I’ve been in Utah now for two weeks and I can assure you it has not been the easiest 14 days of my life. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. It started on the day of travel when my flight got delayed due to a fuel pump issue. A word of advice to pilots: it is not a comforting thing for you to tell your passengers that the reason they have been stuck on a stationary plane for over an hour is due to a fuel pump error. And it’s not great either as I’m pretty sure telling my mum, who was checking the flight tracker continuously, that the reason we hadn’t let yet was because of that. Anyway once getting to Salt Lake City it was incredible, for the first 10 minutes. The view of the mountains surrounding the city was breathtaking. But the screaming toddler who had just endure a 10 hour flight tainted the whole “taking in the scenery” moment. After going through border security and chatting for far too long to the border officer I was just about ready to get to my dorm room and sleep. Luckily getting there wasn’t a hassle but to anyone who saw a jetlagged 20 year old lugging a 27 kilo suitcase up a flight of stairs, it was most likely the funniest thing they had seen all day.
On the first full day here I was lucky to be taken out by my lovely roommate to go get a long list of supplies that could not fit into a single suitcase. (A note to people wanting to do a year abroad: when looking a flights check the luggage allowance as some airlines I discovered can be pretty mean on weight). In the evening we went to a small salad bar in a suburb called Sugar House, and it was amazing. The food was great and I definitely recommend that you try to avoid chains you would see at home and try something new! Also on the drive back we went passed the school where High School Musical was filmed- something I didn’t know about Utah and my 10 year old self would have loved it.
Moving onto the first orientation day that was specific to exchange students and several things did shock me. The fact that I was the only English girl in the room was daunting and also there were twice as many guys as there were girls- I didn’t expect this at all. It made me wonder as I would have thought that it would have been an even mix between the sexes. The information overload during orientation was overwhelming, so I took advantage of the free coffee to let the caffeine keep me alert. For that evening the study abroad team had organised a trip for us all to go see a minor league baseball game, which I have to admit was pretty boring but five of the guys with us got approached by a cheerleader to run around the baseball field in giant vegetable costumes to win a prize. Now in Salt Lake during the summer it is considerably warm and at 1400m above sea level, the altitude can hit you hard. So that was probably the most entertaining part of the night.
The second orientation day consisted of documents, a lot of talking and a high level boredom. This was due to the fact that it was aimed at students taking their full degrees at the university and the requirements they have to meet by graduation is crazy. Being from the UK I consider myself lucky at that I can specialise at the beginning of my degree and focus on learning as much as I can about by chosen subject. Whereas in the US I discovered that they had to meet general education requirements, learn American history, take Mathematics and English classes on top of their majors. I found this extremely strange as how on earth do they manage to reach the same academic level as someone like me who has spent their whole undergraduate time focused on one area? Also on this day an American told me I sounded like Emma Watson, I’m pretty sure she thought of the first famous English woman she could to compare my accent to.
It was after the tiring day of checking visa documents that things started to go wrong. By my 5th day here my laptop, the sole connection to home via Skype, died. Which led to calls home to my mum and boyfriend about how the world was so unfair. But thankfully after a $160 bill, it now runs smoothly. And I am grateful as it is needed in classes here. Mostly because so far I have found a couple of the classes patronising in the way they are taught and it is assumed that you know nothing about the subject you’re taking- after doing geophysics for two years you would think that I’d know something. This fact was not helped by the guy who asked in my Living with Earthquakes class if the Hawaiian Islands were a volcanic hotspot. (Being American alone you would know this to be true, but he’s also taking a class focusing of seismic and volcanic hazards so he should definitely know this!).
I’ve had classes for a week now and they are not that dissimilar to being at home, the one big difference is having so many more graded assignments. That was a shock but one nice thing about American universities is that you take exams at the end of a semester, not at the end of an academic year. Also navigating around a campus that is 5 times bigger than what you are used to is tricky, especially for one class which is in the weirdest location, hidden behind the nice shiny new law school and when walking into it I thought I was in a horror film. I sent a video to my friend asking on what the chances of me being kidnapped or tortured there were based on how creepy the place looked. Another thing about classes is textbooks, for some people I know here you have to buy a lot of required reading material so when budgeting make sure you can get the books you need. I was fortunate enough to only need one for this semester which only cost $20 second hand.
One thing about American colleges is the emphasis they have on health and their sports teams. Students get free access to the gym here, which is better than paying the extortionate amount at the UEA sportspark back home. So many people just go to the gym or do a yoga class between lectures or after a day of learning. I feel incredibly unfit by comparison but I’m hoping the uphill hike from campus to my dorm will even the playing field. On the topic of playing fields, the Utes Football team is a HUGE deal here. I mean huge. Their merchandise is even in the local supermarkets. The campus store is incredible, you can even buy a pizza cutter with the Utes logo on. So I’m looking forward to going to see the first game on Thursday, which will be preceded by tailgates- another foreign concept to an English girl. Which is the only time alcohol can be consumed on this campus- it’s a dry one due to weird laws governed by Mormon beliefs. (Another side note for people considering a year abroad: check to make sure your campus is one where you can drink, once you’ve turned 21 that is).
Various other things happened to make this a bad two weeks, including my earphones getting stolen, which is a weird thing to happen in a state so governed by religious beliefs and I’m pretty sure they don’t encourage stealing. And I can tell you walking around a huge campus without music is not my idea of fun. Something else which isn’t my idea of fun is the amount of people in the City that approach you for money or say creepy comments to you while you’re waiting for the tram. I think it will take a while before I get used to that and feel confident enough to venture into the city on my own.
I think I have rambled enough about a two week period and hopefully the next post will be more insightful to the culture and the city itself rather than a personal rant of things that happened. Thanks for reading 🙂