Leaving Illinois and Road Tripping The West Coast!

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So it’s been a whole year since I posted my first blog and my year abroad is over! It’s so sad to think that this experience has ended, but it definitely ended on a high!

Leaving Illinois was pretty heartbreaking, especially as I was one of the first to go, but exams and essays made me pretty happy the semester (if not the study abroad experience) was over! The last few weeks were a frenzy of fitting in everything that I had intended to do over the year (and not got round to); they were definitely my busiest and best weeks of the whole year! I will never forget the friends I made this year – all my Illinois locals were incredible and I cannot wait to go back and visit all the people I met! Hopefully sometime during the next year whilst they’re all still around at U of I!

I left Illinois for Texas to visit some of my family, then from Houston flew to San Diego to meet some Manchester friends for our American Road Trip!! The thing that strikes me the most about America is how different every state is to one another: California was like a completely different country to Illinois! It was NOT as hot as we expected! Take a jumper!! But the views are gorgeous and we did get a few really hot weeks! Especially Vegas – 40 degrees!

We rented a car in San Diego and planned our trip up the coast to end in Vancouver stopping in: Newport, LA (twice), Vegas, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle! We hosteled, moteled, couch surfed and camped our way up the West Coast and ended staying in a friend’s house in Vancouver (definitely one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been).

This was by far the most disastrous but most fun trips I’ve ever taken! We ran into so many difficulties (like running out of petrol in the middle of the Arizona desert on the way back from the Grand Canyon) and staying in some terrifying motels (I wouldn’t recommend them), but everything ended okay and we were practically hysterically laughing for the whole four weeks!

I’ve been thinking about the year and have a list of highlights:

  1. NEW ORLEANS! GO! It’s the best place in the U.S!
  2. The Grand Canyon, which was breathtaking!
  3. Seattle – such a young dynamic city!
  4. Vancouver – home to the most beautiful hikes and amazingly cheap sushi!
  5. Spring Break in Florida – like nothing I’ve ever experienced before
  6. Thanksgiving! We need this holiday in England
  7. Halloween!
  8. St Patrick’s Day!

So I ended my year abroad a year older, with a whole bunch of school spirit and having visited 17 states! I will definitely be back in the U.S. to see the other 33!! Here are some photos from the road trip!!

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Everything you need to know about Illinois

By Aye-Oritse Ikomi (The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So, I just wrote a really long post and accidentally deleted it so apologies but I am having to write a condensed version!

I have been at UIUC for two months now! I can’t believe it’s been so long! It’s gone so quickly, but also I feel like I’ve been here forever!

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For any prospective students who are thinking about coming, I am going to write a bit about the accommodation. I am living in Hopkins Hall in the Ikenberry Commons, which is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made here. It’s very sociable, a 10 minute walk from the Quad where classes are and it has one of the best dining halls.

Hopkins is a great option as it is a transfer cluster, meaning everyone has either transferred from a different American university or are international students. This is great because everyone’s new, looking for new friends, but aren’t first year students (also known as freshmen – no offence to freshmen!). So if you can, I’d reccommend living here. I’ve made some great friends here on my floor! Oh, and the whole roommate thing is really not as bad as you think it’s going to be! Another great thing is that the Ike (Ikenberry Commons) is right next to the ice rink and the ARC (Activities and Recreation Centre) which is home to two swimming pools, an indoor running track, squash, badminton, basketball and volleyball courts, a sauna, dance studios and four floors worth of gym equipment. ALL FOR FREE!

The workload is high! This is one of the best public universities in the States and they make you work for it. Participation and attendance is recorded and counts towards your final grades, and it’s worth doing all your reading or you risk being shamed in front of the whole class (this hasn’t happened to me yet thankfully!). Once you’re used to it, it’s actually fun being in classes where people are passionate and voice their opinion; I even put my hand up from time to time.

I’ve taken a few trips to Chicago now, the closest cosmopolitan city, and am confident in saying it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited. The city is beautiful, the people are friendly, it has great shops, cool architecture and it’s own beaches! Best of all, almost all the students are from Chicago and it’s suburbs, so when you go you’re basically guaranteed free accommodation (Midwesterners are very hospitable and wonderful people!).

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Unlike Manchester, (sorry Manchester) school spirit is huge here. When you walk across the Quad you’re greeted by a sea of orange and blue; tops, jumpers, umbrellas, water bottles, trainers, even the soap dispensers are emblazed with the Fighting Illini I! And it’s contagious… I am now the proud owner of my own assortment of Illinois gear! Sports is huge and the stadiums are incredible, especially if you sit in the student section for American football games.

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So far, I’ve been so busy I’ve not had the chance to get homesick, and I think having a job has been great for that. I’m working for University catering, which hosts events such as weddings and conferences. I’ve made lots of friends, it’s easy and really flexible. Also, if you have a Netflix account, it switches to the American version when you come here, which is awesome – every show your heart could desire! If you miss British shows, you can dowload an app called Zenmate onto Google Chrome which changes your location so that you can watch 4od and iPlayer! (Credit to Ellie Cook for that info.)

Homecoming, Halloween and Thanksgiving are coming up, so I’m preparing myself for a culture shock there. Halloween falls on a Friday this year, so the whole weekend (and apparently the weekend before) have been dedicated to it. Three costumes at the ready!

Finally, the most important thing to know about this state: the weather here is insane. One day you’re bundled up in 10 layers and a coat, the next it’s 28 degrees! So pack wisely and be prepared to mix and match!

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