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Sam Shepherd & James Williams - Philosophy, State University of New York at Binghamton, 2010-11

Sam Shepherd, Philosophy, SUNY Binghamton, 2010-11

When I arrived in Lancaster I loved the place; but during Freshers week, I attended the Philosophy Department talk on studying abroad and thought, "yep, that’s for me."

Being the diligent, proactive person that I am, I took it no further...

Later, a friend of mine regaled me with his stories of his semester abroad in Australia and convinced me to pursue the opportunities that I had in front of me, and luckily I wasn't too late. I ended up applying for a place at Binghamton, part of the State University of New York.

It was utterly amazing!

I started the semester with high hopes and was not disappointed; being a rugby lad I was lucky that they had a team, and they quickly became a big part of my social group. We're still in touch often, and repeat visits are definitely on the card for when my career provides me with the means of getting back to the States. This isn't to say that you can't just go around and chat to people, in general I found people in the US to be incredibly friendly and once out of the big international cities, being British is a novelty that people are drawn to.

A quick run down of some of the experiences I had:

  • Road trips to NYC for weekends of sightseeing and partying in what I would call the greatest city on Earth.
  • A traditional Thanksgiving experience courtesy of a mate whose family took me in over the holiday as one of their own.
  • Rugby tournament in Washington DC providing a chance to see where the world gets run (and more fun stuff).
  • Road trip to Boston for sightseeing and meeting brainy people from Harvard and MIT.
  • Visiting Niagra Falls for the weekend (there's more in Niagra than the Falls...).
  • 3rd Row from the ice at a Buffalo Sabres Hockey game!
  • Frat and Sorority parties! (yes, just like the films).
  • St Patrick’s Day anywhere in NY State is amazing because most people are convinced they're Irish for some reason (although the Guinness isn't as good).

These are just a few from the top of my head, and frankly I feel I've forgotten more cool stuff from second year than most people even get to do. It's not just the stuff you do, it's the friendships and relationships that you have whilst doing it that are the truly memorable and worthwhile thing.
Academically, the US college system differs to the UK in their teaching and grading style, which was difficult to get used to at first, but at the end of the day, its a good challenge to face to show that you're adaptable and can cope. I wouldn’t say it was any harder, just different, and its all good stuff for the ol' CV!

Regrets and downsides

I missed out on spring break in Miami which a lot of people I knew did, and said it was an unbelievable time so if I were to regret anything, it would be that.

I had backpacked around Southeast Asia the summer before going to the States, and only had one day at home between getting back and setting off again, which my family found a bit hard. But it made the Christmas break back at home even more appreciated for all of us!
Applying for a visa to go the US is a time-consuming and expensive process. To their credit, the whole International office team and the department advisors for Study abroad were extremely helpful.

The cost was marginally more for the year, compared to staying at Lancaster, but another Lancaster student in Binghamton told me he did all the same stuff as me for the same cost as an average year, so maybe I just didn’t manage my money well enough.

The 'meal plan' system in the University I was at was expensive and you had to buy one – but the food was good and you always had cooked meals.

Having a room-mate (which is how accommodation works at lots of US colleges) can be difficult to deal with, but I was out so much I didn’t have time to get annoyed with him really.

Advice

Start the application process early.

Be patient with Visa office people, sarcasm gets you nowhere in the US Embassy.

Keep in touch with the international studies office at Lancaster if you have any problems, they're great at putting your mind at ease if you're worried about anything.

Don't let people discourage you from doing it if it’s what you want to do.

Overall, I had the time of my life – it's a struggle to think of the downsides now because all you remember is the good stuff. That isn't to say there weren't bad days, like everywhere else, but the stories you'll be able to tell, the memories and friends that you'll have for the rest of your life make it all worth it. If you like the idea of this; do it, you'll be a richer person for it!

James Williams, Philosophy, SUNY Binghamton, 2010-11

At the age of twenty, going to live in the great state of New York can raise many eyebrows – especially if they are from a mining village in the hills of north Wales. This boast was mine after spending a year attending Binghamton University, a short (ish) drive away from the Big Apple itself. The opportunity gave me a unique chance to broaden my horizons and open my eyes to a different culture, on a much more personal and intimate level than the standard week in Magaluf.

After a long process of form-filling, correspondence and interviews by US government officials, I boarded a plane to JFK international airport. After passing customs, I was met with the sights of the city, which somehow brought on a wave of nostalgia, even though it was my first visit. The city itself seems like a movie set, due to its ubiquity in Hollywood and popular culture – there was even an appearance from Al Pacino himself, whom I spotted just off Broadway with his entourage!

After arriving at the university I was greeted with a lot of ‘Oh my god, you’re from Australia!’ (which I’m not) and ‘Oh my god, say Harry Potter!’ (to which I would oblige, with my best Hugh Grant impression). This did start to wear thin, but it also provided a warm welcome that in hindsight I’m very grateful for.

After getting settled in and getting used to the new type of teaching (- somewhat more controlled with a substantially larger workload), I started to really appreciate the opportunity to see another culture from an inside perspective. I made loads of great friends that provided me with a lot of opportunities to travel and get to know the inner workings of American home life. It also showed me how hospitable the American people can be. This gave me a newfound respect for them and their culture, so different to that of the UK. It also allowed me to develop my interpersonal skills – it’s made me much more tolerant of difference and helped me learn not to judge people too soon.

The year abroad I experienced had its harder aspects  - being so far away from loved ones, as well as the academic adaptation needed. Overall, however, it was immensely enjoyable, with some wonderful memories and stories that anyone would be proud to tell.

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