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…

x

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…

Its Been A While….

Wow. I cant believe how quickly time passes when youre having fun.

So, last post, I was preparing for Spring Break. How long ago that seems now…Spring Break is another name for Easter Holidays and is one week long. I went to Miami, Florida for a week. Check the studentuniverse website for really cheap deals; i got a a round trip to miami from JFK for $180 inc tax. Amazing. Miami is beautiful. If you want culture shock, go there. Its funny; I didnt experience any form of culture shock when I came from Glasgow to New York, but going from New York to Miami was so different. Especially in the city, everything is ‘go go go’ but when i reached Miami, everything is so relaxed. People walk so slowly on the pavement, instead of rushing past you, you just go and sleep on the beach, maybe play volley ball or something, get an iced beverage instead of a scalding coffee…It was a perfect holiday. Every year in Miami, they host the Ultra Music Festival, which is a 2 day festival dedicated to dance and rave and dubstep, and it is RIDICULOUS! One night, I got on my friend’s shoulders and just looked around. The park was filled with a crowd of 80 000 people, there was lights and flame throwers and speakers as big as buildings and the atmosphere was just AH-MAZING! if you can go, i’d heartily recommend it. I spent the rest of the week recovering on the beach by day and drinks and clubs in the evening. Be prepared to spend money around the time of the Winter Music Conference; a friend and i went to a club called Klutch and it $50 to get in….

Before returning to Albany, I spent the weekend in the city (as I do at any opportunity). This time I stayed in Brooklyn, which is an up and coming area with regards to culture and food and club scene, and I had my first taste of sushi, and I also got the D train all the way to Coney Island, a famous, run down but fantastically shabby chiq fairground and pier. I went on some of the rides, including the famous ferris wheel, and while I was strolling down the pier, I tried my first ever corn dog. Ha ha I always wanted to try one; they epitomised my idea of America when I was younger. For those of you who dont know, as I didnt, its a sausage wrapped in a cornflour based batter. Theyre actually ok but you have to eat it with mustard and ketchup!

I was warned at the beginning of this semester that it passes by really quickly, and I wasnt lied to. It felt like I was only just back in classes when I was being given final tests and essays…

Well, you will all be glad to hear that I have at last finished my scarf!!! its taken me the whole academic year but it is at last complete! i love it and feel like a sown a memory into each knit and pearl…

The fashion show was a huge success. We had been practicing all semester and our hard work finally paid off. It included 5 designers from the city and featured acts from student groups on campus. The clothes were great too.

The weekend after the fashion show was the dance show. The show goes on for two days and is a lot of fun. You really get to bond with the people in your group and the show gives you the opportunity to see everyone’s routines, which are fantastic.

And now we’ve all just had our final exams. I had my last exam on tuesday and im still in a state of shock that my time at SUNY Albany is over. My study abroad experience has almost come to an end. And with the end of exams, all the other students are going home and slowly, the friendship groups you have made break apart. The international students from the UK, or the Brit Clique  as we are known around campus, have formed a really tight bond because we have all been going through the same things and explored new territory together. Thats not to say we only hang out with each other! But its nice to hang out with Americans and  come back and talk to people who know what a rich tea biscuit is! I am going to miss everyone, American, British and otherwise, so much. THANK GOD FOR FACEBOOK!

Semester Two at SUNY Albany

I cant believe that I’m already half-way through the second semester of my time here in America. This year certainly flies by. I was warned by the students here that the second semester passes quicker than the first, and they have been true to their word.

So Im doing the five mandatory courses for the credits to qualify at Glasgow; I cant stress enough how important it is to check with the Glasgow advisors that your courses are good enough. Im already doing the mid-term exams, even though I feel like I’ve only just started back at university.

One thing about SUNY Albany is that it is very easy to get involved with extracurricular activites. This semester, Im doing knitting club, dance council and the Project Inspire Fashion Show. The fashion shows are the ‘big deal’ events of the semester so its great to be a part of it. The fashion show is in April and the dance show is in May, just before the final exams.

After the mid-term exams, its time to enjoy Spring Break (typically known as Easter Holidays in the United Kingdom). SUNY Albany normally celebrates Spring Break a few weeks after most other American universities. It lasts just over a week and I am lucky enough to be spending it in Miami! I’m so excited!

The ISSS office (thats that international student help office) is very accommodating. They send out emails every week with things to do and helpful advice. They also arrange nice days out, including to the local ice rink (which is a lot of fun) and snow tubing on some local hills.

As many will be aware, there is a huge Irish population in New York and in light of this, St Patrick’s Day is a massive affair. There is a local Albany celebration known as ‘Keggs n Eggs’. This entails waking up at 4am (this is mandatory) and drinking and then having breakfast (eggs, obviously) and then drinking and then finding a frat party and then drinking; basically its a day to drink beer from 4am until you pass out. And for the more cultured of you, there is also a parade downtown by the Capitol Building in the early afternoon. This year, the weather wasnt that great but that didnt prevent the Irish dancers and the fire trucks and the Irish societies from marching down teh streets.

Continuing the culture theme, there is such a thing known as First Friday in Albany. Its the first Friday of every month and it means that the shops stay open later than usual and the art galleries are free and offer free glasses of wine and food. Its a nice idea and rather popular.

I’m looking forward to making the most of my time here as I only have a few months left. The semester finishes in early May and thats also when the Visa is up, however there is a grace period of 60 days for you to enjoy travelling around a bit. Who knows what I’ll do with my time!

Christmas, New Year and a Whole New Semester

Well, the paper deadlines were met, the exams were done and passed (thank God!) and semester one at SUNY was over!  I had such a fantastic time – clubs, pubs, parties, fashion shows, knitting, the city and everything it brought. I’m so happy I came here!

The holidays last for a whole month which is fantastic. Unfortunately, Albany is a student city, so when the holidays hit, the city pretty much dies. I decided to stay here because I have my own house here, whereas some students are kicked out of their student accommodation and moved to another quad if need be, but they need permission to stay there.  The students left and the snow arrived. And it does get very cold here; I dared to walk out without a hat on and whenever the wind blew, I got brainfreeze.

One of my sisters came to visit me for Christmas and New Year; we spent Christmas in quiet Albany, visiting the mall and downtown, which has a great free museum, a plaza, the Capitol building and a Hudson River monument, and then we headed to the city on the megabus for New Year.

Since I’m here for one year and I’m living like a tourist, I had to do the Ball Dropping in Times Square for New Year, as do 80 million other people. I headed to Times Square at about 4pm and it was already packed and they were blocking off most of the entrances. I ended having to walk up a load of blocks to find an open entrance, all of which of manned by police men who frisk you and checked your bags. Only small handbags allowed; anything larger and you get turned away. And then you are hearded down the available blocks towards the square to join the rest of the revellers. It was cold, it rained a little, there was some snow. And then you wait. And wait. And wait. There is the entertainment on a stage and large screens to see what is going on as well as a countdown every hour. It can get a little boring, but its a tradition that has lasted over 100 years. And then its the countdown, and everyone gets excited and the clock is counting the seconds, and then the lit up ball slowly decends and its the new year! Fire works go off, crowds cheer and confetti fills the air. Its fun – maybe not worth a massive wait, but its nice to be able to say you’ve done it. And then the madness begins as millions of people attempt to leave the square at once so there is shoving and pushing. I then went onto a club in Greenwich village which was open till 7am.

I did plenty of tourist things with my sister, including the staten island ferry, which leaves from Battery Park every 30 minutes and is free, the empire state building (having already done it at 1am in the morning, I wanted to see the view in the sunlight!) – this time, the queue took two hours, the flatiron building (thats the triangle building that you see on all the postcards), St Patricks Cathedral (the biggest cathedral in America), the Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre, shopped at Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue (the grandfather store of all the others), the New York Public Library and the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The new semester starts on the 20th of January so all the studetns have started returning and the city is alive again. I’ve picked all my classes – this year, I’m taking three business classes and two literature classes. I have to take five classes to get the credits at Glasgow. In order to take the appropriate level of class here, you have to email the international convenor at SUNY to get permission codes for the courses.

I’m excited about this semester – hopefully it will be as good, if not better, than the last! I’ll keep you updated!

The End of Semester One

I cant believe I’ve been here since August, and its already December. In so many ways, I still feel so new here and yet part of me feels like I’ve been here for years. This blog is long overdue but I’m so busy here, I barely have time to sleep, nevermind reminise about what a wonderful time I’m having!!!

So:SUNY. Its a beautiful campus and its very busy. Living downtown can be annoying but the free buses solve that problem. I’m so glad I moved off campus – nothing against Alumni, but I personally didnt want to share a bedroom or a bathroom for a whole year. I live with a great bunch of people in a lovely house with a porch – its all very quaint. In order to match the credits neccessary at Glasgow, I had to do five classes – it didnt matter the level, but I did four 300 classes and one 400 class. My classes lasted an hour and twenty minutes, which is so long in comparison to Glasgow’s 50 minute classes! Mid-terms hit you unexpectedly and then you dont stop until you finish your finals.There is a lot of reading to do and homework which keeps you busy every night. But all work and no play makes you boring.

Its really easy to get involved on campus. Everyone has warned me about how harsh the winter is here, so I joined the International Knitting Club and began knitting a scarf. Its still a work in progress but I’m getting there and it will keep me all wrapped up during the cold winter months! I was also part of the dance council, particpating in 2 dances, until I realised the date of the dance show clashed with another show that I was a part of. The A.S.U.B.A (Albany State University Black Alliance) fashion show is THE event of the semester and I was lucky enough to be selected to model in the show. Rehearsals were tough but so worth it when you walk out to a crowd of 500 people all cheering. I also joined the church on campus, which is inter-denominational so anyone can go. They also provide a meal after the service so everyone can socialise together which is really nice.

The nightlife in Albany is so different from Glasgow, which is artsy/grunge/cool. Albany has fewer clubs and theyre mostly hip-hop/rnb. Obviously 21 to drink but a few places let you in if youre 18. And typically, lots of places have separate queues for girls and guys; the girls can walk straight in but the boys have to wait. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but ‘bump and grind’ is something to behold in all its sordid glory! It certainly takes some getting used to…Frat parties and house parties happen every weekend, just be careful as the police have a tendency to break them up if they get too loud and there is a mad rush of underage bodies scrambling over fences to get away.

And, the best part about coming to Albany: New York City. Its only 3 hours away by bus or train; visit megabus.com or the greyhound website. If you book far enough in advance, you can get the megabus for about $6 return. I’ve been numerous times now; I’ve visited as a tourist with friends to go on tour buses and sight see, I’ve been at the top of the Empire State Building at 2am, I’ve been on a boat cruise around the Statue of Liberty, I’ve visited as a New Yorker, shopping and partying in the city that never sleeps, I’ve walked in the famed Greenwich Village Halloween Parade and ran up 6th avenue dressed as a mime and I’ve watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade near Times Square, I’ve shopped in Black Friday Sales and partied in Webster Hall till 5am. The city is unbelievable. I plan to be there to see in the new year…

I’m having such an amazing time here. Unfortunately, I know some people who aren’t and they want to go home and skype their families as much as they can. Luckily, I’ve never been a home-sick kind of person, but every now and then, I do miss my friends from home and my family. But I’ve made so many new friends here, friends that I know I will keep in touch with when I leave. The thought of leaving is horrible and it already seems to be happening so fast! I only have about 6 months left; I wonder how much more I can fit into the time left???

Settling In.

So I’ve been here roughly five weeks and I don’t think I’ve stopped once!

I left the United Kingdom on the 23rd of August, travelling via London to arrive at JFK at about 6.30pm. There’s a five hour difference between the UK and the USA. I had twelve hours to kill before my connecting flight and there was no chance I was going to waste my time in the airport. On the first floor of terminal 7, there is a 24hr luggage hold. Its $11 for a big case and $5 for a bag. Then I got the underground, or as they call it, the subway. You need to buy a metrocard, which is available in vending machines around the airport. I took the E train to Midtown Manhattan.

New York City is everything you think it’s going to be. It’s noisy, dirty and busy. Don’t bother with your i-pod because the bustle of the city makes for great background music. There is steam coming out of grids on the road, venders line the streets with hot dogs and nuts, the sound of the subway beneath your feet, flashing lights everywhere. As I walked around, I heard the Scouse accent begging for change and then the bagpipes, being played by a man in a kilt! Yellow taxis fill the roads and think they have more priority than pedestrians and the emergency services. Rather than moving to the side for the ambulance, they nip in front to get ahead! The city is built on a grid system, with criss-crossing avenues and streets. Its pretty easy to get the hang of it.I did some shopping and then headed to Chelsea, where I went to a bar and met some people and then we moved onto a club. You have to be 21 to get into clubs over here and they i-d everyone. Also, clubs shut at 4am, rather than 3am, which I didn’t realise and almost resulted in me missing my flight. I got out of the club at 4am, grabbed a taxi to JFK and ran for my flight. Taxis charge a flat fare of $50 from the city to JFK, and vice versa, plus tip. Then it was a 3 hour flight to Albany International.

I arrived at 9am and took a taxi to my student accommodation, which cost roughly $25. I had been assigned a room at Waterbury Hall on the Alumni Quad; they alert you via your Albany student mail address. I got my first look at Albany, which is surprisingly quaint. As far as cities go, don’t imagine anything like a British city. It’s fairly quiet, with cute houses that have porches. There isn’t a city centre but there are a few malls which have eveything you need. There’s uptown and downtown. The campus is uptown, alumni quad (the typical home for international students) is downtown.

I checked in at the main office and got my assigned room. You have to share a room with another person; a bed, desk and wardrobe is provided. You have to share the bathroom and toilet with the entire corridor. You also get a key for you own mailbox, located in the lobby. The best thing to do from there, after unpacking and showering etc, is to head to the campus and get your SUNY card.

Your SUNY card allows you onto the 10, 11 and 12 buses for free, and these buses take you everywhere you need to go in Albany. It costs $1.50 single to get to the campus and from there you go to the SUNY card office in the campus centre to get your card. Make sure you’ve brushed your hair as they take your photo then and there! From there, I joined in with the orientation.

Having particpated in the orinetation in the USA, I think the Uk Fresher’s Week really comes into its own. Though it is a week of drinking and clubbing and late nights etc, you also get to meet so many people on your adventures and many meet long term friends during that week of fun. Orientation over here, however, is a week of lectures about safetey and getting involved and health insurance and blah blah blah. Yes its useful but it also makes it hard to meet people. Thankfully I met a group of British people and we all bonded so I spent the week hanging out with them.

SUNY at Albany is a large and beautiful campus with loads of fountains and light and greenery. Its a lovely place to spend time. There are about 20 000 students and millions of student clubs and associations. There is a website http://www.myinvolvement.org which lists all the clubs available at SUNY.

You sign up for classes via the internet (before you leave, they will send you an e-mail telling you how to do so) and must take 5 classes, as that the equivalent of the credits needed at Glasgow. Books are really expensive over here but all are available at the campus bookstore. Alternatively, there is a bookstore called Mary Janes which is on Western and Quail, and it sells the books slightly cheaper or you can buy used copies. Plan when you are going to go as at the beginning of the semester, the queue goes all the way down the street. Classes start at the end of August and yes, you might have a class at 8.45am which is just ridiculous. Again, allow plenty of time for the bus in the morning as it is packed within three stops.

So far, I’m having an amazing time. Albany was once voted number one party town in America, which is quite the claim to fame. There aren’t that many clubs really but there are house/frat/sorority parties every weekend and yes you drink out of red plastic cups like you see in the films and people do keg stands and all the underagers run when the cops appear outside. Yes there are fraternities and sororities. I’ve met so many people and joined a few associations so I feel involved. Everyone I have met has been so nice and they all love the British accent! If my year continues as it has started, I’ll have the best year of my life!