Pre-departure Pep Talk

From where I am now, if I could give my pre-departure self a few words of encouragement and reassurance, they would go something like this…

Everyone has an American Dream.

Continue reading “Pre-departure Pep Talk”

Post-semester travelling

Updating y’all on my finals, travels, and internship.

By Stephen Fulham (the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA)

I’m writing this sat in the departures lounge of Raleigh-Durham airport, waiting on my delayed flight. I’m not going home just yet, I’m just headed to Chicago this weekend, and still have another couple of weeks left in the US.

I realise that I haven’t blogged since April so thought I’d update y’all (I’m acclimatising, sorry) on the last few months. In this time I’ve completed finals, celebrated my birthday, gone travelling for a few weeks, and started an internship.

The last month or so of the semester at UNC really flew by. Actually, to be fair, the whole semester did. Spring/early summer in Chapel Hill is something special. Campus blooms, the sun shines, and the quads fill with students. Granted, humidity also hits 65-80% which can be a bit much at times.

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My final assessments included papers (essays), group debates, and finals (traditional exams); I even found time to submit some work for extra credit in one class. Unlike courses in Manchester, my UNC classes only had a maximum of twenty or so students. Each class was taught exclusively by one person, some by professors and some by graduate students. UNC are quite strict on grading so I had all of my results back within ten days of taking my finals. This is obviously a lot quicker than the several months which it takes at Manchester to get marks returned. I did okay, but have to wait for my Academic Advisor at Manchester to convert the grades before I can know really how happy I am with them.

Two days after my finals were done, I took an overnight bus from North Carolina to New York City. A group of us stayed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – which was awesome, if exceptionally hipster and so, so different from where I’d stayed in Midtown (Manhattan) over Spring Break – for a few days. It was only my second time in NYC but it is probably already cemented as one of my absolute favourite cities (definitely better than London too!).

From there, Tristan (a Scottish exchange student I met through UNC rugby, with whom I roomed in Charleston) and I headed to San Francisco (via Texas) mostly because of a flight for less than $100 each which is absurdly cheap. There we met up with Arrun, also on exchange at UNC from Manchester, for the California leg of our travels. One afternoon we took the Bart (metro) up to Berkeley, a college town almost as quintessential as Chapel Hill. The students there were still doing finals so campus wasn’t as busy as it might’ve been had classes been going on. Despite being biased towards Chapel Hill, I thought the campus pretty much matched UNC’s in terms of being scenic. It had a very Mediterranean feel, with white walls and orange tiles on a lot of the university buildings – probably linked to the Spanish and Mexican influences on California. It was pretty amazing to see Alcatraz (where we actually met an ex-prisoner!) and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, before travelling to LA on another overnight bus. It rained while we were there, to our dismay and some locals’ joy (California was then experiencing a severe drought). Seeing Hollywood Boulevard, mere steps from our Airbnb, as well as the Hollywood sign and panoramic views of the City of Angels was awesome, but the weather and our lack of a car meant we didn’t see LA at her finest.

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After that we took the Amtrak (America’s cheap but pretty sparse train network) to San Diego. I wore myself out playing beach volleyball alone against the two other guys and then fell asleep for less than an hour on the sand. I woke up, my pale Irish complexion burnt (the lines are still there even now) thanks to a lack of sun cream. Being just a half hour drive from Mexico, the Mexican food in San Diego was unreal. $2 octopus tacos were a definite highlight. Had we been a week or so earlier our visas would’ve allowed us to go into Mexico for the day. I should also note that avocados in California are light-years better than anything I’ve had in the UK, or even anywhere else in the US. The taste of a guacamole dip at a little Mexican ‘mom ‘n’ pop’ (family-run) restaurant will live with me for the rest of my life. That sounds excessive; it isn’t. And neither were the number of Anchorman references during this stop on our tour.

Up next was New Orleans: brimming with jazz, dancing, and incredible food. Think jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp and/or catfish po-boys, crayfish, and alligator to name just a few. This was, I think, the most fun city I have ever been to. Other than walking around the French Quarter, there aren’t huge amounts of touristy things to see in NoLa, but the atmosphere is definitely worth soaking up. That said, Café du Monde is kind of mandatory. It began as a French colonial outpost and café, and has continued serving coffee and beignets (warm, sugar coated doughnuts) after the Americans bought the Louisiana Territories from France. I have to say, the café au lait was nothing special (Tristan, who is much more into coffee than I am, wasn’t impressed either) but the beignets were pretty memorable.

Then it was on to Chicago for a long Memorial Day weekend. We stayed with my friend Dori, who was on exchange at Manchester from the University of Illinois during my first year. It was great to see her and finally experience Chi-City (so stylised by Kanye West) which I had heard from many to be on a par with, or even better than, New York City. The food there probably about ties (Chicago hot dogs, deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches versus deli meats, fresh bagels, street meat, dollar slices of thin pizza).

Chicago is on Lake Michigan (which is bigger in area than Wales!), and one can walk straight out of downtown to the beach which is pretty damn cool. The city centre is full of beautiful parks. The SkyDeck is worth checking out, although I have to admit I was a little terrified when in the glass room which sticks out of the hundred-storey-plus Willis Tower. Dori gave us a great tour of the city, and we went to a Chicago Cubs game on Memorial Day itself. While it seems not dissimilar to rounders, the atmosphere at the game makes it so much more. Peanuts, beers, and forty thousand plus natives cheering at Wrigley Field made my first experience of America’s favourite pastime extra special.

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After that, I stayed in the DMV (locals’ name for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) for five or so days with my friend Anna. In DC itself one can pretty much walk between all of the major attractions, just like in central London. Granted, this became a bit more of a challenge given the heat wave which had hit DC while I was in town. The Capitol, White House, National Mall, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, Smithsonian Museums, and Arlington are all very close together. Anna taught me how to pick apart (I’m still not entirely sure of the correct verb here) crabs with my hands which provided a bit of a workout, which maybe almost balanced out the huge table-covering portion we ordered before heading to the Orioles game (Baltimore’s major league baseball team). We drove to Delaware to go to a NASCAR race. Neither of us had been to one before and, knowing that I’d be living in the South for a semester, it’d been on my USA bucket list since before I came, even if I’d forgotten about it for most of the semester. The trucks (yes, trucks, a lower budget version of F1 which still has a huge TV audience) roared around the mile-long track a couple of hundred times while we were there. We then went down to Ocean City, MD, (apparently the equivalent of Myrtle Beach, SC, where I stayed for a few days over Spring Break) just to try their crab-stuffed pretzels. They were worth it, I can’t lie.

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Then it was back to Chapel Hill for a night before moving to Raleigh (the capital of North Carolina). My internship is in Rep. David E. Price (D-NC04)’s district office, where I’m doing things similar to the stuff I’ve done in the UK before. Rep. Price sits in the US House of Representatives (their House of Commons equivalent) for parts of North Carolina including most of the Triangle (Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham) and a number of other counties. I’m now living in student apartments, sharing a kitchen and living space with three other guys who are also doing internships involving government. Two weeks there have already flown by. There are beach volleyball courts in the dorm complex so I’ve taken that up again, despite a flock of geese which seem to follow me around a fair bit. Next weekend I’m going to Wilmington, on North Carolina’s beach, for a beach volleyball tournament so that should be fun too.

As ever, hit me up with any questions at stephen.fulham@student.manchester.ac.uk

Our Three Winners

Stephen Fulham | The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

It had been a while since I’d last blogged, so I used my previous one to post on what I’d been up to. I deliberately didn’t mention the tragic events of February 10: the shooting of three students in Chapel Hill. It would’ve felt unnatural to cover this in passing or alongside other stuff that I’d been up to.

I felt, and to an extent do still feel, like I needed more time to reflect. As I’m typing this I realise that I’ll be unable to find the impossible and craft words which could make sense of this.

In and of itself a shooting in the town where one lives would be scary, but when we found out the next day that three students from the Triangle area of North Carolina were the victims it was beyond terrifying. Moreover given that the triple-murder is widely believed to be motivated by hate, one is rendered lost for words through disbelief, anger, and grief.

Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were all killed that afternoon by their neighbour.

I was never lucky enough to meet them, but as with the rest of campus and the wider world was struck by stories of their kindness. A usually vibrant and cheerful campus darkened. Professors and students in my classes tried to talk through what we were feeling, attempting to support one another.

Thousands of people gathered in the centre of campus for one of many vigils held in the following days. With other students, I struggled to hold back my emotions as their friends and family told of their dreams which had been cut incomprehensibly short. I can’t even imagine what they are going through.

Vigil in the Pit, Chapel Hill, NC (Photo Credit: WNCN)
Vigil in the Pit, Chapel Hill, NC (Photo Credit: WNCN)

Deah was organizing a project to provide urgent dental care to Syrian refugees in Turkey. The project had aimed to raise $20,000. At the time of writing the total stood at more than half a million dollars. It is still possible to donate at: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/syrian-dental-relief/206249

Yusor was going to enrol in UNC’s School of Dentistry in Fall semester, having graduated from NC State in 2013, where Razan was studying architecture.

Reminders were everywhere in the first few weeks, and still crop up from time to time.

Walking to class through the quad and seeing a couple holding hands: reminded that Deah and Yusor had been married for just a few months. Seeing the crowd at a basketball or lacrosse game: reminded of the sea of students who filled the Pit. Sitting in a class, drifting off, and feeling guilty for wasting such time.

One could be desensitized to reports of gun violence in the US. They cross the Atlantic with tragic frequency. They accumulate. Towering with what seems like a horrifying inevitability. But near the epicentre of such an event it becomes more personal, more painful, and more real.

Post Spring Break

Stephen Fulham | The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA

I realised it’d been a while since I last wrote one of these just before Spring Break, but couldn’t find the time to type one during travelling, and then in the fortnight since I’ve got back I’ve had a lot of deadlines. In short: I’ve been really busy in the past few months.

I mentioned the academic differences between UNC and Manchester in my previous blog. Since then, the workload has increased and it sort of feels like the same amount of work (in terms of quantity) as sixth form because every single class session requires readings and there are weekly written assignments for each class that I take. I’ve had a couple of midterms so far, which are generally worth one-fifth of each module’s overall grade. One of them was similar to Manchester’s essay based exams (one hour per essay) but was delayed by the snow so was turned into a take-home. Actually, I’ve had quite a few days of classes cancelled because of the snow (or threat thereof), which has been quite nice. Professors seem to have a lot of freedom in how they structure assessment, and another class’ midterm featured a lot of fill-in-the-blanks as well as shorter questions. Also new to me as an Arts student back home, was an assessed group debate which I did yesterday.

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I’ve been playing rugby quite a lot since I got here, with at least three training sessions a week and usually a game against another university on a Saturday. This has enabled me to travel to other places in North Carolina which I otherwise probably wouldn’t have ever visited. We went on a tour down to South Carolina including Charleston, which was a really beautiful city. This past weekend we had alumni weekend where old players at UNC come back, socialise, and play a match against the current team – this was a lot of fun!

vs Coastal Carolina University
vs Coastal Carolina University
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Rainbow Row, Charleston, SC

 

The day before Spring Break, Duke played UNC. For those of you who aren’t familiar with basketball (I wasn’t hugely before I got here), this is a really big deal. The two universities are just a few miles apart, and both are well known both academically and for basketball and so are huge rivals. Seeing as America is the country with the highest standard of basketball in the entire world, and one of the few countries where it’s followed at large, as well as the fact that rivalries in the NBA don’t really match college basketball for intensity, this means that this is one of the biggest basketball games in the entire world. Just the previous day I had visited the UNC Basketball Museum, seeing more about the great history this university has in the sport: Michael Jordan made his name here, UNC have won five national championships in their history, and boast one of the best records in college basketball. I managed to get hold of a ticket after a week of desperately trying, and even though we lost, it was still a fantastic experience and great to be part of an amazing crowd at the Dean Dome.

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Over Spring Break I went back down to South Carolina, staying at a friend’s house down in Myrtle Beach for a few days. We found an amazing seafood restaurant where I had the best crab cake I’ve ever eaten. In the middle of the week we then drove back to North Carolina, stopping off at my friend’s farm. I got to shoot guns, including a Clint Eastwood style .357, which was very cool.

Broadway at the Beach, Myrtle Beach, SC
Broadway at the Beach, Myrtle Beach, SC

We then got the bus overnight up to New York City, changing in Washington, D.C., arriving around 6:30am. I didn’t really sleep much on the way there, so got to see a little of Richmond (Virginia), Baltimore (Maryland), and Jersey City (New Jersey) before we arrived. Our check-in time at our Airbnb was 2pm, so we walked around for ages. Seeing Times Square, the Empire State Building (which was actually two blocks/streets away from where we stayed, and of which we had a great view) and Central Park was kind of surreal. I also managed to find a phenomenal pastrami sandwich (hardly difficult in New York), which was by far the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Being in the early morning rush of the world’s most famous city was a sharp contrast from the quite rural part of America where we’d been just hours before. That night we visited Korea Town and went down to Chinatown on the subway. The latter seemed bigger than Fallowfield and really made Manchester’s and London’s seem tiny!

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The next day we explored New York’s shopping areas, walking down Broadway, around Mercer Street, and along 5th Avenue (which I think might be named after the club on Princess Street). I spent what felt like a significant portion of my student loan – oops! – and we were all exhausted. The ACC Tournament was on while we were in NYC so we streamed the UNC games on a laptop in our room, seeing us beat both Louisville and UVa – go Heels! The next day we checked out of our room, and walked around New York for the rest of the day, eating at a posh hotel on Union Square; walking round the financial district and Wall Street; and seeing the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park, before getting a slightly questionable bus back to North Carolina, arriving back on Sunday.

Bull. Horns. Studying Abroad. You know.
Bull. Horns. Studying Abroad. You know.

Predeparture Thoughts Before NCSU

By Erdoo Yongo (North Carolina State University, USA)

It is the morning before I leave for the US and I am feeling a mixture of emotions – on one hand I am feeling really happy and excited for the adventure ahead, but on the other hand I am feeling quite sad because it obviously difficult to say goodbye to family for such a long time.

It is really strange because I honestly do not understand how quickly I got to this moment – about to leave to study abroad for five months. The University of Manchester application process is still fresh in my mind – I do not know whether that is because my twin sister recently applied to study abroad or because it really was not that long ago.

How it works is after officially getting accepted on to the programme by the University of Manchester:

1. You apply to the university you will be studying at (submitting a or a few bank statements to prove that you have the financial means to survive in the country of your university, a personal statement and selecting your course units).

2. After that you have to wait to get an acceptance letter from your university (which can take quite a while).

3. Then comes the most tedious part of the study abroad – the visa process. I do not know how long it took people going to other places, but for those of you studying in the US, I would say start the visa application as soon as you get your acceptance form as it is all done online and you cannot book a visa appointment without it being complete.

BEWARE you also have to pay for your visa before you can book an appoint at the US embassy and the SEVIS fee (one-off fee for people getting a specific type of visa).

The Visa appointment was the longest of them all – taking approximately 2hrs and 30mins to be seen. As I was waiting for so long it seems that they would go for a full interrogation… Wrong! When I was seen, they asked me a few standard questions and  in the space of two minutes my visa was approved. Annoying considering the time I waited. But I know that this can differ for people so all I can advise is go to the US embassy prepared – with all the relevant documents you need.

But enough about visas!

4. The most exciting part is booking your flight. You can arrive a few days before your mandatory university start date and explore. I decided to go to New York for a couple of days before heading to NCSU… You can hear more about New York in my next post!

Impressions on Returning Back to Manchester

By Christopher Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, USA)

So I’ve been back at Manchester for nearly four months now and I’m still not entirely sure if I’m ever actually going to be totally used to it after my time in the USA.

Whilst when in the USA, I found there were so many things I would like to transfer from England to the USA. In the classroom it is completely the opposite, and there are so many aspects of American university that I would like to see brought into the UK university system and teaching methods. Going back to straight lectures, especially two hour ones, has probably been the biggest struggle, although the fact that these cannot happen at 8.30am as they could at NCSU is a relief I will admit. Approaching exams as well, I am feeling nerves that I have not encountered for a year. I was always rather relaxed heading into midterms or finals in North Carolina, knowing that the exam either wasn’t worth too big a part of my grade or that I had already collected a considerable number of marks in previous tests, and in some cases had already passed the module before taking the final which is very reassuring during a pass/fail year. Now though, I am approaching these exams with some trepidation knowing that they are worth 67% of my final mark.

There are other aspects of student life in England which have been a bit of a shock even though I was expecting them. The biggest of these are: the Manchester weather compared to North Carolina’s (nothing to be done about that, I know), going back to cold student housing after a year in halls, and the loss of the ‘all you can eat’ dining at North Carolina has also been hard to take, admittedly a blow softened by the return of pork pies to my diet, which was sorely missed whilst abroad.

However, it is not all doom and gloom upon my arrival. It is very nice being back in familiar surroundings and having the ability to walk to a number of places again. In the classroom I can certainly say that my time abroad has helped me. Unlike my first two years in Manchester, throughout the whole of this first semester I have never once been overly stressed by a hand-in deadline for work and been found pulling all nighters in a desperate effort to submit something acceptable as coursework. The time management needed to survive in the U.S. university system is definitely a skill that has stayed with me and has meant whilst I am spending more time in the library, I am definitely pretty much on top of my workload most of the time (it is too early to say this for certainty about my dissertation though).

Overall though, readjusting to life back at the University of Manchester has been pretty smooth. It’s hard not to miss my time abroad, but at least I got to have such a wonderful experience in the first place, and it has definitely enabled me to be better this year and inspired me to look in new directions for things such as postgraduate study and careers in the future.

Belated Reflections About A Great Year

Firstly I am very sorry about the lateness of this post. I have only recently returned to England and I thought I would (belatedly) share some reflections about my period abroad. I was really supposed to do this around the time I was saying goodbye to NC State but I didn’t for a few reasons. Firstly this would have clashed with exams, goodbyes, last minute plans and packing. All of which at the time are excellent forms or procrastination. Then once I had said goodbye to North Carolina and begun a few months of travelling I was frankly just extremely busy. But finally, and probably the closest to being the true reason; I really didn’t want to write it. Even thinking about writing that goodbye blog at the time really brought home the fact that I was going to be saying goodbye to that great place after an amazing year. So even thinking about it bummed me out let alone actually having to think about it and write it all down. But now there is some space between me and that event and I’ve made it back home safe and sound lets give it a go.

But where to begin? I guess firstly I would just recommend that anyone, if they get the chance to study abroad, take it. You will meet great people, get to try all kinds of things that you would never get the chance to normally and at the very least, you’ll almost certainly get a year of better weather than Manchester! But seriously, you will have a fantastic time wherever you go. I’ll be honest, NC State was hardly my first choice when applying to go to the USA but having been there for a year I’m looking back and really questioning why I wanted to go anywhere else. I really got everything I wanted form my American university experience; college sports, red cups, good weather, amusing southern accents and tones of amazing places to visit both in North Carolina and well beyond. On this note, I guess something else I will be saying to anyone going abroad to the USA is travel, travel, travel! And don’t just stick to New York, Chicago and California. There is so much to see and enjoy in that vast and varied country and I think the places I would most recommend are ones that most do not get to see such as Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. And do not be worried about Visa time constraints, a quick trip into Canada and suddenly you have a full 90 days at your disposal to go where you like.

I guess perhaps on a slightly more serious reflective note it is time to talk about my thoughts on this year from an academic stand point. Honestly I think I’ve probably come away from this year slightly disillusioned with the university system here in the UK. Maybe its just that the style of teaching and learning suited me better over there but I see far more positives to the University system there than I do here, although admittedly this is heavily counter balanced by the tuition fees they pay. Before going there one of the things I was most nervous about was what I had been told about the fact that I would need to participate in class for my grade. However this is far less scary when it isn’t in vast lectures, the norm here but extremely uncommon in the USA; you don’t feel like you’re standing out as much and so it isn’t the great fear that it is here. Certainly I believe this new-found comfort with speaking up should at least help me with tutorials when I return for my final year in Manchester. The greater interaction between professors and students is also something I feel I will miss when back in Manchester. I got to know many of my professors very well over there and it helps you feel more comfortable in discussions and particularly with asking questions. This is not to say the professors at Manchester have ever been unfriendly or particularly unapproachable, but just the way our interactions are set up here makes me and I feel the majority of students as well, utilize them less. Looking for positives though I hope that my time abroad will encourage me to better get to know and utilise their expertise in my final year. Overall I feel I have grown this year. The American system has helped me get better used to handling lots of work simultaneously and prioritizing and organizing my workload so that things do not build up or accidentally left to the last minute. I just hope I can maintain these good habits back in England where it will often seem like less of a necessity as I will have fewer pieces of work (even if they are all going to take longer and are more important individually)

Overall though, I am oh so glad I was able to have this opportunity. I wouldn’t change the last year for anything! It was amazing, both in the halls, the university and the USA as a whole!

Trips, Travels and Adventures!

By Christopher Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).

So having just returned from that holiday made famous in numerous American TV shows and films: Spring Break! Now seemed like a good time to tell y’all about some of the trips I have been luckily enough to go on during my time here. What follows are the much abbreviated highlights. Sorry for skimming over some things but otherwise you would be confronted with an almighty essay. Hopefully this gives you a brief taste though.

Fall Break:

This was a great little holiday roughly half way through the first semester here which I guess equates to the NCSU version of reading week that we all get in Manchester…except its only 4 days rather than a whole week, but I know I can’t really complain too much. For this break my room mate and I as well as a few other friends decided a trip to the city of Asheville was in order. This is a city out in the west of North Carolina located in the stunning Appalachian Mountains. The timing of this was all too perfect. It was still warm enough that we wouldn’t have to worry about freezing up there whilst also being far enough into autumn that we would get to see some of the great foliage that parts of the USA are known for during autumn. The views didn’t disappoint. We managed to kill an entire day simply driving up possibly the most stunning road in the world, the Blue Ridge Parkway and admiring the views out over the mountains whilst occasionally stopping to wander around rivers and waterfalls that dot the landscape. If anyone is ever in North Carolina in the autumn this is a must do trip. Asheville itself is a great little city. The city is known to be extremely liberal buy the states standards and it showed where on the very first night we were there we encountered an open air drum party in a small park in the city. Luckily another girl from our halls is from the area and so was able to show us around and even house us one night which resulted in wondrous home made pancakes and the always amusing demonstration of how we in England say aluminium. Overall it was a great break and is somewhere I would highly recommend.

Thanksgiving:

Whilst my room mate was kind enough to offer me his house for this break I also had the opportunity to stay with up in central Massachusetts for this break and so I decided to head up to New England for my turkey dinner. I will confess that this trip did make me slightly sad that I wouldn’t be having a full Christmas dinner a month later as I would be staying in the USA over Christmas and the traditional meal is slightly different here. However the only reason that Thanksgiving inspired this reaction in me was because it was an equally epic turkey dinner that left me unable to move for a few hours. I can safely say I will be campaigning for its introduction to England because why not have another great big celebratory meal in the year? You can never have too many. As with many things in the USA I appreciated the fact that it was perhaps slightly less formal than what I am used to in England. Sure I like all the stuff that goes along with Christmas but it was nice to just eat and then relax (and not have to deal with family). This was also the first of what would be much snow over the course of my year.

Christmas:

I again found myself up in New England, this time with even more snow! Having slightly more than 4 days to explore the area this time was very nice. I have been to Boston before but it is such a historic and rich city that there is always more to see. I have to say I liked Boston a lot. It felt a bit more like home than many places I have been too in the USA whilst still being very American. It is amazing how much of a difference a city having curves and winding roads as opposed to a grid layout makes. It being so old certain parts looked especially good in the snow such as Harvard. There was also the chance to see some pro sports here in the flesh. It did occur to me that it was slightly odd to be considerably warmer inside at the ice rink for the Boston Bruins hockey team than it was to be outside to see the New England Patriots American football team, especially considering how all of my previous experiences of the sport at NCSU have been in bright sunshine. A stereotype of America that I was very pleased to see was true is the over the top decorations that many households employ. Indeed there is a house near to my host where they actually close off of part of the road so you can pull over and admire it such is there decorating enthusiasm. As previously mentioned the meal wasn’t the vast turkey dinner I was used to but was still fairly substantial which is all I really want. I must also thank their hosts. They gave me a wonderful time, constantly took me out and about and allowed me to be amused at things that to them must be very every day. They also gave me so many presents that they confirmed the suspicion that I was already having that I am going to have to buy another suitcase at some point in order to accommodate all the things I have gathered.

Spring Break:

This is the big one that we have all been looking forward to. For those of you who are unaware Spring Break is famous for partying in the most American way. Films and TV have portrayed it to us in a way that makes it look so much fun that none of us could wait. Now due to some slight financial constraints placed upon me by my desire to have even more trips in my future I was unable to go to Cancun (Mexico), Jamaica or Americas #1 spring break destination, Panama City Beach (Florida). However a group of us did bandy together and rent out a beach house in the outer banks in North Carolina for the first half of the week. The outer banks is a huge sand bank off the coast of North Carolina running the length of the state and pretty much existing as a beach/summer home locations. So we had a good few days there checking out the area. There is actually a lot of history there e.g. the Wright Brothers first flight and one of the first U.S colonies. There was also a fair few shenanigans and spring break fun but I’ll leave it at that.

Spring break this year ended on the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day so for the second half of the week I went to where I figured I would get the most Irishness and St. Patrick’s Day fun probably anywhere in the world, back up to Boston. This trip was made even better by a band called Dropkick Murphy’s playing their traditional St. Patrick’s Day shows on this particular weekend. This band epitomizes and is loved in this city. Barely an event happens that they are not invited to play and they really represent a lot of its spirit and so it was awesome to see them there around the time the city was celebrating its heritage.

Alas all good things must come to an end and I am now back here at NCSU. Never fear though, my travelling isn’t done. A group of us are off to Chicago for Easter and I am finally making my way to Washington D.C. not long after. Following that we then have 30 days to explore the USA between classes ending and our visas expiring so I am sure there will be many adventures during this time. Currently I am definitely going to Colorado but who knows where else!

School Life

By Chris Tenant-Flowers (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).

Hello again!

firstly let me apologise for my absence from this blog. I really didn’t believe it had been as long as it had been since I posted but time is really, really flying by this year. I do plan to be able to post a few more of these in the coming weeks as I have a brief gap in my workload it seems (fingers crossed). With that in mind it seems like a good time to perhaps talk about some of the differences in school life that I have experienced over here. This is after all an academic experience and not just another chance for me to travel!

So the first difference worth mentioning for anyone coming here, and especially for those from England, is the workload. It is considerably higher than you will find you experience most of the time in England. In many ways it is closer to what we all experienced during A-Level rather than university, though of course more challenging. This semester three out of my four classes each require a weekly piece of work to be submitted, usually based upon the readings set for that week.  I personally quite appreciate this as it does mean that firstly, you always keep up with the work and reading, which as we all know, is very easy to let slip for weeks and indeed months at a time in England. It also means that you do get into the habit of being productive generally and I feel it is a situation that will much better prepare someone for the ‘real’ working world after university. As well as these regular assignments there are normally two or three bigger pieces of work and then multiple exams. Now this may sound like a lot but due to the greater number of assessments it means that none of them are as all-encompassing and therefore as full of content as their English counterparts, and also they are not weighted as heavily. This has the benefit of meaning that if you miss an assignment or don’t do as well in it, the impact is not as great as in England where a class is often decided merely on the merits of one essay and one exam.

As a result of this I would say much of the class material is perhaps a little less in-depth or maybe intensive as it is in England, however there is certainly more of it which makes up for it. I can safely say that there have only been 3-4 weeks in England where I have worked as much as I do on a weekly basis here. That said I have yet to get as stressed about pieces of work as I have in England so it all does even out.

So beyond classes, what other differences are there as far as the academic side of things goes? Textbooks is a big one. As I said there is much more reading to do here, however unlike in England, or at least Manchester, the Library cannot necessarily provide everything and so most students have to buy their textbooks. The price of this can be very high, often exceeding $80 per class on books. Indeed I and others have dropped classes on the basis of the cost of textbooks. There are ways around it and it isn’t the case for every class. Indeed my first semester I managed to avoid buying books for all four of my classes, so it shouldn’t put anybody off of coming here but it is worth thinking about.

The other big difference is interaction between students and teachers. It is much closer here than what I have experienced in England. Pretty much all third and fourth year classes (the vast majority of courses are four years here) are small enough that teachers can get to know individual students. As well as this the teaching style involves much more interaction. Most classes actually include a percentage of the grade for participation in class, so talking and interaction between students and professors is greater. As well as this there are many more chances for interaction between students and staff outside of class. Either at events (often for extra credit in class as well!) or teachers simply getting to know you. All of this leads to a very different relationship to staff than I became used to at Manchester and one that I can see certainly having benefits as far as things such as job references are concerned.

Anyway, I am going to draw this to a close here but as I say I plan on padding out my blog contribution a bit more in the coming weeks. Holidays and trips definitely seem worth talking about later. but for now, BYE!!!

First, Second and Third Impressions

By Hanan L’Estrange-Snowden (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA).

So I have been here for a little while now, almost 2 months in fact! And I have done so much! I’ve been to Washington, Atlanta, the beach, watched American football, baseball, basketball, even soccer games, visited state fairs, written midterms, submitted papers, even taken the odd pop quiz, moved house, gained a room mate and eaten way too much food!

I have to say I finally feel like I have settled in. When I first arrived, I really felt as if I wouldn’t fit it in but now I really don’t want to leave. I’m even annoyed that I  pre-booked my flight home at Christmas, instead of going traveling over the holidays.

However, going back to the very beginning. I’m not too proud to admit that I was pretty homesick right at the very beginning, but hopefully waiting to post something will show everyone that you move past that feeling really quickly when you get swept up in the excitement of it all.

I arrived at Raleigh airport and was met by a lovely girl from UNC Ease (the international exchange support group) who took me to my new dorm in an area called Ram Village.

My old room in Ram Village: one private bedroom in a suite of 4 rooms with a kitchen and bathroom

The room really was lovely, and it was nice to have a private space, plus my suite had a real kitchen (well as real as any kitchen without a kettle and a toaster). However, Ram Village is at the very south of the campus and I think this may have been one of the reasons I felt slightly lonely at first. I arrived on the Saturday before term started on Tuesday, with a plan to get slightly orientated and settled in before work started. I had made loose plans to meet my mentor on either Sunday or Monday but otherwise I knew no-one. Unfortunately there was no Internet when I arrived, and without a working mobile phone I had no way of contacting the few people I had met over the Internet. The suite style rooms made it very difficult to meet people because when you knocked on people’s doors it was difficult for them to hear you. I tried living down in Ram Village for almost a month before moving to Cobb, which is right in the centre of campus.

This room seems a little more cramped but much more homely with two of us in it.
This room seems a little more cramped but much more homely with two of us in it.

I now have a lovely room mate who is also an exchange student. It is really nice to be paired with someone who is having a similar experience to yourself because there is always someone to talk to!

Cobb is nice, in dorm style as opposed to the suite style in Rams.
Cobb is nice, in dorm style as opposed to the suite style in Rams.

So I haven’t just spent my time moving halls, I’ve also really got stuck into campus life, and campus life at UNC means sport and team spirit. As a very unsporty person I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed it. The crowd is always rowdy!

Go Tarheels: Team spirit often means painting yourself blue and buying the T-shirt.
Go Tarheels: Team spirit often means painting yourself blue and buying the T-shirt.

Chapel Hill is   a small town, with a lot of charm, and everyone/everything seems very focused on the University. Whenever there is a game the shop fronts are decked in blue and quite often there is a blackboard in the window saying the score. On Halloween an entire street was shut down so that students (and the odd local) could wander around looking at everyone else’s costumes!

Of course there is more to being in the US than just hanging around in Chapel Hill, although it is a lovely place. By complete accident I have actually managed to arrange my timetable very well, and I have every other Friday free to have a long weekend away!

I’m very lucky because I’m over 21 which makes renting cars very easy, (public transport in North Carolina is not great). This means that we can just hope in a car and head off for a few days. When I first arrived I thought everything seemed so far away but since our 8.5 hour drive to Atlanta anything seems possible!

Anyway I’m signing off now but I will leave you with some pictures of in and around campus to give you a sense of what I have been doing!

The infamous bell tower that rings every 15 mins!
The infamous bell tower that rings every 15 mins!
The outside of Cobb, my new home!
The outside of Cobb, my new home!
Stone Mountain is in a beautiful nature reserve near Atlanta
Stone Mountain is in a beautiful nature reserve near Atlanta
Just the White House...
Just the White House…
And finally... getting into the team spirit
And finally… getting into the team spirit!

Go Wolfpack

By Chris Tenant-Flowers.

Ok, so I’ve been here In Raleigh North Carolina for about two weeks now so here are some of my first impressions:

I think the most obvious thing for me to mention is the whole school spirit thing. I was told to expect this but it has still caught me off guard. People love their school and take great pride in going there and it is no different here at NC State. I’m not saying we in Manchester or England generally don’t take pride in our universities but not like here. You may see the odd UoM hoodie in Manchester but here genuinely one in every 6 or so people is almost certainly wearing bright red blazoned with NCSU, Go Pack!, Wolfpack, NC State, anti University of North Carolina (UNC) sentiments or some other school related message. And it’s not just clothing, School sports are a BIG deal here. I was expecting this but just in case others weren’t aware of this I thought I’d share it. literally thousands will turn up to every football, basketball, baseball, etc. game to cheer on the team…and for the tailgating which I will explain later once I have experienced it first hand. There are also wolf statues on campus. everything that can be named something Wolfpack related or coloured bright red is. people long since graduated from the university or parents of those here have NCSU stickers on their cars and wear their t-shirts. shops like Target and Walmart also sell NCSU clothing. Basically you know you are in NC State territory wherever you go.

The weather has to be mentioned as another major change. there is sun and lots of it but we do get that in England…occasionally. it’s the humidity that really makes it seem so different. just the fact that it is so humid here really does make it seem very different. There may appear to be so much that is similar to England but every time you step outside you are reminded that this is not definitely not England.

Then there are also the facilities for students. the dining halls here are not like in the UK. they are all you can eat and are open continuously from the morning until the evening, not just set hours when food is served like in catered halls. The gym or rather whole sports complex is completely free to use, including things like rock climbing walls, swimming pools, sports fields and equipment rental. as well as this there are just quite a few cool things on campus. as well as the aforementioned  statues, there’s the ‘free expression tunnel’ where anyone can come and spray paint leading to some pretty awesome and ever-changing pictures and a random but fun set of Acoustic Mirrors (thanks Wikipedia).

Finally room-mates, I thought this would be kind of weird but it isn’t and most people seem to get on really well with theirs. I think I still prefer the setup I had in oak House in my first year at Manchester but it isn’t as awful as I had imagined it might be.

Anyway, i shall wrap this up here as it’s getting quite long but hopefully I’ll be able to update you all soon on life in North Carolina. Chris

p.s sorry for the lack of pictures, my camera has vanished so I’m going to go and buy a new one later today

Raleigh

By Matt Briggs (North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA).

Well, I’ve just realised I really didn’t pack very well for Raleigh. I brought jeans and long sleeve shirts as well as jackets and jumpers. I’ts been about 34 degrees everyday! It’s so hot. Other than the fact that I’ve been overheating all the time and getting sun-burnt and looking like a Brit on holiday, it’s been good. I’ve had my first set of classes now and it feels a bit more like school (which is nice). You get sent homework every class and it needs to be in the next week. I’m just getting used to doing work again after a long summer and dossing about England.

The food is amazing. It’s basically all you can eat, all day long. I spend my time going in and out of the dining halls most days.

There definitely aren’t as many bars and clubs as Manchester, which means you tend to bump into people more often in the ones that they have. Which is actually quite nice. Raleigh is only about 1 and 1/2 hours to the coast so everyone in my dorm is planning on going to the beach at the weekend after the NCSU football match (someone will have to explain the rules of american football to me).

OK

I’ll speak to you all soon

Matt