My First Few Weeks at Mizzou!

By Becky L, University of Missouri-Columbia, United States of America

With the first week of classes coming to an end, I decided now would be a good time to introduce myself and my Study Abroad University! My name is Becky and I’m a second year Biomedical Sciences student, studying for the semester at the University of Missouri – Columbia. Initially I was apprehensive about spending 5 months in the Midwest, but I’ve acclimatised very quickly, mainly thanks to the amazing friends that I have met!

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Arizona State – A look back on ASU

I feel some things are just rightly assumed about the long-run advantages of doing a year abroad – yes you become more cultured, yes you’ll gain confidence, yes you’ll view life differently, yes there’s new opportunities… but what actually are some examples of these?

A (by no means exhaustive) post on how my year abroad impacted my life.

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New York, New York; The Iconic Landmarks

By Eleanor, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

It’s no secret that one of the main reasons I chose Rutgers for my year abroad was due to its vicinity to one of the most famous cities in the world, compared to other destinations in the US offered by Manchester. I feel I made a great choice. My apartment at Rutgers was literally one minute’s walk from New Brunswick train station, perfect for someone like me who tends to run fashionably late. From here, New Jersey Transit trains run directly to New York Penn Station in the heart of Manhattan, taking between half an hour to 50 minutes. For the price of dinner and a cocktail ($28, around £22) I could get a return train to the city that never sleeps. Here’s my experiences at some of the most iconic landmarks in the world.

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Wait, I have to STUDY on my study abroad year? My guide to Rutgers’ University’s academic side

By Eleanor, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

While it may sometimes feel like one long holiday, you obviously go on a study abroad year to STUDY at your host university. Much like the other aspects of my stay in the US, there were things I preferred at Rutgers and things I preferred at Manchester.

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An Ode to New Jersey Weather

By Eleanor, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

When people have asked me “How is America?” one thing I always mention is the weather, in typical Brit fashion. However, I feel justified in this as during my time studying abroad, I have braced all temperatures, and at a more leafy university, found a new appreciation for the outdoors.

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CHI-TOWN

By Benjamin Spencer, Arizona State University, USA

Chicago – making the most of being stateside!

I hadn’t even considered the fact that I was in a whole new country with 50 states to explore before arriving in Arizona, but now I see why so many students pick to move stateside.

Chicago, or as my friends exclusively refer, CHICAGO BABY! is a truly magnificent city, especially for those looking for some rest bite from the culture of the West Coast.

THINGS I LOVED:

The price.

We picked up flights for only £56 direct return from Phoenix and sharing Airbnbs with a large group saw 3 nights’ accommodation over the weekend only come to about £50 each.

The skyscrapers.

Chicago boasts quite the architectural prowess. Everywhere you look is a huge skyscraper and each is just as impressive as the other. We visited Trump tower (it was free!) upto the 20th floor and used a lesser-known ‘hack’ to avoid paying the $30 charge at the Willis Tower. If one is looking for a view up in the clouds of Chicago then go no further than the The Hancock Tower, once inside there is a bar on the 95th floor which is free to access and provides a stunning 360º of Chi-town.

The food.

Oh me, oh my. If you’re a foodie then Chicago is the place to be. Whilst living off the diet I consumed during my weekend would leave you with some type of clogged arteries or heart disease, it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t ‘pig out’ when there. I recommend two places specifically for the two key ‘traditional’ foods of Illinois: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for deep-pan pizza ‘pie’ and Luke’s Italian Beef for a classic steak sandwich. Both of these will leave you in a much-appreciated food coma.

Also, they have Nandos which is really cool.

THINGS I LIKED:

The Bean.

I liked the bean, it was cool and attracted a large crowd, which is kinda funny considering it is a bean.

The Parks.

The north of the city has numerous parks, particularly in Lincoln Park, which also has a free zoo. Views of the skyline are superb from here and it’s nice to be able to be at one with nature in a city that has a concrete jungle vibe at times.

The Shops.

Some of the shops we visited reminded me of those we find on Oxford or Bond Street in London. Equally, as Christmas was around the corner (I visited in mid-November) there was a lot of decorations already up, which always puts you in a good mood 😎.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:

The Metro.

There are many tales about the Chicago metro, and whilst you might think that they’re overblown, they’re not really. To put it lightly, there are a lot of ‘dodgy blokes’ lurking about and I wouldn’t want to travel alone at night on it (I’m a rugby prop for reference!). We had to get an Uber for our flight back thanks to a stabbing at a station up the line. During daylight it’s fine and a cost-effective method over taxis – so use this service at your own discretion.

The Contemporary Art Museum.

I love art and history a lot and often visit the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester Gallery, Manchester Museum, IWM North Museum and the like, but this museum just annoyed me. If it was free then fair enough, but the CMA costs $12 as a student and $15 full fare (I think) but it’s not really worth it. We completed the museum in about 45mins and that was on a go-slow… wouldn’t recommend it. Avoid.

This concludes this little summary of my trip to Chi-town, up next? Accommodation advice for ASU.

Trials and Tribulations of International Travel

By Eleanor, Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA)

As it tends to do, the Christmas holidays came and went in a flash, and it was time to return to New Jersey. But would we (and our belongings) make it there in one piece?

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AMERICA RATED.

Well, it has been a while since my last study abroad blog, a lot has happened, the main one being that I am no longer abroad. Now, I am contemplating my time on Rocky Top, Tennessee, underneath the grey skies of Manchester.

In America, I visited 5 cities in total. To try and tell you how different the culture is over there, I decided to review each city for 7 seperate categories. It’s a simple idea. Maybe the rankings might inspire you to take a trip to the Southeast of the USA.

Each city will be ranked for: Food, music, safety, bars, price, stuff to do and architecture.

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The Tennessee Tales

Well this entry is a little late, but if you’re reading it in 2025 it’s on time! I have been here in Knoxville, Tennessee for a about a month and a half now. Obviously, it has gone way too quickly, of course I have learnt a lot, but I don’t aim to dwell on the lessons learnt as it’s not as interesting to say ‘remember to do your work to keep your GPA high’ as it is to spread gossip.

Why is it worth the hassle you ask?

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

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

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

New Brunswick

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

The LX bus on a good day.

Having a roommate

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

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

Education

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

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

Walmart

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

“Voted New Jersey’s #1”?

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

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

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

A film about my first week in America.

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

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

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

Maryland Dhoom: A home away from home

*Maryland Dhoom is The University of Maryland’s competitive South Asian Fusion Dance Team.*

Dancing used to be a hobby and now it’s a passion of mine. Therefore, before travelling to America, I knew I wanted to join a dance team.  However,  I didn’t know whether to carry on doing Bollywood and Bharathanatyam (Indian classical) or experience every American college girl’s dream- getting on to the cheerleading team.

I decided to audition for a few teams before auditioning for Maryland Dhoom. Pretty much all the teams rejected me because they required at least one year commitment and I am only there for a semester. It was upsetting because I spent so much time and effort to prepare for the audition (especially the cheerleading one) and for that to be dismissed for a reason that I have no control over.

Due to the previous experiences with auditioning, the first thing I asked at Maryland Dhoom’s teaching day was “Can I join even though I am only here for a semester?”

“Of course you can!” said one enthusiastic Maryland Dhoom member.

After this moment, I felt so excited to dance! I took off my hoodie, placed my phone in my bag and started to stretch a bit.

“Before we start teaching you the dance, let’s sit in a circle and introduce ourselves” said one of the captains. I sighed. (There was about fifty people in the hall). When it was my turn: “ Hi, my name is Thul-”, the biggest reaction happened. A lot of gasps, a lot of “oh my gods” and a lot of “ she’s British!” When I tell you the Americans love the British accent, they LOVE the British accent.

Other than that, the audition process went smoothly and our team had our first social the following week. I felt like a grandmother at the social. Everyone apart from the captains were freshmen (first year students). But it felt wholesome. I felt like I was going to be part of a family.

Rehearsals were taken pretty seriously. Every week I had ten hours of dance rehearsals. It was very organised too because usually they use Fall semester to prepare for competition season ( Spring semester). Unfortunately, I would not be able to travel to different states and participate in competitions as I was only in America for the Fall semester. But I still had a few exciting events to look forward to: dance team photoshoot, audition filming day, Dhoom Venmo challenge  and an exhibition performance in Washington D.C.

A few of the photos from the dance shoot.

You’re probably thinking what ‘audition filming day’ is. We dedicate a day to film our audition tape. The audition tape needs to perfect as it determines Maryland Dhoom’s competition season. There are more than 100 bollywood/ fusion competitions in America. And the more you attend and place, the more points you get and the more likely you get to the Nationals (the final stage). This is the overall picture, obviously there are more rules.

Let me be honest, audition day was stressful. If someone made a mistake midway through, we had to start again. And after a few times, it did annoy people. Also, it was humid that day too; that did not help at all. But it was a good bonding experience. * A few hours later * we got two perfect takes!

You’re also probably thinking what is “dhoom vemo challenge”. It’s such an innovative method to raise money. So, Maryland Dhoom came up with a few dares with prices (the more daring the higher the price)  and posted it on their social media. Friends and family of Dhoom members can venmo (the American version of Paypal) money along with the dare and who they’re daring.

Here are a few:

A few of the venmo challenges

When November commenced, rehearsals started to become intense as we only had a couple of weeks left until show day. The week before show day was called ‘hell week’. (Literally hell week for me because I had two mid-terms that week too!) We had practise every evening, and we would rehearse until the captains were satisfied. Ex-captains and the captains’ friends would come in too to help out. A variety of things were involved during hell week: improving stamina by repeating routines with 30s breaks, improving techniques by getting into partners and criticise.. costumes, last min changes to the routine and formation, and a lot of drama ! The hell week was worth it though, I could tell that everyone improved dramatically!

16th November 2019. It was show day! But to me, it felt like a girls’ day trip and night out! It was so fun. We spent the morning getting ready together, drove to get lunch together, and then got to the venue. Everything was going so smoothly, and then it came to our turn to have the stage rehearsal.

A couple of the dancers slipped on stage and injured themselves, formations weren’t perfect, and it didn’t meet the captains expectations. So obviously there was some tension in the room. However, we pulled ourselves together and did last minute touch ups on both our dance routine and make up. We sat in the audience before performing, and boy, I was so excited to see the performers. I was literally on the edge of my seat. The energy levels were INSANE! The costumes and the use of props were too phenomenal. I didn’t want to stop watching but then they called up our team.  I remember being so nervous backstage, especially after watching the other performances. But when I got on stage, the vibes were surreal! Soon after our performance we hurried to get to the after-party. It was a fun night out with the girls but my legs were dead by the end.

Maryland Dhoom doing the “Dhoom face”.
A snapshot of the performance in D.C.

After the performance we did not have any rehearsals but we had a Christmas special social event. It was so wholesome: we watched Wizard of Oz (that’s Dhoom’s competition theme), did Secret Santa and had ordered take away. We undertook secret Santa with a little twist, instead of writing the person’s name on a tag we had to imitate our person and the others had to guess it. When it got to my turn I got so emotional because they gave me a goodbye present too. It was so heart-warming and honestly I will miss them so much.

That’s when I realised: joining Maryland Dhoom was one of the best things I did whilst studying abroad. I made some good friends outside of my class and it made me feel less home sick.  It gave me an opportunity to carry on doing what I love, on campus. Also, in hindsight, I saved a lot of money too, because if I didn’t join the team I would have spent my free time travelling around America, splurging on sightseeing activities. (I have a few friends complaining now that they spent too much on travelling).

I loved being part of Maryland Dhoom and I will cherish the memories I made with my Dhoomies. To those thinking about studying abroad, join a society – it’s worth it!

PS if you want to watch our performance, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7ywDo_K9LU

Goodbye presents from my Dhoomies! ❤
Hope you enjoyed reading my blog!