my apartment (it looks better at night).

Having a roommate is not a thing at all in the UK so the idea of having one in a completely foreign country was quite daunting, especially after hearing horror stories online. My roommate, luckily, is lovely and easy to get along with but the first couple days was quite an adjustment. It felt like someone kept walking into and sleeping in my room but I couldn’t do anything about it because they paid half the rent. However, it feels more normal over time and when she goes home at the weekend the room feels unusually empty and I wonder how I used to spend extended amounts of time in my room alone before!

Education

Goodbye to lectures and seminars which now come under the umbrella of one ‘class’. One interesting thing which I found out upon arrival and going over the syllabus of each of my classes is that active participation is a big deal in America. In one of my classes, up to a third of my overall grade is based on ‘participation’ which includes attendance and punctuality as well as vocalising your opinion in front of your peers. This has been good so far as not only does it absolutely force you to go to every class unless you are on your actual deathbed, it forces you to think about the topic at hand more, in order to ask questions or say something smart.

Side note: Speaking with a British accent in front of an all-American class kind of feels like you’re obliged to say something interesting because they’re already paying close attention to the uncommon sound.

Walmart

I have dedicated a whole section to Walmart because I genuinely think a whole book could be written about how it is an allegory for the whole United States.

“Voted New Jersey’s #1”?

At the end of my orientation day they had ushered us into a coach to go to a retail park to shop for some essentials as it was impossible to walk to any of the bigger supermarket chains. Everyone automatically flocked to Walmart as it is, truly, one of the biggest cultural exports of the country. The coach driver told everyone to come back to be picked up in either an hour or an hour and a half. I had written a shopping list so I thought I would be in and out in 30 minutes, at a push. Really, how am I going to fill an hour? I thought naively.

From the moment I entered, my senses were ambushed. Not only did it have the size and feel of an industrial factory as well as tens of people running around, there was a McDonald’s inside to your right as soon as you entered. That was the first time I had truly felt like I was in America.

I walked around the store approximately 5 times trying to balance buying food as well as necessary things I needed for my apartment. Table mirror? Check. Tortillas? Check. However, I was not prepared at the sheer amount of choice that was presented to me. In the UK, when going to buy kidney beans at Tesco, for example, I expect there to be maximum of three, maybe four, options. In Walmart, and the country which is the number one defender of free market capitalism, there were at least 20 (I wish I was exaggerating).

A film about my first week in America.

I had so many ideas for healthy dishes which I had made at Manchester (in cooperation with Lidl) and would hopefully prevent me from gaining the dreaded ‘freshman fifteen’ or supersizing myself. However, these ideas suddenly seemed so drastically distant when the news dropped that this Walmart had. No. Vegetables. They had drawn me in with the beans but apart from those that were in a can, vegetables were not present in the building. I looked in shock at the worker who informed me that you had to go to a ‘Super Walmart’ for that rare, rare produce. Why is it the vegetables, and not the Mcdonald’s or the film section or the clothes section, or the thirty different ice creams, which makes a Walmart ‘Super’? I thought to myself. Oh America.

The view I grind for, we are not the same.

I eventually found vegetables in a local Hispanic supermarket and an Aldi nearby but I will never forget that Walmart experience, a cautionary tale which I tell every American when they ask me how my experience has been so far. And now I pass it on to you, it’s my first amendment duty.

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