I remember when Trump was first elected to the office of President of the United States, quite a few of my course mates at UEA decided to opt out of going to the States for their year abroad. In some ways, I understood their decision: if America is anything like the way it is portrayed in the British media, then perhaps it would be best avoided. But the America I encountered during my year abroad at the University Of Minnesota (UMN) was nothing like the one you hear about on TV or people’s Facebook feeds.
When I arrived at the University in August 2017, I entered a thriving community of international students, all willing to learn about each other’s cultures and make new friends. I then started my American Studies modules, which were largely filled with American students who felt a deeply personal stake in some of the issues we were discussing, including institutionalised racism, and American influence abroad. In addition to my course, I also spent time in some of the Twin Cities’ (Minneapolis and St. Paul – the location of the UMN Twin Cities campus) great cultural sites, including the Walker Art Center, the Minnesota Historical Center, the Cathedral of St. Paul, and UMN’s own Ted Mann Concert Hall.
By experiencing what Minnesota had to offer, I found that America was not only a brilliant study abroad destination, but also a place that I could be comfortable in and call home.
When you spend a lot of time in a place, it can be hard to capture what it means to you in words; but I think the best way to paint a clear picture of my year abroad would be to describe what I feel were my most significant moments during my time in the States.
One memory that stands out was spending Thanksgiving Dinner with my roommate’s family in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Having recently arrived from the UK, I didn’t really know anyone who I could spend this important American holiday with; until my roommate asked me to spend it with his family. Going to his family home, and sharing home cooked food with his parents and brothers really made me feel as if I belonged in Minnesota, and was a great source of comfort for someone who was not used to living in a foreign country.
Another experience I will never forget was my 21st birthday party in January this year. As turning 21 is quite a milestone in US Culture (considering 21 is the legal drinking age in all states), I thought it warranted a big ‘house party’! I tried to invite as many people as I could, and it was lovely to see so many new friends turn up. This was another time when I felt very at home in Minnesota, and it was a time when I could appreciate the community of American and international students that I had become a part of.
The final experience I want to describe is my day alone in New York City. After my parents and sister came to visit me in the Twin Cities, we flew to New York to spend a few days sightseeing. I had an amazing time with my family, but what I remember most vividly was my final day in New York City, which I spent alone due to my parents and sister catching an earlier flight. This was my first experience of travelling by myself, and the freedom of being in New York City, and being able to do and see whatever I wanted, was exhilarating. I saw places that I wanted to see for years (but managed to fit into one day), including the World Trade Center, Wall Street, Liberty Island, Ellis Island, and the Guggenheim. The sheer thrill of going to all of these places reminded me of my desire for adventure and new experiences that had brought me to the States in the first place.
Before I finish this post, I just want to share a few brief bits of advice that I would have given to myself, and would give to anyone going on a year abroad:
· Save up! If you want to travel around the states, it is definitely worth thinking about ways to make and save money far in advance.
· Take new opportunities: studying abroad should be all about expanding your horizons and having new experiences, so never be afraid of going out of your way to try new things and meet new people.
· Have an open mind: it is easy to go to the US with a set idea of what it’s going to be like, or of how much better you think the UK is, but this won’t get you very far. Look beyond the images of the US you’ve seen before, and experience a country that may be very different to how you imagined it.
Jack studied abroad for a year at the University of Minnesota as part of his UEA American Studies degree.