Monday, September 19, 2011

Tea and crumpets are not my thing

          I gave them a shot at the welcome reception the “uni” had for us, but afterwards went shopping at a nearby mall for a coffee machine. I want to give their customs a chance, but I will not be adopting that one anytime soon. Some of my flatmates and I decided to buy other kitchenware together as well since there are no meal plans here, just a kitchen I will have to learn to use.

         More and more people are moving into the on-campus housing. I am meeting so many people from all over the world in such a short time span. The experience is quite exciting. There are no British people in my building yet, just a Canadian, a Cyprian, an Italian, a Spaniard, a German, and two other Americans.

         Today, I got a chance to explore a bit more. Other than the funny looking money, the scenery is the most obvious difference. There are wind turbines and lush green grass all over campus. Houses look just like Privet Drive. In fact, quite a bit of the area looks like a Harry Potter sets. The infrastructure is different than back home. Instead of intersections there are circle loops that the cars drive around. I believe they're called roundabouts. Along the same directions as the roads and roundabouts are separate bicycle and pedestrian pathways. After getting over some initial confusion, I've found the set up rather appealing. It seems convenient for the drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. In addition, the center of the circle is usually a well landscaped area that improve the appearance of everything. Bike and walking paths that are better planned, separated from roads, and therefore safer are something I have wanted to see and advocated for back in the States. I'm so glad that the airline let me take my bicycle free of charge. There are also plenty of covered shelters for bikes and paths that go under roads. When you do have to cross a road, there are signals and better defined crossings for both bikes and pedestrians. I really am so psyched to pedal around getting to know all the unfamiliar spaces. I've heard that in central London, you can rent a bike off the racks station all over the street for something like a £1 per hour. New York only just passed its first transportation bill that included these kinds of complete street provisions. I would like to see more of this aspect of England back home. Maybe we could trade for New York bagels? I certainly am going to miss them. None the less, this trip is working out to be well worth the sacrifice. I think I'm really going to enjoy my stay here!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tonight, I fly over the Atlantic!


           It is difficult to believe this is really happening. The realization that I am about to go to Europe for the first time and will be living and studying in the United Kingdom for five months is only just starting to hit me now. I am sitting in an airport window sill near the departure gate pressed up against the glass and waiting to board. From where I am sitting, the 747 plane I’ll be boarding is clearly visible. I arrived quite early to the airport. Since doing so, my body is pumped with adrenaline as I am thrilled and nervous at the same time.

            It has been difficult to prepare to move somewhere I have never been before. I completed piles of paperwork. My passport, boarding pass, and other essentials are stowed in my carry-on. I already changed some money into pound sterling. I even checked my bicycle so that I’ll have a way to explore campus once I am there. My need to reassure myself that I’ve prepared as much as I can is beginning to wear off. It will be morning in England by the time I get there.

The one thing on my preparation to-do list that I have yet to do, was introduce myself. So let me break down the basics of who I am, what I’ll be doing, and where I’ll be, when I am doing this, and why I am bothering. 

Who? My name is Christopher Rooney. Many friends who know me just call me Topher or Rooney. I realize that for most of you, my name alone does not tell you much. Well, I am student, friendly guy, and a twenty year-old from Long Island, New York. I am normally an Environmental Chemistry major and Spanish minor at Stony Brook University. There I am involved in the Chemical Society and played for the Quidditch team.

            What? While abroad, my studies will be of a broad array yet still related to the degree I am seeking from my home institution. This fall I’ll be taking four modules: Sustainable Futures, Biochemistry, Advanced Spanish, and Exercise Health Science. This will be the first time I have enrolled in a sustainability course. As far as I have found out so far it is a study of just what it sounds like: how society sustains itself, the options society has to effectively use resources, and the development of agriculture and industry in light of the green movement’s goals. I expect the specifics will delve in to renewable fuels, recycling, and energy efficient building. I am a bit more familiar with Biochemistry, how the different chemicals in our bodies work together maintain our organs, metabolism, and protein activity.

Where? My flight will land at London Heathrow Airport. From there I will take a short ride to the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom. It’s a large university that I choose because they teach chemistry, which not every school in Britain does, and are only about twenty minutes north of central London. I also will hopefully be soon making trips to relatively near by countries such as Ireland and Poland.

When? Well, it is September 17th and I am at the airport waiting to board. Preparing to move to a foreign country has kept me too busy to write this introduction post earlier. So I leave for the United Kingdom in about an hour. I’ll be there until at least January. We get a three week break for Christmas for which I plan to stay in Europe.

Why? In one word: wanderlust. This trip is a long time in the making. It’s always been my goal to go to Europe. The chance to combine traveling and studying was a windfall opportunity I couldn't turn down.  My upcoming study abroad experience will impact how I look at the world and see my place in it. Such an opportunity to explore, meet people, delight in powerful experiences, and share those experiences for years to come would be both the fulfillment of a dream and a crucial step towards becoming a well rounded person. A semester abroad will add to the abundance of valuable experiences I am having while earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry, choosing a graduate program, and setting out on a career that incorporates all that I learn.

Perhaps you are a prospective exchange student figuring out what you are getting yourself into by applying. If so, you will find this blog posts a useful source that highlights the benefits of studying abroad.

My exchange program is made possible in part by the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship Program administered by the Institute for International Education, the Long Island Caddie Scholarship Fund administered by the Long Island Golf Association, and International Academic Programs a department of Stony Brook University.