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

NOW YOU’RE IN NEW YORK, NEW YORK, NEW YORK

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.

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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.

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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

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.

Why studying in the USA is FABULOUS

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

Now my final exams are over, it is time to summarise my academic experience here in NY. This post won’t be full of fancy travelling pictures but if you are considering studying in the USA, this is an important read. It will surely persuade you that studying in the USA is a very, very good choice to make…

Exams finish in December – and this means no revision for January exams over the Christmas holidays!! There may seem a lot of exams in the USA throughout the semester – mid term and final exams seem to span the whole time – however I am now able to fly home and have a Christmas where I can truly relax without the thought of exams in the back of my head! This is a true luxury! It also means I have revision-free time at home to get a big head start on my dissertation that most people complete after January exams throughout the next semester.

Exams are frequent throughout the semester in the USA, but the majority of them aren’t cumulative! This means that there may be two midterm exams for each subject throughout the semester and one final exam for each, but most of these exams may only cover around 9 lectures each, even the final exam! In the UK our exams are at the end of the semester, cover ALL the lecture series, and count for around 90% of our whole unit grade. In the US each exam may count 25-30% and covers only a few lectures. This is another luxury of the US education system that I will miss! The final exams were a breeze in comparison to end of semester exams in the UK!

Extra credit everywhere!! I originally found this hard to believe, but in one of my subjects there was opportunity to gain 10 extra credits for the class. This is 10 extra marks you simply add on to your end total mark. For extra credit the Professor may set quizzes etc, and if you take the small amount of time out of your week each week to do these, the results are worth it! For example I did all the extra credit assignments in one of my classes, and this means I now have over 100% in the course.. Hard to believe when we work our socks off for over 70% in a class in the UK!

If you’re there over the summer period- you walk to lectures in the sun, and leave the lecture in the sun! If there is one thing to bring up the mood as you’re walking to your lectures, being able to wear summer clothes and walk in the heat is one of them! You may think that the sun would put you off doing work as you don’t want to be sat inside missing the heat, however it made me work faster and more efficiently so that I could go out and enjoy the sun! I am not looking forward to the gloomy rain of Manchester that awaits me back home, where I will replace my summer clothes with a rain coat and wellies..

If you study a science, the regulations on laboratory work are very different to in the UK.. Without delving too far into details, the USA are more relaxed on their animal testing regulations in University. This definitely provided me an insight to this field of work that I wouldn’t necessarily have gained staying studying in the UK.

Next to no classes run on a Friday!! I had a three day weekend all semester, and this is a common theme throughout Universities in the USA. I was able to travel much further afield and visit more places on the weekends thanks to my dreamy timetable that gave me Fridays and all of Monday morning and afternoon off!!

If these points alone aren’t enough to persuade you to want to study abroad in the USA, then I don’t know what will!

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!

North Carolina – Getting Ready To Go

So this is my first post before leaving England to head to North Carolina State University  (NCSU) as its also known to become a member of the NC State Wolfpack. Currently I’m just sitting here staring at a rather sizeable pile of clothes but other than packing I think everything is good to go. My passport isn’t due to expire for a few years, I have my student visa, my health records, I’ve paid for my halls of residence, health insurance and all other fees that you have to. So as far as all the physical things I need and paperwork goes I’m all set. I’ve also toured/been dragged around the country saying goodbye to relatives and friends as I’m planning on staying out here for Christmas and other holidays. I figure whilst I’m out here I might as well explore as much of it as possible and I have some very kind people willing to take me in for things such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Although I am currently avoiding packing I don’t think its really hit that I’m leaving for this long, at the moment it just feels like I’m off on holiday. perhaps this is due to their term starting well before a time when I would expect to be going to university. But I’m sure once I get there and I get into my room and meet my room-mate and start the whole orientation process it will sink in.

I have been travelling before on my own on a gap year but this feels very different. I guess that was all fun whilst this, while still being very fun (I hope anyway) has so many other aspects to it. I am really excited to be actually living somewhere though rather than just passing through and grabbing the highlights. In my head I do have an idea of what studying in the U.S., or at least college life, will be like thanks mostly to watching too much film and TV, so I’m looking forward to seeing which of the stereotypes are true and which are false. But no matter whether a lot of these pre conceived notions turn out to be true I know there are going to be many changes coming my way: the constant assessment of the American system, having a room-mate, college sports and actual sun and warmth in North Carolina (which should make a nice change from Manchester).

But alas these clothes won’t pack themselves, so enough of my rambling for now. There’ll be plenty more of it to come over the rest of the year and hopefully slightly more informative and full of adventures and advice. So for now I’ll just leave you with this sentiment… Bring it on!