Classes at the University of Glasgow

This entry marks my anniversary of being on a flight to LAX at exactly this time and date in 2009! It’s hard to imagine that it was only a year ago that I embarked on such an amazing adventure and journey! Although I can’t do a Janey (from My Family) and say “I’ve found myself!” 😉

It’s been just over 2 months since being back and I think I’ve finally got back into the routine of being back in the UK. It’s not been easy re-adjusting…but with the help of some of my best friend…it’s been easier! The most difficult bit has been getting used to having a room completely to myself…I know it sounds strange and a lot of people probably crave for their own rooms but after sharing a room with Nicola…I can’t help but feel completely isolated in my own space. Despite having a flatmate, I come back to the flat and there’s the irrevocable silence that I used to find comfort in before going to California…but I often catch myself thinking “wish Nicola was here for a good cup of tea”…it’s cute but weirdly needy…I can’t say I’ve ever been a dependent person, used to be very firm on being detached and as independent as possible…a bit like the bag-pack theory from “Up in the air” but…study abroad, Nicola and various other things have completely changed that and now I’m somewhere in the inbetween…

So as you can tell from the date, classes have started in full swing and fresher’s with their nervous faces can be seen exiting the huge lecture theatres in Joe Black…probably thinking to themselves…”fresher’s week was fun, but didn’t sign up for this much work”…or maybe that’s not what they think…but that’s what I remember thinking in my first year 😉 My first year really does seem like a long time ago and it’s quite disconcerting to think, I’m already in my final year…the inevitable question of “what’s after graduation?” has already started to eat at me…

But apart from that, I thought I’d fill all of you in on what it’s like to be back in lectures in Glasgow!

Well it’s obviously different from those in California…for one you have to battle through rain and wind to reach your lecture theatre 😉 and two – as a final year student you have the luxury of having smaller class sizes! With the variety of options on offer at least in the psychology department, it’s a good feeling to have this sense of choice and to attend lectures with a yearning to find out more about topics that fascinate me! One module in particular which is offered by Psychology but taught in the School of Philosophy, called ‘Consciousness’ has certainly grabbed my attention. The topic by nature is so far-reaching and our lecturer, Dr Stuart teaches it with an interdisciplinary twist that engages students from more or less any major. I think we’re very lucky to have someone who’s so passionate about the subject and further still, someone who’s so enthusiastic about the subject as a whole! It’s not like other years where lecturers maybe not be doing any research in the area  that they are teaching about and hence are just reading of pre-formatted scripts! Other options that I’m doing are very similar and overall it’s already starting to look like a year filled with exploration of the human condition! Although, the written work deadlines are slowly starting to eat at me 😉

We should also note that in my absence, the university restructured itself from being faculty based to college based. Not something that affects me that much, but I do have to remember to say the I’m in the College of Science and Engineering and I’m in the School of Psychology. So like the pps in UCSB, I get to say “I’m going to school”. It does take me back a few years when I say that…but it’s like saying “I attend the school of life”…sorry getting carried away with my own musings! Psychology as a department hasn’t changed that much with the obvious exception of increased usage of Centre of Cognitive Neuroimaging.

I suppose this is the point where I should wrap everything up as this is my last blog entry. Hopefully the blog in its entirety has documented all the highs/the lows/the weird and the wonders of my study abroad year. I don’t think I can give any advice to future study abroad students apart from saying “go for it and don’t look back!”. Admittedly, financial planning is required. So before you apply do take account of how much money you can pool together and do consult the international advisors, myself, fellow SASA writers on the site for a good estimate of all the costs involved. To be honest, after speaking to others who studied abroad, I’m convinced it’s not really about where you go, it’s more about who you meet and what you do as part of a group. Obviously where you are determines the range of activities and possibilities open to you, but by no means does it define you study abroad experience. So have a look at what you can afford, which places you’d be interested in going to and then just take the jump! I think we’re very fortunate to have links with so many institutions abroad and it’s really up to us as individuals to make the most of these opportunities!

My gratitude goes to all my friends abroad who welcomed me in California, friends at home who helped readjust, Linda, Ray, Frank, Nicola and my family for all their support throughout!

On that note, I hope you’ve enjoyed my musings and I look forward to hearing about your experiences from your year abroad!


Back to reality

Classes have begun at Glasgow again and summer can be deemed officially over. Sad times. It’s been almost 4 months since I returned to Glasgow from my exchange in Boston and since then the summer has flown by. I can’t say that I really experienced any ‘reverse culture shocks’, or at least not yet anyway. June flew by, catching up with friends and enjoying the sunshine whilst July and August were mostly filled with my summer internship. I wrote in my last post that I was seriously considering a trip back to Boston at the end of summer, and that’s exactly what I did. In late August I flew out to Boston for a 3 week visit to see many of the friends I made out there on exchange. I had an absolutely fantastic time, and managed to get a bit more travelling in. As well as Boston, I did the obligatory NYC trip and then spent a week in Cincinnati, Ohio and Nashville, Tennessee. The entire trip was incredible and getting to see people again so soon after leaving was great. I managed to spend all my money from the internship but I would do it again in a heartbeat. In some ways saying goodbye a second time was harder, as I don’t have any certain plans to visit again in the near future like I had when I left in May. I guess I always knew I was returning to Glasgow and that those 3 weeks were just a holiday, but sometimes you feel so comfortable in a place, or around people, that it begins to feel like home.

Since being back in Glasgow Freshers has finished and classes have begun. It’s strange coming back to lectures here as they are actually lectures, not highly interactive class discussions as they were at BC. I find myself wanting to speak up every time the lecturer asks a question and am mystified when I don’t see dozens of hands go up in the air. I suppose this counts as a small piece of reverse culture shock. The university system is changed somewhat now too, with colleges instead of departments and there have been refurbishments to the Hub and the Library which look really good! Otherwise I have managed to get back into the swing of things fairly easily and am ready to take on my final year at university. I have decided to take a gap year after I finish, hopefully to do some travelling and see people who I met at BC as well as picking up some more work experience before I start a full-time job the following August. I’m really looking forward to that year out as there are now just so many things I want to take on and achieve having studied abroad for a year. That’s one thing I’ve really taken away from the experience, apart from  a great group f close friends, is an increased desire and self-motivation to achieve and explore every experience and opportunity available to me.

I had an unbelievable year abroad and can’t recommend it enough to students considering a year abroad, and especially at BC. Main tips would be to research it early and speak to your advisers. Think carefully about where you want to go and why, what is it you want to get out of the experience? If you are clear in your mind over these questions then get your application up and running, you shouldn’t have too many problems. It really is a once in a lifetime so take the chance if you’re lucky enough to get it. It will be the best decision you ever make.

Coming back to Glasgow

Yes…from the last entry you can probably tell that I’m now back in the UK…whether that’s for better or worse depends on how well you know me 😉

I should warn you that before proceeding with reading this entry further…that I may start to complain/rave/rant about being back. So despite the warning, I hope some of you have the healthy sense of curiosity to ask, “why would you moan/rave/rant about being back home?”

I suppose we can call it “readjusting” or “reculturation”…but the fact of the matter remains that it only takes 9 months to fully acculturate somewhere else and even somewhere you’ve lived most of your life can seem somewhat alien…perhaps that’s overkill…but dramatics are required!

So let’s get the British etiquette out of the way…how in the name of Lord almighty do we put up with our weather??? I mean really…just in the time it takes me to write this, I bet it will have changed from the lovely sunshine to this austere coldness that makes you feel winter is approaching! I had also managed to forget how cold/windy/rainy Glasgow was! Just in my first week of being back in Glasgow, I managed to break my umbrella! I swear, someone in Glasgow Airport could make a lot of money of giving 5 minute lessons about weilding umbrellas…it’s a skill which is probably evolutionarily programmed into all you wegies…but for scousers like me (despite my posh accent) lessons would help! Right, weather rant over J

In my second week of being back, I ended up in Leeds for a friend’s birthday, which he wanted to celebrate with a pub-crawl…it had been just over a year since my last pub-crawl and I think it’s fair to say I had forgotten the basic advice of pacing oneself. It was a great night and I think that night grounded me back into the UK as I had spent the previous week complaining about lack of sunshine.

There’s also the tenatious issue of friends…I think it’s easy to assume that when you go away things back home won’t change too much…perhaps it’s being naïve…but I really didn’t expect that many changes in my friends. Change is by no means bad…in most of my friends, they were welcome changes but in some others there were surprising changes…so it’s something you have to deal with when you come back, whether you like it or not! I think if anything, by going abroad, you get to know your real friends much better and they’re ultimately the ones who make you feel at home! You guys/gals know who you are and hopefully you know how grateful I am J

Other than that, coming back is a bit like going abroad…had to go through the rigmarole of finding a place to stay, sorting out courses for this year and the usual finance issues that beseige students during the summer. I was lucky enough to get a job at the yellow duckmarine in Liverpool and that certianly paid off quite a few bills!

Overall, similar to my first week in California…shaky beginnings which will no doubt change to humble surroundings!!!

Finishing up in UCSB

It has been a while hasn’t it since I last made contact with you, my avid followers?! Having abandoned my promise of logging my last days in California, I’m typing now, wishing I had continued it. It’s been just over 2 months since I got back to the UK, and I cannot even begin to explain how weird it feels being back on the island I call “home”. But before I start about coming home, I think it’s best to reflect on my year abroad in it’s entirety.

My time in California had shaky beginnings as per the earlier blogs, but the year in all has been nothing but pure bliss. Since coming back, I realised I didn’t go for the study abroad experience with expectations as such. It was more about developing myself as someone who can adapt to whatever situation I find myself in. So if that counts as an expectation, then I think I’ve definitely ticked that particular box. Other than that, making some amazing friends along the way, experiencing the californian way of living, the traveling, the biking and the randomness that is so inexplicably part and parcel of studying abroad were additional extras that made the experience so much more unique and enjoyable.
After coming back and being asked by friends and family, what were the highs and lows…I usually respond “read the blog or see the pictures” 😉 and in honesty there are too many highs and too few lows to list. When you look back, it’s always easier to remember the highs of cali life and most of them involve a particular situation, or a wonderful place that I travelled to but at the same time some of the highs are just random events, shared memories or mundane day to day things that may not seem that interesting. Such events include my trips to San Francisco, Yosemite, Chicago but also events like watching my first meteor shower and then enjoying a good hot chocolate in the company of my best friends, or even while cycling along the coastal route and being lucky enough to spot dolphins jumping in and out of the pacific. There’s also the mundane things like enjoying a frozen yoghurt from Sweet Alley with my flatmate Nicola while having one of our weird and wonderful discussions that would probably be deemed inappropriate by others…I have to use a quote from Up! and those who have seen it will understand “It might sound boring, but I think boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most”. As for the lows, they don’t matter and I can’t say I can think of any that caused any particular grief.
The experience was just too special and I imagine it would be completely different if I ever did it again. The psychologist in me is trying to account for all the factors that would have to stay constant to make the experience similar, and as you can imagine there are too many factors. With hindsight, you’d think you could do things differently but we all know what happened in the Butterfly effect and those that are not familiar with the film, just consider chaos theory…i.e. small differences in the initial condition of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behaviour of the system.

The experience as such is for everyone! I’m not a fan of using phrases like “developing a global perspective” as they are semantically ambiguous and yes yes…one of you are thinking of commenting “your face is semantically ambiguous” 😉 but joking aside, it’s difficult to explain what a global perspective is. But if global perspective means getting to know people from all over the world, living a different way of life, experiencing a different culture, learning to manage everything by yourself, adjusting to a different academic system and not complaining/talking about weather…then I can’t think of one person who wouldn’t benefit from participating in a year abroad! The sheer thrill in exploring a new place, discovering the nuances that make the culture and people so different, paying attention to cultural ambiguities like “jay-walking”, challenging yourself to do better in multiple choice exams  and even just not having to prepare for the conundrums of variable weather make the whole experience worth it!

So I’ll end by saying who knows what a study abroad experience will do for you…

The End of the End

Well, that’s it. My year studying abroad is officially over.

Once the academic year had finished, I was able to do a little travelling and I also did a short internship at an independent fashion and arts magazine from the East Village of New York City. I worked with them for two weeks and it was such a fantastic opportunity and experience. Sadly, with the visa restrictions, you can’t accept payment for the work but for me, the experience I got was well worth it. One of the nicest thing about being in the city for so long, and having visited so many times throughout the year, was that I knew my way around the city, leaving the tour guide behind and knowing which train I needed to get and was able to help tourists. During the day, I worked for the magazine and attended gallery openings and exhibitions, and at night, I was able to really soak up the nightlife of the city. The clubs in New York are amazing and shut at 4am, the drinks are strong and a little expensive (A typical shot in a drink is at least a double and a typical cocktail is about $12). In spite of the rumours, the city does sleep, from about 4am to 6am, but that’s all! I felt really settled in the city, like a real New Yorker and my experience there only confirmed that I want to return as soon as possible.

Its hard to look back. I did so much while I was out there, met so many people and tried so many new things, did things that I never thought I would or could, that it’s hard to focus on specific events. Every day was memorable in some or other. If I can recommend only one thing to do on your year abroad, it is this: Keep a journal. I know that not everyone likes to write a journal and trust me, when you’re so busy all the time, its hard to keep up, but years later, it’ll be nice to look back and read. Even now, and its only been a month, I like to read the journal I kept, just to remind me of all that I achieved and experienced.

My sister warned me about SOS syndrome (I doubt that is the official term) which is apparently a depression that study abroad students get when they return home. Personally, I had a wonderful time throughout the year and honestly, I didn’t want to leave. Since I left in August, I hadn’t visited the UK at all. Now that I am home, though, its really nice seeing old family and friends. When people ask ‘How was New York?’, its a funny question – its not like it was a holiday for two weeks, but it was a whole year of living. All you can say is ‘Amazing’.

I guess everyone is saying the same thing: it was a great year, a lot of fun, nice seeing family and friends again…but its all you can say! New York was the place for me and I loved being there. You meet so many interesting people and make lifelong friends. The school was fantastic – personally I think in America, you have a lot more work to do but the level isn’t as hard. The opportunities to travel are great, the weather is hot in summer and cold in winter, there is so much to do and see…and yes, it is nice to come home and meet up with friends that you haven’t seen in a year and enjoy the comforts of home and Britain.

So, in conclusion, if you can, study abroad. I applied on a whim and it turned out to be the best year of my life. Hopefully, it will be the same for you…


The Beginning of the End

Time flies when you’re having fun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, many times I’m sure. The study abroad experience is a lot of fun, so the year passes before you’ve even stepped off the plane! It’s so funny to think of the person who turned up in this country in August and the person who will be leaving at the end of June. This experience is about growth and change, and I’ve certainly done both – first of all, I arrived a blonde and I’ll be leaving a brunette!

So, I had all my exams and finished my courses. As an international student, every professor you have must fill in an evaluation form – of course content and how the grade is awarded, the student’s participation in the class and academic position. These must be filled out. Get them done before the very end of the exam month, before the professors go on holiday or get caught up in summer classes.

The student visa expires on the 13th of May, however one is entitled to remain in the country for a further 60 days of grace period. You can travel around the country but if you leave America during the grace period, you cannot re-enter. One of my friends thought that the visa expiry date was the date that you had to be out of the country so he was the first to leave, and slowly but surely, all the Brit Clique trickled out of Albany and back into the UK. Thankfully, skype and facebook keep the world in touch.

I didn’t want to leave so early. That’s one of the great things about living off campus – you dont get kicked out of accommodation as soon as the semester is over. So I stuck around.

Firstly, I travelled to Long Island for a week with a friend. There are cute tourist-appropriate areas in Long Island, such as Port Jefferson. It was nice to visit the place as a large percentage of the SUNY Albany population comes from Long Island. During the week, I also travelled to New Jersey to go to the Six Flags Amusement Park. It was a three hour drive to get to the one in New Jersey but its actually closer than the one in New York State. Its $50 to get into the park but if you buy your tickets online, they are only $35. Its a great place but go early as the queues are long and there’s so much to do.

When I returned to Albany, I then travelled to Lake George, which is another tourist hotspot. Its a small town, not far from Albany – just a few hours in the car. The place is beautiful – the lake is surrounded by forests and mountains and the town is very quaint. Luckily, I went on a day that was absolutely glorious so managed to make the most of it.

The next day, I was picked up by another friend and taken to Connecticut, which has a lot of greenery and mountain landscape. She took me to Old Lime Beach, which was absolutely heaving. All the students were there, with beers and footballs and blaring speakers; rather Jersey Shore-esque.

After that, I took a weekend trip to Buffalo to see Niagra Falls. Its a 5 hour drive, but totally worth it. The falls are amazing and loud and teaming with tourists. For $13, you can do the Maid of the Mist boat tour, which takes you to the foot of the falls and you get totally soaked. After the falls, I went to Anchor Bar, which claims to be home of the Chicken Wing. Chicken wings are a bit deal in the US and they’re really good – if they’re made well, and Anchor Bar does them well! If you get the opportunity, you should make the trip.

The rest of my time was filled with Albany activities. The gym, library and campus stays open because of summer classes. The mall will forever be a source of enjoyment, along with the cinema and bars there. Throughout the summer months, downtown Albany plays host to Alive at Five, a series of free concerts held every Thursday at 5pm on the river front. Apparently, it keeps Albany alive during the summer. Well, you certainly couldn’t fit any more American stereotypes into one place – the jocks, the preps, the wanna be punk rockers, the old housewife with bleached hair, the older woman who wishes she had been cast in Sex and the City, the hicks, the cowboys…take a camera and enjoy the scene!

And now, I’ve been lucky enough to score an internship in the city. So I’m on the Goodbye Tour of the city, and the state, that I have come to love…

the end of an era

OK,  so it is all over.  Goodbye America, I’m back in Europe! It’s good to be home, but I miss Champaign.. still can’t believe the year passed so quickly… as it always is when you’re having fun.  It already seems like a dream to me.

Luckily I’ll quite busy soon, as I’m going to start a pilot training in a few weeks so I won’t have too much time being sad.

But Poland’s great so far, I’m spending all days with my family and friends, there is a lot to catch up after nearly 10 months of not seeing them. On the other hand I’m so used to traveling right now I can’t sit still in one place;p

I wish all of you going on exchange next semester great time and that afterwards you will have as good memories as I do!