By Christevie Ngoma, University of Toronto, Canada
I decided to take advantage of being close to North America and travel to New York! All I needed was a travel buddy! I have a friend in Montreal whose doing an exchange year at McGill University, and she had a visitor from the U.K. so we all decided to be tourists together!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To recall correctly the last blog was pretty bleak as it covered the academic side of exchange. So as a bit of an indulgence this installment will be dedicated to fun things that happened over the fabled ‘holiday period’ after finals. It was a long time coming.
By Annabel Savage (Stony Brook, The State University of New York, USA)
It’s strange to think that I’ve been back in the UK for as long as I was in America and the time has gone so quickly since my return. In a way my whole semester abroad feels like a distant memory, but sometimes it feels like just yesterday.
The adjustment back into Manchester life took a little longer than I had expected, although socially I felt like I slipped straight back in, the workload and teaching style I had been so used to here in first year came as a shock to the system. I feel I have forgotten slightly how to revise for one cumulative final exam, instead of the midterms to which I had become accustomed. Nonetheless, it’s now like I’ve never left, except I have so many incredible memories and friends from all over the globe.
If you’re reading this in doubt as to whether you’re going to miss out in Manchester – don’t worry! There are definitely conversations I can’t join in, but the semester flew by, and all of a sudden I am back to the same old routine and adventurous weekends involve a trip into Piccadilly as opposed to New York!
The only thing now that I’m struggling with is keeping up with my international friends dotted all over the globe, as with my class schedule and time differences it’s tricky to coordinate Skype. Thankfully social media makes it easy enough to keep in touch! I can’t believe it’s really all over but I’m making plans to see my friends, sofa hopping around Europe this summer and have some American friends coming to visit this summer too, so Stony Brook is definitely not just a distant memory!
By Joe Vis (Stony Brook, The State University of New York, USA)
I can’t believe I’m writing this already, but I am now at the end of my first week of lectures back in Manchester. I always knew that four months was going to be a relatively short time to spend in New York, but it flew by even quicker than I expected. Upon leaving I had mixed feelings, obviously heading home for Christmas with the family and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen since the summer was a great prospect, but leaving so soon was tough. I’d quickly gotten used to the way everything worked in Stony Brook, in what is basically its own little community. For all the foreign exchange students, living together, travelling together and generally experiencing life in the US for the first time had meant a lot of strong friendships were formed despite the short time we spent together. Saying goodbye to everyone felt strange, especially given we were all heading home to different countries, and for people like the Aussies and Kiwis, there is little prospect of seeing them again any time soon. Luckily, we were able to get a couple of big social events organised for everyone before we left. There were various promises of reunions in the near future and it will be great if we can make this happen.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time abroad and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Meeting new people and making new friends from all over the world was great fun and now means I’ve got free accommodation in about fifteen different countries if I go to visit. I had the chance to see places I never would have been able to otherwise and I now know New York better than most Americans.
On the other hand, it is nice to be back in Manchester. As great as the Stony Brook campus was, it was in the middle of nowhere with few shops within walking distance and bars that half our group weren’t allowed in due to the 21 age limit on drinking. Having everything I need on my doorstep is a welcome relief, and I never realised just how much I’d missed the Magic buses. I can also easily nip home for the weekend, which obviously wasn’t an option from the other side of the Atlantic.
I had not had to revise over Christmas, having done all my exams before I left, so it was a bit of a shock to the system this week with essays and a dissertation all looming ahead over the coming weeks. I’m living with a group of other second years who I hadn’t actually met before moving in. At one of the pre-departure socials in Manchester I did a deal with a guy who is doing his study abroad this semester and so needed someone to take over his room. This worked well as it meant I wasn’t worrying about accommodation while I was away. I’ve managed to settle in quickly and get on well with everyone in the house. I think this is definitely a good way of doing things for anyone going abroad in first semester next year.
As of next week, I will be a mentor to two students undertaking a study abroad programme here in Manchester. It will be exciting to meet people just at the start of their experience and I hope I can help them to have as much fun as I did with mine.
By Erdoo Yongo (North Carolina State University, USA)
As I stated in my first post, before heading off to my exchange university, North Carolina State University, I went to New York. On New Year’s Day I boarded the plane from London Gatwick, not knowing what to expect from the USA – especially New York, but still feeling excited. The best thing about a late flight was that as the plane was landing all you could see were lights. Flashing lights… I guess I should not have been surprised as New York is the city that never sleeps!
After an eight hour flight, my tiredness outweighed the excitement that I was previously feeling. Following the tedious process of waiting for my luggage, going through immigration and a thirty minute taxi ride to my hotel in Manhattan (Pod 51 which was fairly decent and reasonably priced – http://www.thepodhotel.com/ ), in my bed I was able to appreciate the events of the day, comprehending that I was finally in the USA.
Another student from the University of Manchester going to NCSU also decided to spend a couple of days in New York, so I was not alone (we stayed at the same hotel). I was thankful to have a familiar face around (who could read a map much better than I can!).
Since London is five hours ahead, my first night was not the best, but my excitement to see New York had me up at 7am. As I walked out of the hotel, the first thing that I noticed was how big everything – buildings and streets – was compared to London or the UK in general. Our first (planned) stop was Central Park. However we took directions that allowed us to go through Fifth Avenue. I was so excited by all the shops. I, of course had to go into MAC Cosmetics and get a few necessities.
After lots of window shopping on Fifth Avenue, we headed to Central Park. It was amazing. Seeing it just seemed to help me realise how massive the park was – I did so much walking but did not even walk through half of it. From Central Park, we then went to the Natural History Museum, which is the biggest museum I have ever seen in my life. We then navigated our way to Juilliard School. It was so strange to be at a place that I always associated to movies such as Step Up.
The most memorable part of the day was going to the Empire State Building and Times Square. Before going up to the 92nd floor of the Empire State Building, we had to queue for 1 hour and 30 minutes. But once we got to the 92nd floor, it was like a dream; I could see all of New York – Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan and The Statue of Liberty. I honestly felt as though I was in a movie.
One thing that I did not expect was for it to be so cold at the top, but I had waited 1 hour and 30 minutes… I was on top of the Empire State Building – nothing was going to ruin it!
Prior to my trip to New York, I was advised to visit Time Square when it was dark “as you get the best views and pictures”. Of course my sister was right! All the flashing lights in Times Square made it seems as if it was still daylight. Time Square is a must-see – the scale and magnificence of it cannot be explained!
Sorry I haven’t been up-to-date with my posts. I have been drowned in work, but I will try and post more! Also, if you want more photos head over to my personal blog – http://www.oteol.com
By Annabel Savage (Stony Brook University, The State University of New York, USA)
I originally wrote this blog the day I landed home from New York, but in the hustle and bustle of Christmas I’ve only just found/posted it!
I’ve just landed home from the seven hour flight that marks the end of my time studying abroad in New York. The last four months of my life have flown by, and sitting here reflecting on them it almost feels like a dream.
There were ups and downs and definitely moments when being in Manchester would have been much easier, but the memories I have come away with are some of the best of my life. Here are the things I wish I could go back and tell myself at the start of the journey.
The time will fly by. The prospect of being away from Manchester for four months seemed pretty daunting at first, but that time flies when you’re having fun, and that really was the case for me.
Don’t wish the time away. Pretty similar to above really, but there was one point about a month in where I wished that time would just move a little faster and I could get home and back to the ‘real world’. By the end I was willing the clock to move a little slower
Be in the moment. There was no use worrying about missing out on Manchester life at the start, I quickly accepted that I was having a huge adventure and it would all be back to normal soon but that being in the moment/country you’re in is the most important thing.
Always say yes. I think I did this anyway, but being abroad gave me so many opportunities to travel and experience things out of my comfort zone. It was great to be able to have the independence and live somewhere completely different.
Take lots of pictures Being able to reflect on everything I did and remember the amazing times I had is something I will treasure, the pictures are a way of me sharing with everyone back home the amazing things I did.
I could go on, but now I’m going to get back into London life and enjoy being at home and my comfy bed! The move back to Manchester in January is the next big event in my calendar, which is strange after having travel plans almost every weekend for the last four months, but I’m definitely looking forward to the break!
By Annabel Savage (Stony Brook University, The State University of New York, USA)
I’ve just returned to SBU from Thanksgiving, and while passing through New York, on the way to visit friends, I realise how much I have taken my proximity to the city for granted. Life will be a little less magical when it is no longer a bus ride away.
No matter how many times I go into the city, it will never loose its charm. Only a bus ride away from campus, and with four months to explore, I was convinced I’d tick everything off my list. Instead, everything is still very much unchecked and I find myself with only 2 weeks to go.
Although there is still a list of things I would like to do, I feel I’ve explored the city as more than a tourist, and often find myself wandering around, trying out different cafes and taking in the atmosphere downtown.
Here are some of my highlights:
Bike Rides in Central Park – My brother came to visit for a weekend in October and the weather was still nice enough to enjoy all the Park had to offer. The Park itself is huge, so you’re slightly limited by foot, but renting bikes allowed us to get all the way to the top of the Park, see the different lakes and get a little exercise (so we could pretend to justify the food we ate later).
Ice-Skating in Central Park – Running theme; the Park is beautiful! To celebrate our last weekend together in the city before Thanksgiving and exams, some of the internationals and I went into the city for the weekend; and no Christmas trip would be complete without ice-skating. It was picturesque and relatively quiet and felt like we were on a film set!
Broadway – Coming from London, I’ve seen quite a few West End productions, but there was something magical about seeing Matilda the Musical on Broadway! I took a 7 year-old family friend, and I’m not sure who enjoyed it more! I was also lucky enough to see a play with my brother which had transferred from the West End.
Top of the Rock – For such a tall city it’s difficult to see it from above, but the Rockefeller, at 70 floors high, gave us a great vantage point over Central Park, the Empire State and the rest of Manhattan. I’m still hoping to fit in a night-time trip too!
Long walks – My dad also came out to visit and we spent 8 hours walking from the Park down to the World Trade Centre Memorial. The Memorial itself has been beautifully done and it a lovely place for reflection. We explored Downtown – Soho, Greenwich Village, Tribeca with amazing shops and cafes!
Shopping – No trip to the City would be complete without a little shop! I’m saving myself for the last weekend here, so I don’t run out of money before I return home, but with cheaper prices and numerous exclusive chains and boutiques it would be rude not to!
Eating! – Finally the food! Although the portion sizes often leave me defeated, it’s hard not to be lured in by the endless options of quirky cafes. I’ve eaten overlooking the Grand Central concourse, tried out ‘kronuts’ and shared a table with Jake Gyllenhaal in Soho at breakfast! Certainly beats eating in the Uni canteen!
Thankfully I still have one weekend after finals to explore before I head back to England! For now it’s back to the library!
By Joe Vis (Stony Brook, The State University of New York, USA)
The first weekend at Stony Brook arrived and me and a group of friends decided we were going to take the earliest opportunity we had to go in to New York City. So far, all I’d seen of the city was a brief view of the skyline from the runway at JFK before being taxied out to Stony Brook, so I was understandably very excited. There is a coach service that runs from the campus directly into the centre of the city so we turned up bright and early to wait for this. By the looks of it, almost all of the other 200 exchange students had had the same idea. I was expecting a Megabus style experience, but this wasn’t the case at all and 90 minutes of luxury later (leather seats, air-con and free snacks), we arrived in NYC.
Having seen a few of Europe’s major cities I wasn’t expecting to be as overwhelmed as I was by the size of everything. After a few minutes of standing around staring at everything, the plan we formulated on the bus came into action. First stop, Central Park. After a slightly longer than anticipated walk, we arrived and were greeted by various groups. Guided tours in different languages, a running team, a yoga session and a gaggle of old women on segways were all within a stone’s throw of the entrance. We managed to wander about halfway across the Park before hunger got the better of us and we decided to move on. Next stop, Times Square. During the walk between Central Park and Times Square, we came across a myriad of street vendors selling souvenirs, music, art and food. I’d seen this in other cities before, but never to the extent on show here. Eventually, we reached Times Square and immediately made the most of the photo opportunities. We had to be careful, though, to avoid the people dressed up as characters ranging from Minnie Mouse to Iron Man who are apparently known for jumping in to ruin your photo and then demanding a tip for doing so.
After a few more minutes of standing around staring at everything, we decided to head to the SkyLine. This a relatively new addition to NYC that consists of a boardwalk raised about 30ft in to the air on platforms so you can walk through the city with a view from above the roads. I was surprised by how much more we could see even with an elevation so tiny in comparison to the skyscrapers surrounding us. We could see down to the Freedom Tower at the south end of the city at one side and over to the river on the other. It was also strange to be in the middle of such a bustling, vibrant city without having to worry about being run over by a taxi. The final major landmark we managed to visit that day was Grand Central Station.
With over one-hundred tracks, this is by far the most impressive station I’ve ever seen. There seemed to be more tourists there just to view the station than people actually using it for travel. The marble floors and huge arches made it look more like a palace than a train station. I can certainly see why so many scenes for films are shot there. Evening came and we decided to head back to Times Square to eat in the Hard Rock Café. Here, we met a waiter who claimed to be able to remember the order for every table he had ever served and promised if we came back in the future he would know exactly what we all wanted (I am planning to test him on this at some point). This Hard Rock café, like most of the things I’d seen that day, was similar to ones I’d seen in other cities, only twice the size. Beers and burgers were consumed and eventually home time came. A two hour bus journey later and we were back on campus on Stony Brook. There were plenty of attractions we didn’t manage to fit in and so much more for us to see that we’ll no doubt be back in the city again very soon.
By Joe Vis (Stony Brook, The State University of New York, USA)
After all the planning, forms, emails, goodbyes and last-minute packing, the time had finally come to set off for Stony Brook. Unfortunately that time was also 3am. Leg one of the journey was a drive from Liverpool down to Heathrow Terminal 5 accompanied by both parents. One seeming ever more nervous about her eldest jetting off to the other side of the world and one seeming ever more annoyed at having to be up at 3am. The drive went smoothly but unfortunately it was about the only thing that did that day. Immediately after saying goodbye and getting through security I was informed that my flight would be delayed by about 45 minutes due to the doors on the plane not locking properly (I didn’t think this was as minor an issue as the announcer seemed to make out). The 45 minutes passed and the doors were fixed but another announcement revealed that now the toilets were broken so we would have to wait for another hour while they were fixed. Eventually I got on the plane, and after waiting another 40 minutes for a space on the runway, leg two of the journey was under way; Heathrow to JFK. 8 hours, 2 films and some dodgy plane food later I got my first glimpse of the New York City skyline as we touched down on American soil and was suitably impressed.
The delays in London meant there was now a huge queue at customs so we weren’t even allowed off the plane for a while and then, when we were, had a 2 hour wait. All of this meant I was 4 hours late for my shuttle ride out to Stony Brook but luckily, didn’t have too long to wait for the next one. This was when I met my first genuine New Yorker, the taxi driver. He was extremely nice and friendly to me and the other passengers but hurled verbal abuse and repeatedly blared his horn at every car, pedestrian and animal that got in his way. All of this whilst arguing with his wife on the phone and eating a hot dog. Finally, 22 hours after setting off I had reached Stony Brook. I had time to very briefly meet some of my flat mates (Yunichi from Japan, Ben and Dave from Hong Kong and Luis from Spain) before I collapsed into bed.
The following morning I met up with Annabel, the other Manchester student at Stony Brook, to find somewhere for breakfast and explore the campus a bit. The first thing I realised was that I was woefully underprepared for the heat. Even early on it was at least 25˚c, which may not sound outrageous, but for someone who is gingerly inclined and used to rainy Manchester, it was a bit of a shock. After last year’s polar vortex I’d made sure to pack enough warm clothes for winter without giving too much thought to what the weather would be doing when I first arrived.
The campus itself is huge and the heat combined with the unfamiliar trees and terracotta buildings make it look almost mediterranean. This isn’t the only way it is very different to Manchester. The food outlets on site offer countless options from all over the world and the sports facilities are much better than I’ve seen anywhere in the UK. They include a 9,000 seater stadium for the (American) football team, whose opening game I am going to see next week.
Next up was the orientation meeting for all the international students. For the next six hours we were introduced to the staff we had only known via email for the past few months and told just about everything we needed to know for the coming semester. There were about 200 foreign students with big groups from Korea and Brazil, a few from the rest of Asia, Australia and a few European countries as well as four English (including me and Annabel). During this time I befriended some Aussies and some Germans and have already made plans to visit the city with them this weekend and to be as stereotypically touristy as possible, which will no doubt be covered in my next blog.
While I did work very hard at Maryland, and it was occasionally difficult to balance work and play, I had a great opportunity to explore the US while on exchange, and explore I did! I think an exchange really teaches you to seize the day, it feels like such a waste to sit around watching Netflix all day and so I’ve become much more proactive with my time. As a result I have had some awesome experiences while I’ve been here.
Sports at American College are a must, and so we attended a few basketball games at Maryland’s incredible Comcast Centre.
We explored DC, and obviously saw The White House. It was great being in College Park because of its proximity to DC and the ease of getting in on the metro! I’m sure I’ll appreciate my short trip into London much more when I get home.
I did an 8k and a 5k run down in Virginia Beach with my family while I was here, one was for St Patricks’ day and the other was a colour run – so fun!
I visited Baltimore twice, such an interesting city with so much history and so many beautiful sights. It also didn’t hurt that we had a local tour-guide to escort us around (thanks Annie!). That is another great thing about studying abroad, and in American in particular, your friends will be scattered everywhere!
My first big trip of the semester was to Philadelphia, and although it was still pretty freezing while we were there, it was great to see the city and explore.
And then Spring Break rolled around and of course I had to jet off to the Bahamas! This was such an incredible experience, if a little strange to be in 30degree heat while it was snowing back in Maryland. And there wasn’t much of an opportunity to show off our tan when we got back, but the satisfaction of being an English Rose (nice way of saying very pale) and brown in March made up for it!
And then I had my 20th Birthday in College Park and my wonderful friends came for dinner with me at our campus restaurant.
Of course what would an exchange in America be without a trip to New York City?! We saw three plays in three days (Newsies, Once and Of Mice and Men), got into the MoMa for free, ran into President Obama and chilled out in Central park in the sun, could it get much better?
And then Annabel and I took a trip to the theme park Busch Gardens, which was simply incredible.
I also joined my extended family in Kiawah Island in South Carolina for (American) mother’s day and a wonderful few days of relaxing and amazing food.
And now I’m finished my exams and set to spend almost my entire summer by the beach and working by the oceanfront. I’m so so sad that my semester studying in Maryland is over, but at least my time in America is not! Now I’m going to run outside and get a tan!
(P.S. I just wanted to say a massive thank you to everyone who made my travels and semester possible – all of my exchange coordinators, my parents, my extended family in America, and of course all of the wonderful friends I’ve made in Maryland (yes, and you Annabel). You all know who you are – so thank you!)
By Helen Sheldon (Stony Brook University, New York, USA).
So, in a flash I went from this…
Need I say any more on how it feels to have come to the end of my study abroad adventure?
The crystal blue skies above Bryant Park ice skating rink are a long distant memory as I sit here writing this in Manchester with the rain and wind battering my window.. It is great to be back with my friends and to be able to see my family after such a long time, however there will always be a part of me that wishes I was back in NY! I have well and truly caught the travelling bug, however the concept of travelling to Newcastle of Glasgow for the weekend is no match for my past trips of popping to Boston or Philadelphia or Montreal in my spare time! I am now constantly on the look out for more opportunities that may arise for me to fly off to some other far away destination for yet another adventure!
There are so many things I learnt whilst studying abroad and I experienced so many things I will never forget. I could reel off advice on “how to make the most of your study abroad” however the main thing I can say is.. Apply, and go and enjoy yourself!! Your life will take turns you never imagined and you are guaranteed to meet people you will never forget. Rainy Manchester will always be there for you when you return – don’t let anything deter you from the best time of your life with the chance of studying abroad!