Hey, everyone! 😀
Sorry it’s taken me so long to write this!!! I have had a lot of work and tiredness.
So, I have been in Maryland for over two months now! I know; I can’t believe it either. In some ways it feels like much longer. I’m definitely settling in and getting used to life in America (although the horribly expensive price of vegetables is still something I can’t get my head around).
How things are going.
Things are going well. I’m still finding my classes very interesting! I’m definitely learning a lot about America, and a wide variety of things too. In my Native American History class, we have reached the 20th century and I have learnt far more about Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act than I ever imagined I would. I’ve started getting more involved in events organised by the university as well which have been really fun, and I now have a lot more friends and know a lot more people than I did when I last wrote. And I still love my accommodation (especially now the heating’s come on and I’ve discovered I don’t have to pay for it!!) and the campus (it’s still covered in trees). So, all in all, life is good
This is obviously the most important thing I can talk about so it’s what I’m starting with. Until about a week ago, the weather was amazing and very uncharacteristic for so late in the year in Maryland. For a week or so it was over thirty degrees (Celsius) every day. Everyone was very surprised and I was told on several different occasions that it was double the normal temperature. Even when it didn’t get that hot, it was still over twenty five degrees most days, even in mid-October. It’s mainly cooled down now and there have been several days where I’ve had to wear a coat, but it was twenty one degrees today (November 6th – I’ve started writing the date like an American!)
EDIT: A few more weeks have passed since I wrote the above account. During this time, I have learnt that the weather in Maryland changes extremely quickly. Last week the temperature suddenly dropped from about ten degrees to zero, and since then has gone back up to fourteen. It’s very weird and has caught me off guard several times. I’ve started taking my coat everywhere just in case. Although it’s not so different from fearing the rain in Swansea!
Autumn on the UMBC campus
After a few weeks after the initial beginning of the year and everyone arriving on campus, things seemed to quieten down and not such seemed to happen. Fortunately, campus life has perked back up again and there are now plenty of events for me to attend! 😀 Homecoming was an important week at UMBC, although there wasn’t quite as much on as I had expected. I did go to a few events though, including a bag decorating session and a free T shirt give away. I also went to the Comedy Show which featured comedian Trevor Noah, which was hilarious! The majority of events were on the weekend which unfortunately I couldn’t attend as I had already arranged to attend the Renaissance Festival with my roommate and friend, Sarah. This was definitely a good decision though! The Festival was so good! A key event in Maryland’s calendar, the Festival isn’t very Renaissance; most of the costumes are Medieval. There were so many stalls selling everything from traditional food to jewellery to decorations. I would definitely recommend that anyone who goes to UMBC checks it out!
I’ve also joined several societies which has been very exciting and allowed me to make some really good friends. 🙂 I joined the Creative Writing Club, Meditation, the Ancient Studies Council, the History Student Council, and the Charm City Connection – a volunteer club that seeks to establish links between UMBC and Baltimore. I’m really enjoying all of them! All the clubs have events; Creative Writing and Meditation hold sessions every week and there have been movie nights hosted by the History and Ancient Studies councils as well as history trips and Ancient Studies lectures, craft sessions and bake sales. I went to a CCC event that organised a pumpkin picking event for kids in West Baltimore which was a lot of fun, really nice to see the kids getting into the Halloween spirit! 😀 I’ve also been made the Vice President of the Ancient Studies Council which was so flattering (although unexpected!) and I’m really looking forward to getting more involved with the club!
School work and Midterms.
Ugh. It would have been nice if I could spend the entire year travelling around America or lying on a beach in California and never had to take any tests. Unfortunately, if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to graduate. The good news is that all my classes are extremely interesting and I’m really enjoying them! But work is still work and I have a lot of it here. It’s definitely not as bad as I’d thought; I’d been worried before I got here that the American workload would be pretty overwhelming and it hasn’t. Although I will say that its certainly different from Swansea; one of the main differences I’ve noticed is that people actually do the reading for class!! I know, crazy right?! I always try and do as much as I can but when I had an essay due, in Swansea, I was used to spending the majority of my time on that, as whether or not I did the reading for seminars never counted towards my grade. But here, class participation counts (people actually ask questions in lectures. It’s weird.) so you have to do the assigned reading. You also get tested a lot more. I’ve really come to appreciate the benefits of just having one essay and one exam for a module (at least, that’s normally what I have in American Studies modules), as opposed to having continual exams (for different subjects, to be fair), papers, assignments, reading tests…
My Native American History class is a good example of this. I have to do ten discussion posts on assigned reading or documentaries throughout the semester, I also have two midterms (exams in the middle of the semester), one paper and a final exam. That’s a lot. There’s good news though, because there are so many different components, none of them are worth very much. Aside from one assignment from my Historic Preservation and Political Parties and Elections classes (which are worth 45% and 50% respectively), nothing is worth more than 25%, which makes life easier. All my teachers are really nice and approachable as well, so they are always around to answer questions. So far I’ve done well in my studies; I’ve got As in my Early American Literature and Native American History midterms as well as my Historic Preservation paper and Political Parties and Elections presentations. So it is doable! 😀
I’ve also picked my classes for next semester; The American Revolution, Studies in Asian American Culture, American Foreign Policy, and the Roman World (my free choice module). Just in case you wanted to know. 😀
Because there had to be some, right? The good news is that there aren’t very many, although I thought it was important to include the things that aren’t so great about a year abroad as well as the positives. The first thing that comes to mind is money. Baltimore is a lot more expensive than I’d been expecting. This is mainly just food. I’m not sure if this applies to all of America (I have heard that other states are cheaper), or if its just because I’m close to a big city but food is really expensive here. Back home, I’m used to spending £10 a week if I go to Aldi (or £20 if I get lazy and only walk to Tesco), but here I’m spending around $40-$50 every time I go shopping, if not more, which is about £30-£40. It might not sound like that much more but its definitely added up and taken a toll on my bank account. And that’s just food :/ Vegetables in particular! I’d get confused and angry if I had to spend more than 50p on a pepper in the UK, but here the cheapest offer is $1.30!!
Anyway. Food rant over. Moving on.
The second con is about UMBC in particular. It’s not a massive school but it’s pretty busy during the weekdays. In the evenings and on weekends though it’s very quiet. Very quiet. It was a bit disconcerting at first. The reason for this is because UMBC is a mostly commuter school, so the majority of people go home as soon as classes end. Unfortunately, it means that there’s not much going on during these times and I have been left with nothing to do. As the vast, vast majority of people are from Maryland, and Maryland isn’t very big, quite a lot of students go home often even if they live on campus. Things have definitely improved though, as the semester’s gone on though as there are a lot more events organised for residential students and I’ve made more friends
And the final negative thing I can think of was something that was probably always going to happen. I am a very sociable person; I like to spend time around people and don’t like to spend too much time by myself. So when I went from Swansea, where I had a great friendship group and knew loads of people, to here where I knew basically no one, it was a bit tough. It was much more difficult to make friends when I arrived here then it was in my first year of uni, as everyone in my classes either already knew each other or they just sat in silence waiting for the teacher to start talking (which was a bit odd), so it was hard to strike up an awkward conversation with the person sitting next to me. There was a week in October when it suddenly hit me that I only had three people on campus that I could claim as close friends. This really bothered me and it did get me really quite down for a while as I wasn’t sure how I would go about making new friends. But I did. I made a big effort in the following week to go to more events, to contact people who I’d already met here and stay in touch with my friends from home as well. All these were very good ideas and resulted in me making a lot more friends and soon feeling much better. So, my advice to anyone going on a year abroad is that if something like this happens to you, there are things you can do about it and it will get better 🙂
Outside Baltimore County.
Because, yes, such a thing does exist haha! I’ve been outside Baltimore County a few times since I last wrote. I went into Baltimore City in October after I was tired of spending my weekends on campus. I’m a massive history geek (and I’m proud of it) and there were some museums I wanted to go to. I got the UMBC bus to the Inner Harbor and headed north to Mount Vernon – Baltimore’s cultural area. I know Baltimore isn’t the world’s safest city (at all) but I had a very pleasant walk in the sunshine, although I did stick to crowded streets and the route my phone gave me. Mount Vernon was lovely – the original Washington Monument is there (as in the one that was built before the more famous one in DC) and its surrounded by very pretty parks. The two museums I’d chosen were The Walters Art Museum and the Maryland Historical Society and they were both very interesting. The first was displayed art and history from all ages, but the second was completely focussed on the history of Maryland. There was an entire section devoted to Colonial Maryland which obviously captured my heart at once. The rest of the museum was also interesting though, very informative of my new home state. 😀
I also went to Arundel Malls with my friend Jeanette who is also the president of the History Student Council. The mall was massive! There were so many shops and places to eat. We ate at a very nice Tex Mex restaurant and went to so many different shops. One of these was particularly interesting; it was a hunting shop. Although Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon line, it’s usually thought of as a Northern state, particularly the area around Baltimore. Yet this shop showed a far more traditional and rustic side of America and appeared a lot more redneck than anything I’d expected to find in Maryland. There was country music playing (which was highly exciting for me as I am a huge country fan), plenty of guns on sale and some questionable slogans on the home decorations on offer. Hunting was claimed to be a “proud tradition of Maryland” which certainly wasn’t something I’d heard before. It definitely was an interesting experience.
Last weekend I went to Sarah’s hometown of Frederick, Maryland, to celebrate our birthdays (yes, I turned twenty one! 😀 You can all leave your good wishes in the comments section below haha 🙂 ). It was a very nice city; there’s a lovely canal flowing through the town which was built after Frederick flooded thirty years ago, to ensure that this never happened again, the river actually flows underground. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants and nice places to walk round. This far west, Maryland is in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, which at this time of year are covered in red and gold autumn leaves. I’d really wanted to see mountains while I was here so I’m very glad I got the chance. 😀
So, life here is going well and I’m really enjoying it. Thank you for reading my blog (I hope it wasn’t too weird or boring!), and if you have any questions, feel free to ask!