Travelling

One of the best things about America is its diversity. Every state is like a different country, from the mountains of Vermont to the deserts of Nevada, the swamps of Louisiana to the beaches of California, which meant that although I didn’t leave the states for 5 months, it felt like I’d travelled to a multitude of different countries. I visited 11 states in total, but it definitely felt like I’d seen more than just over a fifth of the country.  If I had to pick a top 3 places I would probably say Austin, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana and of course New York, New York.

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I surprised myself with how much I loved the South.  My preconceptions of the southern states were racism, sexism, homophobia and cowboys, so I was a little apprehensive to leave the comfort of the north. Thankfully though I didn’t witness anything that I deemed hateful. Austin was full of Pride flags and every southerner that I met was nothing but extremely pleasant. What I loved about the South was its extreme Americanness, it felt like there was a lot more culture there and that the people were really laid back and eager to befriend us.

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Texas particularly was everything I’d dreamed it’d be. There were people dressed in cowboy boots and hats everywhere. And they weren’t in fancy dress. People genuinely dress like that because, in Texas, it is fashionable. Whilst in Texas I also visited a real-life saloon. This was amazing. There was a band belting out the countryiest of country tunes whilst everyone gleefully danced the two-step. Even better than this, out the back of the saloon there was an extremely Texan version of bingo being played. The premise: a large grid of numbers was placed in the middle of the yard and littered with chicken feed. Players then paid two dollars to be given a piece of paper with a number written on it, correlating to a number written on the grid. A chicken was then placed on the grid and the chicken defecated on the number of its choice. The player whose number matched up with the number chosen by the chicken won $200.  I felt like I was in an extremely odd dream that I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to wake up from.

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New Orleans, took Americanness down a completely different route. As I sat eating beignets at café du monde, gazing at the European style architecture of the French quarter I felt as though I could have been in old Orléans. However, the constant cacophony of saxophones and trumpets coming from buskers on every street corner and the kids tap dancing for people’s spare change really emphasised that New Orleans is the birthplace of the very American culture of jazz. Everywhere you looked there were stalls advertising psychic readings and shops selling voodoo dolls, the latter unfortunately serving as a reminder that a lot of the culture here was born out of slavery.  NOLA was by far the most unique place that I visited in the US and I wish that I had been able to spend more than two days there.

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The final of my top 3 destinations felt more like home than merely somewhere I was visiting by the time I reached the end of my stay on the East coast. New York lived up to all of my extremely high expectations and even though I visited the city almost every weekend whilst I was studying at Rutgers, I felt as if I could wonder its streets for the rest of my life and never get bored. Time square really is that mesmerising. Brooklyn bridge really is that huge. Dollar pizza really is the best thing you will ever taste.

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The opportunity to travel the states for so long is something that I am extremely grateful for, and something which I never would have had the opportunity to do without study abroad. Whichever university you end up at whilst you are abroad, be sure to make the most out of travelling to its surrounding states/countries. It will make your experience unforgettable.

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The Final Travels

With the end of April came the end of exams and the end of a fantastic year at McGill. Although it was sad to leave behind all I had known for the previous 8 months, I was eager to begin my travels that I had been planning and dreaming of since this Canadian experience began. At the heart of these dreams has always been road tripping through the Rocky Mountains and we took no time to hang around before embarking.

After a night stopover in the cowboy city of Calgary, we picked up the car and set off on a hefty 6 hour journey to Jasper. This took us along Icefields Parkway, the absolutely stunning road that runs between Banff and Jasper National Parks. Jasper, a small town nestled up in the dramatic mountainous landscape, was beautiful. Easily the most picturesque place I’ve ever been. Whilst in Jasper we hiked, hiked, and hiked again. The highlight was the Valley of the Five Lakes as despite being told all lakes would still be frozen at this time of the year, we discovered one of the lakes to have completely thawed to the picture perfect turquoise colour so famously associated with the Rocky Mountain. A trip back down the Icefield Parkway, with a midway stop at the dramatic Athabasca Glacier, took us to Banff where more hiking ensued, along with well needed relaxation in the thermal springs as well as some more unsuccessful bear spotting.

5 Lakes
Jasper National Park

Continue reading “The Final Travels”

Why You Should Pick Case Western Reserve University

Imogen Henry-Campbell, Case Western Reserve University, USA

Case Western Reserve University is a small school compared to Manchester or some of the largest state schools like NC State. While it is less well known then schools like the University of California or Arizona State, Case is a really good choice for study abroad and these are the reasons why:

Private School with Great Opportunities:

Case Western is a private school in America and I felt privileged to experience life at one of the top institutions in America. For a small school, there are so many good facilities and opportunities better your life and career, from networking days to careers events, Case really has it all. Just be prepared to work hard. In the beginning, I found it intimidating being surrounded by such smart and driven people, but their ambition really inspired me and has pushed me to do the same.

Diversity:

Diversity is something that is celebrated at Case Western. There is a good mixture of students from different backgrounds and so many events to get involved on campus. I was introduced to the African Students Association and felt instantly welcomed by the society despite not being from African Heritage, and the same could be said for all other societies guided towards minority students.
Research:

There are so many opportunities to get involved in cutting-edge research at Case and it is ranked in the top 20 for research institutions in the US. I was lucky enough to join a research group for my second semester and it was a life-changing experience. I noticed how many students conduct research on top of their studies and the research they are doing is really making an impact on society. There is also a showcase of all the incredible research that is done on campus so if you are a bit of a science nerd like me, Case Western is a great place to get involved in research.

Greek Life:

While Greek Life is not for everyone, around 35% of students at Case are Greek. Although Greek life is important to many people, it seems to me that at Case it is a way to meet like-minded people and life-long friends. The Greek community does not dominate campus, and I found many of people involved friendly and easy to talk to. If you are thinking to rush, the fraternities recruitment is very relaxed, while the sororities only formally recruit in the spring semester. I wish I had joined a sorority, so if you are considering it I really recommend attending informal events in the Fall Semester.

Cleveland and Trying new things

I know that Cleveland has a bit of a bad reputation in America, but I would say this shouldn’t stop you from applying to Case. The campus is located in University Circle which is a nice location around 20 minutes from the downtown area of the city. I got to experience a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do in London or Manchester and I think this is exactly what studying aboard is for. I would suggest going to:

  • Coventry Village – A sweet area with good restaurants and coffee shops. Phoenix is a great place to study if you want to get off campus
  • Watch a Cavs Game – If you are in Cleveland you have to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers play at least once. Even with the cheapest tickets, you get a good view of the court and basketball is a lot of fun
  • Cleveland Museum of Art – A great art museum 5 minutes from campus. On the first Friday of every month, they host a late-night event with music and drinks where you can experience the art galleries late at night.
  • Severance Hall – If you enjoy classical music, the Cleveland Orchestra regularly play in the concert hall.

If anyone is unsure about picking Case Western Reserve and wants to talk to me about my experience of studying there then feel free to email me: imogen.henry-campbell@student.manchester.ac.uk

Fall break, Thanksgiving and Remembering Why You Chose to Study Abroad

By Imogen Henry-Campbell, Case Western Reserve University, USA

As the end of the semester approaches, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I would reflect on the incredible experiences I have gained from studying abroad.

It is easy to forget why you chose to study abroad when you doing the third round of midterms and have spent endless evenings in the library. I was feeling slightly lost, terribly homesick and unmotivated until I realized how lucky I am to have experienced new things and to have travelled around the world.

Over the last month alone I have managed to travel to Toronto, see Niagara Falls, experience a traditional American Thanksgiving and walk around downtown Chicago. I will try to share some of the incredible things I have done and encourage people to make the most of studying abroad:

Continue reading “Fall break, Thanksgiving and Remembering Why You Chose to Study Abroad”

Highlights of Case Western So Far…

By Imogen Henry-Campbell, Case Western Reserve University, USA

So I have been in Case Western Reserve for just over two weeks and it has been hectic. After 2 days of travelling including 2 trains and 2 flights, I arrived late at night, extremely tired after being awake for over 24 hours.

When I finally reached campus the sun was shining and it really showcased the lovely campus. My home for the next year is in The Village, an accommodation on the north campus for the upper class (3rd and 4th years). My favourite part of the village is that all the houses overlook the track and field area where the ‘Spartan’ teams train. It feels extremely American and I love it.

 

It really has been an actioned packed few weeks but I will go through my highlights of what I have discovered so far. For the first week, I had orientation, which is sort of like freshers week in England but led by the University. We were split into groups mainly with freshman in it and had two lovely leaders who took us to all of the events. Although most of the people were a bit younger than me it was a good way to meet new people, get familiar with everything Case has to offer and ease you into the uni life. One part that will stay with me the most was the ‘tradition’ or class photo. As Case is a small school with around 5000 undergrads, every year they take a photo with the new class on the field. It made me feel part of the Case community and I think it’s a great idea.

 

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My home for the next year at The Village

Continue reading “Highlights of Case Western So Far…”

Reflections on Studying Abroad (just another excuse to keep talking about my year abroad, really)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So this is my eighth and final blog (try not to get too upset) and its basically just a short one to talk about what it’s like being back in Manchester, post-Illinois.

Continue reading “Reflections on Studying Abroad (just another excuse to keep talking about my year abroad, really)”

all good things come to an end

It’s nearly the end of August, and I’ve been back in the UK for about three months now. Although I feel like I’ve adjusted back to life here pretty well, there are still mornings when I’ll wake up, and realise that I’m no longer sharing a room with my roommate. The past few weeks have been quite hard, as the university term has just started at Mizzou, so my Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook are filled with photos of the campus, and of nights out in Columbia’s bars and clubs posted by all the friends I made there. As much as I love being back in England, with all the little home comforts I missed so much, I do wish that I could be back there, going through it all again!13119777_10153438796606536_719110007204662750_o Continue reading “all good things come to an end”

Summer travels, or the reason I need a job

By Rhiannon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA)

Our time at Illinois had finished. Finals were done with, emotional goodbyes were had and we had a month left on our visas before we got deported from the country. We were heading to the West Coast.

The initial planning wasn’t the laid-back ‘Cali’ lifestyle that the trip itself promised. With seven of us to book flights, hostels, car hire, coaches and entrance tickets for, a month to remember started out more as an exercise in herding cats. Thankfully someone more organised than me was fluent in Google Docs and the phrase “check the spreadsheet’ became a mantra, chanted back at you if you wasted precious planning time with stupid questions. Yelp, Hostel World and AirBnB became our new best friends. The driving spotify playlists were curated months in advance and in our 1am revision session, procrastination came in the form of looking at restaurants four states away.

Our first stop was San Francisco. I’ve never been to California before so stepping off the plane into pleasantly dry heat and palm tree-lined streets was incredible. It had felt like this trip was such a long time coming. Even before I’d left for study abroad I knew I wasn’t just there to study but to explore the States. This was the last big adventure and admittedly the end of my savings. My highlight of our couple of days in San Fran was cycling along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was immensely satisfying to see our seven-man bike convoy roll up to the base of one of the most famous landmarks in the US knowing that we’d worked against gravel and a significant head wind to get there. We also stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts on the way. Not actually a palace but an imagining of a crumbling Roman ruin, and favourite for wedding photographers, meaning that I got some great Instagram material. My main tip for San Francisco (or SF to the cool kids) is to bring a good pair of shoes. As students who were looking at another three weeks of travelling, we walked a lot (maybe too much) in the city famous for its hills. A contrast to the boringly flat Midwest, some roads even had a 40° incline. It meant walking around the corner from our hostel could give glimpses of the most amazing views over the city below but you basically had do leg day to do so.

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SF from the top of a hill, Alcatraz watch tower and a stroll around the Palace of Fine Arts.

We picked up the cars on our last day in in SF and made our way over to the first proper stop on our road trip, Yosemite National Park. ‘Only’ 3 hours away from the city but nestled in mountains higher than anything in the UK, it’s understandably popular with Californians. This gave me a problem though; I might have forgotten during my desperate panic to ship stuff home that I would actually need warm clothes to go hiking in. An issue especially considering we saw snow on our second day. Cobbling together something from the overweight bag I dragged around the country with me, we prepared to hike the ‘strenuous’ climb to Nevada falls. The hike started at 3000ft and climbed another 2000 meaning the view from the top was literally breath taking and looking back at the photos we also got incredibly lucky with the weather. It’s fair to say we’re not exactly gym rats but we still managed the climb in 4 hours. A brief moment was had for the poor pair of sunglasses that got taken back down the hike via a torrent of water hurtling off the side of the cliff face. I would absolutely recommend Yosemite to everyone, regardless of you hiking ability (there’s more gentle ones too!) but go during the week. The weekends get very busy and the paths a little slower to navigate.

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Sunset by the roadside, the spectacular Yosemite falls and the climb to the top.

Coming back down to sea level and warmer weather, we travelled most of the journey south along the Pacific Coast Highway. Unusually for US highways this road actually has bends in it as it follows the coastline and gives continuously beautiful views of the ocean the whole way. We made smaller overnight stops at Monterey and Santa Barbara, to break the two-day journey down, and serve as an opportunity to have some amazing seafood. This lead to our next major stop, Los Angeles, which I would describe it as amazing and weird at the same time. Around the corner from our house was a hipster ice cream shop that allowed us to try flavours like rose water, lavender and olive. In the end I opted for the classic salted caramel. Everything there is incredibly spread out so your only travel option is to take a car and unfortunately they all drive like assholes. Thankfully we had decided to not return our rental cars and so got to see sunset over the city from the Griffith observatory, people working out on Venice Beach and a quick tour around UCLA. I also had a major nerd moment when I realised that we’d driven through the Back to the Future tunnel (smaller in real life than it looks).

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The Pacific Coast Highway, between the Walt Disney concert hall and having a look around UCLA.

The final stop of our road trip was a straight drive from LA into the desert. On our way there we watched the temperature rise and rise as we got closer to the unmistakeable Las Vegas, to handily coincide with Angus’ 21st birthday. We said goodbye to the cars (a more emotional event for some more than others) and took to the strip by foot. The city is ridiculous. Every building is draped with lights and is a monument to ridiculous extravagance. In recovering from the night before we went to an all-you-can-eat sushi place. I actually felt disgusted by how much food we ate, to the point the waitress actually commented on it. It was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten but in hindsight, maybe eating that much fish in the middle of a dessert wasn’t the smartest move. We had an amazing weekend and I like to think we celebrated our friend’s particular milestone in memorable fashion, but don’t think I’m ready to go back again anytime soon.

P.S. To save this blog being longer than it already is (and this was only the first half), some things didn’t make the cut. These photos are the best of the rest

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Chicago theatre during a packed graduation, the Berkeley bear and the Grand Canyon.

 

The not so similar life

It has been a couple of months now since I set foot on campus. I’ve been amazed by the difference in how UoM (University of Manchester) and UMass Amherst (University of Massachusetts at Amherst) are run. I have to say that one blogpost may not be able to portray my understanding and feeling but I will have a go.

First and foremost, I will avoid mentioning UMass Amherst Dining as I believe no blogger or blog post can do it justice. No wonder it has been rated in the top two for several years running. If you are in Manchester and wondering why the big deal about food, it may be helpful to know that most American Universities have their students living on campus so making food available within campus is their duty, unlike UoM where most students live off campus. I will start by stating the differences in academics.

ACADEMICS

You are starting a marathon and you hear ‘On your marks, get set, go!’ That’s how it feels from the first day through to the end. Homework and graded quizzes every week, midterms for every subject, essays and finals. There are no gaps between final exams. You finish your course today then you could either have your exams the next day or the week after the weekend. Unlike at UoM where you’ve got at least four weeks between end of class and start of exams (Christmas break and January exam & Easter break and May/June exams).

 

UoM (3 Semesters) UMass Amherst (1 semester)
Essays 4 4
Graded Quizzes 0 16
Exams/Finals 15 4
Midterm tests/exams 1 6
Presentations 2 0
Homework 2 22
Extra credit assignments 0 4

 

At UMass Amherst, a nutritionist student can take a Political Science class regardless of major or minor, a Physics student can take an English class. At UoM, an Economic students taking a Biology class will receive an email from her programme administrator with a short content ‘Please see me!’. The reason UMass students can and UoM students can’t could be because the latter spend three years at University while the former four years, therefore having an extra year to diversify your learning. I will leave it to you to suggest whether this is beneficial or not.

The Learning Resource Centre is run by students including the receptionist. Students are paid above the minimum wage to assist other students. This is additional to Teaching Assistants’ and Professors’ office hours. They are located on the 10th floor of the world’s tallest academic library – Du Bois Library.

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Du Bois Library in the background

 

LIFE AROUND CAMPUS

Unlike UoM, UMass Amherst is the heart and soul of the city. One resident of Amherst said to me that when the semester ends, Amherst becomes a ghost town. I must admit that UMass Amherst does a lot to make their students feel at home since it is situated in arguably a remote area far away from a main city or shopping complex. Speaking of shopping complexes, the University does take advantage of students as they overprice their products at the University’s Store. The store is probably 15 times larger than UoM’s and sells products from nails cutters to MacBooks.

Events are regularly held in order to help keep the students at ease since there isn’t a lot going on other than the regular flat and fraternity parties on Friday nights nd weekend.  This semester there were performances from Tinashe, Fetty Wap, Jason Derulo among others.

Student employment is quite impressive. Through an email, the UMass’ Human resource department wrote to me that 9884 students (Graduates and undergraduates) work for the university in capacities such as dining hall attendants, security personnel at halls and receptionists at the University’s hotel. UMASS student firefighters help the local fire department. Another interesting fact is that UMASS students drive the local buses that take students around university and town. My roommate drives one of these buses and says that other than being a good paying job it is enjoyable too.

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One of the buses driven by students

Sport participation is something like I’ve never seen before. As a result of sport participation,  students frequently end up not undertaking some of their assessments. However, their assessments are rescheduled since sport participation qualifies to be a valid mitigating circumstance. Lacrosse is by far the most popular sport. The free gym which is made available by the University helps keep the athletes and other students fit.

It was quite a busy semester but it has now come to an end. Needless to say that I’ve definitely experienced a different perspective of life.

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I remembered the sky is blue just as I was leaving

End of exchange reflections (penned somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I really should have been trying to sleep)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So 10 months later and I’m permanently back in the land of real bacon, correct spellings, day/month/year and people who know how to make a proper cup of tea (I’ve had 12 already). For my final blog, instead of getting all sappy and emotional about how amazing this year has been I thought I’d finish off by sharing some of the worldly wisdom I’ve acquired since August. Here are a few of my top tips and insider hints for studying abroad at the University of Illinois, navigating the USA in general, and for all of those things you think will never happen, but actually did:

(interspersed with various photos from UIUC post-spring break and summer travels)

Continue reading “End of exchange reflections (penned somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I really should have been trying to sleep)”

Miami 2…Columbia

Victoria Rowlands (Sociology) – The University of Missouri – Columbia

As promised, here is my entry about Spring Break. As promised, I got ridiculously sunburnt, despite wearing factor 45 suncream every day, and reapplying it religiously. BUT STILL, I HAD FUN!

The first part of my semester abroad has been pretty tough, in terms of the workload, so it was so lovely having time to relax and recharge. Easter break is only a week long, which is a huge departure from the three weeks we get in Manchester, so we were determined to make the most of it! Although most of our time was spent on the beach, we also made time to do some touristy things, too.

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Spring Break Travels (or Cuba: Fun yet Maddeningly Frustrating)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

“Fun but maddeningly frustrating” is the line used to describe Cuba on the back of the Lonely Planet Guide and by the end of our second day in the country, it had pretty much become our mantra for the trip.

If you’d asked me a year ago where I thought I’d be spending my spring break while on exchange in the USA I’d probably have said Mexico, or Florida, or some other typical location known for its beaches and partying. Then one day someone mentioned off-hand, “Guys, wouldn’t it be hilarious if we went to Cuba for spring break?”.

I’ll admit there was something enticing about the idea of, while on our American exchange, spending our break somewhere that Americans can’t actually go (at least not just for tourism reasons) and after triple checking with the international office at Illinois and various embassies that, yes, we would be allowed back into the country after having gone to Cuba, our spring break plans really started to take off.

Continue reading “Spring Break Travels (or Cuba: Fun yet Maddeningly Frustrating)”