Posts tagged University of Illinois
Posts tagged University of Illinois
And now, ladies and gentlemen of the internet, we enter the very last week of my time in the US (eight days. It’s actually eight days, I know. Stop being pedantic. You’re always criticising me, internet). But we’re not going to talk about that, because that’s hugely depressing and this isn’t livejournal (look, a blogging platform joke! How niche), so we’re just going to stick to talking about how, for the last month and a half, I’ve been roadtripping around the East Coast with my own personal Jesus (my flatmate Saskia, who may have had some level of control as to what she is referred to as in this post).
I wish to discuss this, because, as it turns out, it’s next to impossible for one to do a roadtrip such as this, particularly when on an unreasonably low budget, without emerging from it a changed person.
You may scoff at this, saying things like “don’t be so overly dramatic” and “you’re exaggerating” and “get over yourself, it’s only a roadtrip”, but to that I say two things: firstly, if you had been reading this blog religiously, as I expect you to have been doing, you should have realised that everything I say, aside from being inarguably witty and adorable, is largely overly-dramatic self-indulgent babbling, and you should be used to it by now. Secondly, unless you yourself have experienced budget travel for an extended period of time, you can’t understand my pain. I’m sorry. You just can’t. Never fear, though, because I fully intend to explain them in depth.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Let’s start with the physical changes, of which there are many. Despite being a decidedly peely-wally Scottish girl who has never shown the tiniest suggestion of skin colouring in her life, I have ended up with incredibly defined tan-lines on my shoulders, thighs, and, bizarrely, my lower calf, due to my very exciting Nashville purchase of cowboy boots. On top of that, we’ve come away from Louisiana (which, despite insisting on referring to itself as “the pelican state”, is quite clearly the man-eating-swamp-monster state. Seriously, the place is overrun with mosquitoes, cockroaches, alligators, and countless other unattractive beasties that want nothing more than to feast on my flesh) with an interesting dot-to-dot puzzle of mosquito bites all over our (beautifully-tanned) skin. Surprisingly, I managed to escape relatively undevoured, compared to Saskia and my sister, who both have bites akin to some kind of plague victim (Saskia would like it to be clarified that, despite these bites, she still has excellent legs, and is both attractive and eligible, as well as being a non-smoker with a good sense of humour), but this didn’t save me from constantly clawing at the mountains of itchiness on my calf. Now factor in the yards of visible natural-hair-colour emerging on my head (if you’ve seen me in person since the age of fifteen, you’ll understand that this is a very rare occurrence), the irregular weight fluctuations from a horrible diet of street vendor food, and the fact that, due to having walked the length of pretty much every major city on the east coast, our legs are truly spectacular, and you can begin to scratch the surface of the dramatic transformation we’ve undergone in the past couple of months.
Then, perhaps most powerfully, there are the psychological changes. We have developed, for example, an almost hound-like ability to sniff out free food. Living on a food budget of around ten dollars a day (we haven’t stuck to it even a little bit, but we do try), we have taken to stealing as much food as is possible from our hostels (our hostel in New York charged us for internet, but gave us free bagels for breakfast, so we, quite justly, stole an appropriate amount of bagels every day. It averaged around five bagels each per day, and that did us two meals) and roaming the aisles of supermarkets looking for 2 for 1 offers and really, really cheap pasta (really, really cheap pasta is disgusting and I refused to finish it because, though I am a penniless traveller, I am a penniless traveller with standards, goddammit!).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of our spiralling loss of sanity:
I’m completely convinced that never again will I be able to fall asleep in a bed that isn’t preceded by “bunk”.
Due to living in hostels for so long, it has been deemed totally acceptable to approach a nearby stranger and attempt to start a conversation about where they’re from and what their direction in life is.
“Privacy” has become a fantastical myth.
I have lost all sense of fear or disgust regarding public transport, even the greyhound (due to the fact that, on being released from prison, you are given a free greyhound ticket to wherever you need to go, every greyhound bus is choc-full of murderers and crime lords. In fact, on average, you will be one of three people on any given greyhound bus that has not, at some point in your life, killed a man with your bare hands and worn their skin as a cape).
I’m almost taken aback when I pass a homeless man and he doesn’t either proposition me or make some kind of bizarre comment regarding my hair, my legs, or my “bazookas”.
It’s become largely socially acceptable to wear the same socks, underwear, or t-shirt for two days at a time (up to five days for socks).
To summarise (this is how I was taught to end essays when I was in high school and, even after three years of an English degree, haven’t managed to break the habit), budget travel has taken us, two fresh-faced and innocent British girls, and it has broken us down, until we emerged as brand new, stronger, more tanned, much less mentally stable, seasoned travellers. It’s been an experience. Just… don’t ask us about that night in Virginia.
Well this is it, Urbana-Champaign. It’s been a blast. We’ve had some good times. We’ve had some horrific times as well (let’s not talk about the three-day-old Chinese food incident), but the good ones largely seem to outweigh it. You introduced me to people - some were dicks (not you, though, whoever’s reading this. You were wonderful. You were my favourite. Don’t tell anyone), and some were among the best people I’ve ever met. You taught me things. You taught me about drinking games that involve skill and very little actual drinking. You taught me that people can get oddly vicious over the distinction between “soda” and “pop”. You taught me that 90% of the world’s population is from the suburbs of Chicago. You taught me peep jousting and Mexican food and Mountain Dew and Thanksgiving, and for that I thank you.
I’ve been approaching this last week with an attitude of “if I ignore it hard enough, it’ll leave me alone”. While this has meant I’ve only had a couple of mental breakdowns (on that note, I apologise profusely to the recent U of I graduates that are forever going to have a bad-tempered Scottish girl in a hoodie photobombing their graduation photos), it does also mean that, four hours before my bus leaves, I still haven’t finished packing.
(On the note of packing, turns out that, despite being unable to do almost any other straightforward task (I burned my arm trying to cook yesterday), I am really really good at packing. I ruthlessly threw out four bags of stuff. I no longer own heels. I sacrificed my duck socks (it’s hard for me to explain quite how huge a deal this is. I really liked my duck socks). I can roll up a t-shirt to fit into the palm of my hand. Essentially, I’m a packing god.)
Anyway, once I’ve gotten round to actually finishing my packing, and cleaning the kitchen, and getting lunch, and printing off my bus tickets, and maybe putting some clothes on at some point, I’ll be off on a month-and-a-half long adventure around the East Coast and South, during which time my flatmate and I will try desperately not to get mugged, arrested, murdered, kidnapped, sold into white slavery, as well as attempting not to starve to death on our tiny budget. We will be eating a lot of raisins.
In the meantime, and without getting too gushy, farewell U of I. I’ll miss you and all of your people, some more than others, and some much more than others. Illinois, I’m fond of you.
Recently, I ventured into the very scary realm of Susie’s Final Month In Urbana-Champaign. As well as the looming prospect of having to say goodbye to a lot of people, this means I’ve begun giving away my stuff (does anyone want my stuff? You can have my stuff. I’ll give you my kettle), studying for exams, writing the traditional ten thousand essays, and having at least one emotional breakdown a day.
Without getting all gross and mushy (I know how we all hate gross and mushy), I genuinely didn’t think I’d get so attached to a place in less than a year. I was pretty much committed to loving and living in Glasgow forever, eating its chips and drinking its cider and napping in its classrooms and cheating at its pool tables and dancing in its clubs, and loving nowhere but Glasgow forever. And don’t get me wrong, while I was pretty much sold on Urbana-Champaign from the get go, it was no Glasgow. I was having the time of my life, yeah, but I was always fine with the knowledge that I’d go back to Scotland eventually.
Then something weird happened. I stopped taking my camera with me when I went out, and I started having conversations that didn’t solely consist of people giggling at my accent, and I stopped saying things like “going for a pint” and “getting juice from Tesco” and started saying “having a beer” and “buying soda from the gas station” (N.B. Wording aside, these are still my top two favourite pastimes). My friends were suddenly all Americans, and they introduced me as “This is Susie, she’s my roommate/friend/in my class/don’t talk to her, she’s unstable” rather than just “this is Susie, she’s from Scotland”. Yeah, I still drink my body weight in tea, and get a weird little jolt of happiness every time an American says “mirror” (Midwesterners say it like “meeear”, and it makes me happier than almost anything ever could), but, somehow, at some point, I’ve gone from being a tourist to being a person who lives here.
I don’t even crave irn bru that much any more. (Disclaimer: I still miss irn bru. I’ll always miss irn bru. I want that stuff on an IV into my blood. But I’m no longer quite as reliant on it as I once was). I drink mountain dew. And my junk food of choice has gone from a fried pizza supper to bad Mexican food from Burrito King (I mean, that’s still pretty much in the realm of fried-stuff-with-grease, but you can’t literally feel your arteries thickening as you eat). I drink beer instead of cider (unless you’re a police officer, in which case I drink neither. I drink lemonade. Lemonade and justice), and I drink it from bottles instead of pint glasses. My default excuse for not knowing how to do something is still “I’m foreign” rather than just “I’m crap”, but people no longer accept it as a legitimate reason.
Oh, I’ve also taken to speaking in a fairly broad American accent whenever I drink vodka.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still deeply besotted with Glasgow to the extent that I feel almost guilty for enjoying Urbana so much. I feel like I’m having an affair. A sordid, passionate affair punctuated with burritos and lite beer. We’ve all had that kind of affair, right? Right?
Either way, I’ve pretty much doomed myself to spending the rest of my life wanting to be somewhere else. If I stay in Urbana (which, by the way, I’m completely open to if someone offers to marry me for green card purposes. Seriously. Someone marry me. I’ll give you my kettle), I’m going to pine for Glasgow, but my time in Glasgow will be spent muttering about how things were better in Urbana. My loyalties are forever split, so that I can never again hold a meaningful and committed relationship with a single city. Maybe I should just ditch both and move somewhere I’ll hate. Somewhere awful. Somewhere where I’ll be so dissatisfied that I’ll never feel guilty for liking it too much.
Guys, I’m moving back up to the North-East.
(Disclaimer: The North-East thing is a joke. Please do not get offended if you really super love Aberdeenshire. I’m not disrespecting your homeland. I like some of it, honest. I like my parents, I like my friends, and I like the pub).
I was going to write a post about my adventures down South, but I have to do an analysis of a Sylvia Plath poem, so instead I have a special treat for you.
Have I told you about Saskia? We used to live together, and I have a t-shirt with her name on it, and she’s also doing an exchange year. She makes video blogs. They’re kind of like my blogs but a lot shorter and more entertaining.
Anyway, I went to stay with her over spring break. This was the result. You should watch it, partially because Saskia’s videos are wonderful, and also because I recite the Fresh Prince of Belair rap, talk about porn a lot, use the phrase “tongueless bum mutant”, and generally embarrass myself for your pleasure. You’re welcome.
Today, I’m going to drop some amazing, very secret knowledge on you. The kind of knowledge that is only known by those that have embarked on that adventure known as “study abroad”. That kind of knowledge.
When you study abroad, you have to travel a lot.
Groundbreaking, isn’t it? But seriously, though I knew I’d have to fly across the Atlantic to get here, it never truly dawned on me quite how much I’d have to travel this year. Over the last seven months, I’ve been in eleven airports, and on more trains, buses, and planes than I can count. I’ve become an expert on budget travel. I know exactly what bus companies will get you to a specific part of Chicago in the shortest time and for how much. I know to get my laptop out of my bag and take my shoes off before I get to the security scanners. I know to empty my water bottle out before I go to security. I know that, when I see that one specific security lady in Amsterdam approach me, she’s going to frisk me in such a way that she really should buy me dinner first. I know that that terrifying clunk that you sometimes feel on a plane about twenty minutes before you land is just the wheels coming down, and that I’m probably not going to plummet to my death. I can navigate airports like an absolute boss. I’ve even managed to procure more than one of those elusive $1 megabus tickets. I’m not joking, I could write a book on this stuff (don’t worry, I won’t. But if I did, you’d buy it, right? Right?)
This unwillingly-gained knowledge, however, has done nothing to prevent me from having the worst possible luck of any casual traveller ever.
Have I ever told you about the time I almost got kidnapped? Yes? Several times? Well it’s a fun story, and it’s probably changed since I last told it to you (disclaimer: though everything I tell you is more or less true, I tend to get overexcited in the telling of stories and exaggerate and add details. A pinch of salt is recommended), so I’m going to tell it again.
It was literally my first twenty minutes in America. I’d just finished my 14-hour plane adventure, pinky-promised the guy at customs that I wasn’t a terrorist or a smuggler of disease cultures, and collected my bag, and was that wonderful combination of very excited and incredibly tired. At this point, I didn’t have my budget-travel-knowledge, and stupidly hadn’t worked out how I was going to get from Midway Airport to Urbana-Champaign (a good 120 miles away - my main piece of advice to people who want to travel - plan everything down to the very last detail in advance. The words “I’ll just wing it” should not enter your vocabulary. You might think you’re being spontaneous and exciting. You’re not. You’re going to get lost and die). As I wandered around, looking very much like a lost, lone, foreign, teenage girl, I was approached by a strange man who asked me if I was alone, and then offered to take me to Urbana in his van. In. His. Van. Now, I may have been a stupid, lost teenage girl, but I was not actually in the first five minutes of a CSI episode, and had seen enough television to know that going with this man was going to end with my naked and bloodied body being discovered at the side of the road, so I kind of muttered that someone was meeting me and ran away. I then lunged at the driver of the next legitimate-looking bus I saw and asked if he could take me to Urbana. “Asked” is probably an understatement, as a combination of jetlag, heat (have I mentioned summer in Illinois is hot?), and my recent near-kidnap experience, meant that I was sort of half-whimpering, half-screaming at the poor man. Luckily, this guy was experienced in dealing with confused foreigners, and reacted impressively well to a mildly hysterical and very jetlagged Scottish chick babbling that she didn’t have a ticket but she would give him some dollar-money and could she please come on his bus and I don’t want to go in the van. Long story short, I somehow managed to get to Urbana alive. Success.
And then there was the time when my plane from New York got delayed by a full hour and a half because they needed to change a seat cushion (you cannot make this stuff up) and so I missed my bus from the airport, and my card had been cut off by the bank and I didn’t have any money or internet access and was pretty much stranded in Chicago. Though I eventually managed to get hold of a friend in Urbana who booked me a bus for the next morning (for which I am eternally grateful), I nonetheless ended up spending the night sleeping on a bench in the bus depot of O’Hare with a lot of homeless people who kept trying to give me copies of The Onion, wearing two jumpers to keep warm and reading a Dickens novel, because, as it turns out, that’s what literature students do when rendered suddenly homeless.
Last Friday, I spent over two hours hanging out on a street corner in Chicago during a thunderstorm with sixty strangers waiting for a bus that didn’t want to come. During this time, I very conspicuously eavesdropped on the guys next to me until they let me join their conversation for the next few hours.
This was also the first time I crossed over to a different timezone on a bus. It was exciting and deeply confusing and everyone else on the bus thought I was quite mad.
As it turns out, I am not the only exchange student to experience this terrible luck in travelling. When I explained my idea for this post to my best friend and fellow exchange student (who I am currently staying with) Saskia Dunn, she told me the story of how she almost choked to death on a piece of chicken on a trans-Atlantic flight and the flight crew had to page a nurse after the guy she’d been sitting next to expressed concern that she’d been in the toilet for over an hour.
The moral? If you’re an exchange student, you should probably just walk everywhere.
Since moving to America seven months ago (it’s my seven month anniversary, guys! Get me a cake), I have lived in three different places. Though I currently live in an apartment (British friends read as: flat) as I have done since 2009, and it’s highly pleasant and reasonably normal, I did not always live like this. No, for the first semester of living in the States, I lived in a dorm.
Now, for those who aren’t American, dorms are kind of like living in a boarding school with more casual drug use and lower standards of hygiene. You get a shared room with a bed and a desk and not much else, there’s a shared bathroom where you have to do various complicated acts of magic to gain access to the hot water, and people make your food for you and serve it to you at allocated times as they glare at you with disdain.
There are also roommates.
I’ve yet to tell a lot of people about my first roommate, due to a mild fear for my life, but now, internet, I’m going to reveal the enlightening and not at all disconcerting events of my first seven weeks here (Disclaimer: names have been changed for witness protection purposes. For the sake of storytelling, let’s call her She).
I think I knew I was off to a bad start when the very first question She asked me was “have you ever seen a black person before?”. From there, it was all downhill. Though I never once brought up the topic of religion, for instance, (call me crazy, but I think that’s one of those things, like sexual fetishes, that you don’t need to feel obliged to share with everyone you meet. If you have one, I’m cool with it, and you can be as proud of it as possible and I won’t judge you, but please don’t try and bring me into it), She had interrogated me on mine within the first few hours of knowing each other, and was deeply offended that my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, didn’t directly correlate with her own. To solve this, She would regularly slip religious leaflets into my pile of books, along with regularly insisting I pray with her.
And don’t even get me started on the regular probing questions about my sex life. The word “privacy” had no meaning to this chick. And then there was the descriptions of the porn she watched, and the lectures about how sex before marriage was irresponsible and I’d probably go to hell for it. She also refused to dance with me at a party because She “isn’t a lesbian”. Now, ignoring the fact that she had no idea what my sexual orientation is… honey. Standards.
After about three weeks, She was watching me sleep on a regular basis. Seriously. I would open my eyes and she’d just be lying there, staring.
Oh. She also showed me her vagina deodorant. No warning. Just whipped it out. Guh!
But don’t worry too much about my personal safety and mental state, dear internet. I’m long out of that room, due to my RA being absolutely spectacular about the whole situation (and in general). I moved in with a very lovely girl who kept all personal issues to herself and regularly washed. It was great.
Nowadays, as I said, I live in an apartment, which is a ten-minute walk - or four and a half minute sprint - from my classes, and is slightly bigger than a shoebox and only slightly smaller than a garden shed. It’s far cheaper than dorms, which is nice, and I get to cook my own food at whatever time I choose, though I serve it up with the same level of bitterness and disdain as the dining hall folks, for old time’s sake. My roommates here are spectacular and wonderful, though I can’t say they’re a hundred percent mentally stable. My bedroom door locks, though, so I wouldn’t worry about it.
Apartment life also comes with the added bonus of getting to watch the regular adventures of the three guys who live opposite (known as “the cute one”, “the big one”, and “the other one”), who have a tendency to play the guitar naked in large groups, or do Things That Shouldn’t Be Done In The Kitchen in the kitchen. It’s kind of like a fairly dull and deeply disturbing reality TV show.
My productivity has taken quite an impressive drop since I had to stop hiding out in the library all the time, though. I’m not sure if there’s a direct correlation.
Ladies, gentlemen, and other of the internet, if you would permit me, I would like to tell you about a thing that Americans do.
“Oh my God, you’re from Scotland? That’s so cool! I’m Scottish too!”
No, love. No you’re not.
Maybe this is just because I’m Scottish, and my family has pretty much been Scottish or English for the past eight thousand generations, and so I have no concept of “cultural ancestry”, but people claiming to be Scottish gets to me. Sure, be proud of where your ancestors came from. I don’t mind at all when people say “my family’s from Scotland” or “my ancestors are Scottish”. That’s fine. By all means, flout your Scottish ancestors. Love Scotland. Praise Scotland. Build a freaking shrine to Scotland. Move to Scotland if you really want. But realise that being Scottish is about more than having a bit of ginger blood in you. There’s a whole culture of irn bru, chips and curry sauce, Tennant’s lager, being given in trouble rather than being told off, football (whether you like it or not), driving on the left, furious patriotism, having strong opinions about independence, wearing kilts to weddings, free healthcare, red hairdye, brewdog, neds, constant sarcasm, and tablet.
Basically, if you cream yourself over a Scottish accent, giggle whenever I say “aye”, call mince and tatties “ground beef with potatoes”, and have never been told to “get yer rat oot” on a night out, then you can’t say you’re Scottish. You are American. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Seriously, America, you’re great. I love you guys. You don’t need to pretend to be from another country because your great-great-great-great granny was born there. It’s cool to just say you’re American. You have your own freaking country to be proud of. Come on, you guys can fly the American flag outside your house without people calling you eccentric. You’re, like, the champions of patriotism. Own it.
I mean, if you trace your ancestry far enough back, by that logic, you’re an amoeba (disclaimer: I am an English student. My knowledge of biology is severely limited. This may not be true).
This is my best friend, ex-flatmate, future flatmate, and quasi-wife Saskia Dunn. She, like me, is studying in the US, in North Carolina, and she makes videos that are far more adorable and witty than my blogs could ever dream of being.
I don’t know if any of you know this, but in the United States they speak a completely different form of English: American English. Having struggled with this difficult language barrier for the best part of five months, I am now proud to say that I’m fairly proficient in American English. I’d even go so far to say that I’m almost fluent. That pretty much classes me as bilingual. The whole thing’s very exciting.
For those of you less fortunate to share this impressive linguistic talent, I have composed for you a sort of dictionary containing all the essential vocabulary in American and British English.
Pants: (N) Trousers.
Underpants/underwear: (N) Pants.
Jelly: (N) Jam.
Jell-o: (N) Jelly.
Soccer game: (N) Football match.
Football game: (N) Hand-egg tournament.
Trunk (regarding a car, not the thing Harry Potter keeps his stuff in): (N) Boot.
Band-aid: (N) Plaster (Because it’s a band that aids you. We like things to be literal here).
Divided highway: (N) Dual carriageway (Come on, guys, what are you even attempting to do here?).
Gas: (N) Petrol (And before the Brits start, yes, we all know it’s a liquid. It’s short for gasoline. Get with it. Squares.).
Beer: (N) Gnat’s pee.
Pre-game: (V) Pre-drinking (Because drinking’s the game, so pre-drinking’s the… yeah).
Closet: (N) Cupboard/wardrobe (Notable exception: place where you keep non-open homosexuals).
Lemonade: (N) Non-fizzy, fruity drink of joy.
Cider: (N) Non-alcoholic, fruity drink of joy.
_: (letter that follows ‘o’ in various words) U.
Cookie: (N) Biscuit.
Chocolate: (N) Brown dairy product that tastes of beige.
Movie: (N) Film (Because it moves, I presume, though that could be said of lots of things).
Zucchini: (N) Courgette.
Eggplant: (N) Aubergine.
Apartment: (N) Flat.
Eraser: (N) Rubber.
Rubber: (N) Condom (something I found out after loudly asking if I could borrow a rubber from someone during a class. Twenty minutes later, after the giggling had died down, they explained it to me).
It should also be noted that, if you say anything stereotypically British (i.e. something Hugh Grant might say: knickers, shag, arse, loo etc), the vast majority of Americans will go into fits of delighted giggles. If you say something Scottish, however (particularly “gonnae no dae that”, which I only say when in a very bad mood, “tattie”, and “shite”), they will look at you with confusion tinged with fear. Avoid it if you want to make friends.
And finally, I leave you with a Serious Warning. You must not, under any circumstances, use the phrase “taking the piss”. It does not translate. It will be misinterpreted as “taking a piss”, and people will think you’re not only weird, but borderline perverted. Avoid it at all costs.