It was an overwhelming experience my first hour at UNCW, it involved traffic jams, getting lost and not to mention cheering from hundreds of people. I was nervous, but the intensity and bustle of everyone got me excited and gave me the immediate feeling that I had made the right decision participating in this exchange program. This feeling still stays with me three months later, the college feels like a community. It feels a lot different from me coming from UOW where I lived at home with my parents. Here at UNCW everyone lives on campus, eats together on campus, plays high level sports on campus, parties at campus etc… So what I am trying to say is everything revolves around the campus. For me therefore it gives me the feeling of warmth and somewhere I can call a home, rather than just an academic place of study.
What comes with this setup of American universities where everyone lives on campus is an opportunity to meet hundreds of people that you would not have otherwise met. For me, this is one of the greatest benefits of my exchange program. Even half way into my semester I have met people that I will never forget and call friends for a long time to come. With these new found friends it makes the transition of living in a foreign country so much easier, and feeling lonely impossible.
One of the other highlights for me in this exchange program has been the sports and the school spirit that is associated with it. It was a massive culture shock for me to see the intensity that all students here have when following sports. However saying this, it is not only the students that are flying the flag for their school, but also the parents. If I had a dollar for every bumper sticker or shirt I saw saying “UNCW MUM” I would have enough money to cover my HEX debt when I graduate. Even local businesses have big signs up supporting the school before events saying “good luck this weekend UNCW”.
All in all, I have no hesitation in saying this is the best experience of my life to date, looking back now at the extraordinary long process to get here with what felt like hundreds of forms to fill out, and hours spent at the U.S consulate. It was worth every minute I spent working to get here. Knowing what the rewards are now that I’ve stepped off that plane, I would fill out one hundred more forms and spend another week camped out at the U.S consulate.
In conjunction, coming to University over here is the best thing that has happened for me not only academically but also personally, as I am learning much more about life and myself than I could of anticipated. So I’m being educated just as much outside the classroom, as I am in it. You learn so much and become more independent without even realising it, the experiences you go through make you grow up, whether you like it or not.
I’ve been in the States for about three months now, and I’ve learned:
- to sharpen my “r”s, especially when introducing myself – I think “Clare” in an Australian accent sounds like “Clehhhhh…a”, so I am now “CleRR”, the American version of myself, who is about twenty pounds heavier because of the high fructose corn syrup in.. well, everything;
- that the word “gig” is meaningless here;
- that even by American standards, Vegas is regarded as a city full of trash-ed and trash-y people (think 24/7 deep-fried cheese sticks with ranch dipping sauce);
- that America is a lot more classist that Australia, with a more clearly defined class structure, a much larger low/working class who are often severely or noticeably economically disadvantaged, and less movement between classes;
- that college campuses turn into drunken orgies on the weekends, regardless of the drinking age, and that at 24, I seem to be the oldest undergrad on campus;
- a different way to learn – as someone posted earlier, the classes here are five days a week and there’s a stack of small assignments throughout the semester; in my classes, participation is worth a fair amount, and often there’s an expectation of a weekly response (written, oral or online) to readings so you can’t get away with skipping readings like at home; the assignments are also less research-based and more critical, which is entirely different to the way I normally work; overall, I feel a bit like I’ve been sent back to high school, with the excitement over binge drinking, daily classes and these expectations of how to engage with coursework;
- a lot about “the American dream” and “mythology – I’m taking three classes of American literature, two of which study the classics and the beginnings of an American identity, and another which is about contemporary African-American lit. I expected more blind patriotism, more active belief in the supriority of America as “land of the free, home of the brave” etc., but actually the idea of the American dream seems to be something existing only in the hopes of the citizens and maintained for the benefit of one another and as a facade for the rest of the world. It could just be that I’m here at a bad or unusual time (recession, support for the War here and abroad waning, Americans generally becoming more aware of the way they’re perceived) which has made everyone more disillusioned.
One of the most memorable things that has happened so far (I think it’s such a favourite because it seemed like it was a lived experience of a Bukowski novel, which is part of this “American mythology” that I had formulated before I came here): getting on a Greyhound to go into NYC and listening to the conversation of two women behind me. One of the women had just been released from prison, at which point they apparently provide a bus ticket to anywhere and forty dollars cash; this woman was going to meet up with her friends who had also been serving time. The women had only met at the bus station, so they didn’t really know each other, but they formed this kind of friendship based on a combination of mutual sympathy and bravado – they had both obviously lived somewhat rough lives. The ex-con got off the bus in Scranton, Pennsylvania (which is where they set the American version of “The Office”, to give some clue as to the type of town it is..), and I somehow got sucked into a conversation with a woman (different woman, same bus), and it went something like this:
Woman: So you mighta noticed I’m missin’ my bottom teeth.
Me: Oh, um, no, I hadn-
Woman: Well, y’see, I had these false ones, the real ones got knocked out years ago.
Me: Oh, right. Cool. (I remember saying that and then realizing it didn’t make sense).
Woman: But, I – I got soooo drunk last weekend. Oh man, I puked them up! But it’s okay ‘coz MedicAid (the US version of Medicare) will get me a new set. I was going to get them before I left, but.. nah, fuck it. I’m only going to visit my sister.
At least, that’s how I remember it. And that’s all that matters in the end.
This photo is my favourite of a few thousand that my mate and I took on a week long trip through Arizona and Utah.
This was taken in the Coyote Buttes National park which straddles the Arizona/Utah border. Only ten passes are sold for the South Coyote Buttes each day on a first come first served basis, this is still a hell of a lot easier to get than the pass for the North Coyote Buttes which again only ten passes are sold each day but for these you have to arrive at the ranger station early in the morning and enter a bingo style lottery to have an opportunity to go. The reason for the lottery is that on any one day there can be up to anywhere between 50 and 100 people trying to get a pass. The popularity of the North Coyote Buttes is because they contain ‘The Wave’, an incredible sandstone hillside that has been eroded away over the ages to reveal ”waves” of different coloured stone.
On the first day we were at the ranger station our number was not picked but we were able to buy a pass into the South Coyote Buttes for the next day and then headed off to a tour of Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a very tight slot canyon that gets lit up by the midday sun to reveal the amazing shapes contained inside, it is also on a dry river bed and is inaccessible when it rains anywhere in the area due to massive flashflooding.
The next day before we headed out to the South Coyote Buttes, we decided to try the lottery again and this time we were picked first!!! The thing about this lottery is that for entry in the lottery can have any amount of people, so if a group of ten enter and get picked first it’s game over for everyone else, also if at the end there is only one place left and a group of two is picked only one person can go. On the day we were picked a middle aged American couple also got their number called and when it came down to the point where there was only one place left a group of three German tourists were picked. They were going to turn down the single pass because they wanted to go as a group, but the American couple piped up and said that the German group could have their passes as they had travelled so far and may not get a chance to come again. It was great to see this amazing act of generosity, especially after having experiences like a bloke on a Harley coming the other way on the highway forcing us into the emergency lane because he wanted to overtake.
The landscapes in this national park were like something out of a weird dream, the likes of which i had never come across anywhere in Australia and it was amazing to have the opportunity to explore them.
I thought I would let the Oz Students Abroad know about my VISA adventure on Friday (02/07/2010). For those of you going to the US you know where I’m coming from. I know these blogs are supposed to have photos attached but since I was going to the American consulate I didn’t think a camera would be a good idea (they kept asking if I had a mobile phone, as if modern communication technology would be the end to us all!).
After successfully making my way to Martin Place and onto the MLC centre, (with minimal annoyance to the transit people ;D ) I realised I had about 45mins and I would still be early to my appointment. Being stuck in Sydney surrounded by shops like Tiffany and Co, Prada and Cartier with a lot of time on my hands was not good for my self control.
I moseyed on up to level 10 to begin the exciting VISA process! *insert sarcasm here*. I was greeted by some happy looking security guards covered in American flag stickers and put all my stuff through the x-ray scanner thingy (scanner thingy is now it’s official name) and successfully avoided the urge to crack a really bad taste joke which seems to come over me when I’m nervous. I waited in line and was called by a pleasant lady who seemed to be going for the world record in processing paper work, VISA ninja I tell you. It was then I noticed I had forgotten my HUGELY important self addressed enveloped and I needed to get a new photo taken…
This is where it started getting annoying, I had to haul ass all the way back down to the shopping centre and get a new envelope and photo and then haul ass all the way back to level 10 and go through the security check again, yep even the x-ray scanner thingy. I waited in line and talked to the VISA ninja again and then low and behold I had another line to wait in…
A group of us scared and confused looking VISA applicants were herded into an elevator and whizzed up to another level where apparently the ‘real interview’ happens. BING the doors open and we were greeted by President Obama’s smiling face…not actually him obviously, just a photo on the wall. I couldn’t decided whether I thought it was cute or cheesey, I guess he deserves his photo on the wall it is his consulate.
I went through a big heavy security door into a room with a big long counter, kinda like at the RTA, you take a ticket and try not to look bored while you wait to be served by an annoyed looking 40-something who you’ll annoy even more no matter what you do. I submitted my paperwork, scanned my fingerprints and sat back down to wait again. Finally my number was called and the ‘real interview’ began…This was it, I can’t screw up now, just answer the questions and you’ll be fine.
He asked me about three questions, pushed a few buttons and said “Okay Olivia, your VISA has been approved just move to the next window please and pay the fee and you’re done”. That was it?!, you’ve got to be kidding me! I gave him this look like I didn’t believe him and he just smiled politely and gestured to the next counter (I think he gets that look a lot) So I paid the fee and I was done. I walked out of the tower with the biggest smile on my face, I couldn’t get over how easy it was.
So that’s about it, my best advise for anyone going for a American J-1 VISA is make sure you have all the documents they tell you to have plus an extra American VISA photo (would have saved me tons of time) and you’ll do fine, all of the VISA people were really nice and it feels great to hear you’ve been approved!