Our situation is slightly unusual compared to the other posts on this blog, but I hope it makes for an interesting read nonetheless. My husband, Sam, and I are currently living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We are both mature students studying at UEA. I study Mental Health Nursing, whilst Sam is on the American Studies course. Sam is participating on the Exchange Program, and I am able to be here to due to being granted a ‘spouse’ visa, and UEA allowing me a period of intercalation.
We chose to live in the ‘Midwest’ as we were unlikely to visit this part of the USA on holiday. The University of Minnesota is also a top 50 in the world University, and so although we were well aware of the bitter cold winters, Sam decided that Minnesota would be a fantastic place to study.
Studying at the University of Minnesota has given Sam the opportunity to learn subjects from individuals with actual life experience of the diversity within in America. Sam studies have included Civil Rights, the modern history of Japan and a service learning module that included volunteering in a local Latino high school. He has also taken bowling as a credited class!
Sam has also been awarded an internship with the Minnesota History Society’s Fellowship program, on which he will work as part of team working on making the Minnesota History Museum more culturally diverse. He is the first international student to be awarded this internship, and gets to visit Washington DC on a work trip. Internships are fantastic opportunities that can come out of living in America.
I arrived in Minnesota feeling both intrigued and extremely nervous by the uncertainties that this year would bring. My personal aim for this year was to gain knowledge about mental health services in the USA, and the level of stigma surrounding mental illness. I had to wait for a work permit to arrive, but during this time I contacted a local charity and had an enjoyable few months volunteering. I have since been able to secure a full time job within my interest.
There is a saying here called ‘Minnesota Nice’, a phrase coined due to the reputation of Minnesotans. I have been blown away by the generosity of the people here, especially their willingness to have me be involved in their organizations! Also, you rarely hear another British accent here, resulting in us being quite a novelty, and we’re forever telling the story of how we ended up in Minnesota.
We have also been lucky to travel, including taking an eight hour Greyhound bus ride to spend Christmas in Chicago, driving nine hours to Mount Rushmore and the Custer State Park in South Dakota, and Orlando, Florida. We are also planning a big road trip around some of the USA’s national parks for the end of summer before we return to UEA.
Our favorite part of this experience has been immersing ourselves into the Minnesotan lifestyle. Whilst we are based in Minneapolis, the city of St. Paul is just a short light rail ride away, and collectively they are known as the ‘Twin Cities’, with the Mississippi River running right through them both (it was quite a surprise when the Mississippi completely froze over winter!) The cities are full of culture, activity and unique food; even the university campus itself is a foodie paradise! But, in our opinion, the main appeal of Minneapolis and Minnesota is the abundance of lakes. Minnesota is known as the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ after all! Whilst we spent the winter walking over frozen lakes we’re looking forward to it being warm enough to swim in them over the summer.
We were well aware of the extreme winter temperatures Minnesota faces, and we were intrigued to find out how people managed in such cold conditions. For the majority of winter the temperature was at -20◦C and below, and whilst the mile walk to work and back became tedious, the unbroken beautiful clear skies, crisp snow instead of constant rain, variety of winter activities and snow-ploughed roads and paths (no slipping on ice here!), in many ways made the winter here more bearable than at home! And as one local person told me, the summers are so nice here that winter is soon a distant memory.
We would both describe this year as one of the most enjoyable of our lives, and the knowledge we have gained will be invaluable as we both continue our studies at UEA. My advice is that if you are a married couple, or have children, and are willing to deal with the mountains of paperwork, then, whilst this experience is ultimately for the benefit of the student, it can also be fulfilling for all members of the family!
Lucy and Sam Bellotti,