10. Barack Obama, Marathon Monday, and Avenue Q

Hi all!

No idea how I forgot to mention last time, but while we were in Washington DC, we saw Barack Obama. It was through a funny series

Me and my friend Barry

Me and my friend Barry

of ‘if that hadn’t happened-s’ that we ended up inside an Obamarama gift shop, and when a load of police lights flooded into the shop we knew something was happening.. The shop assistants ran outside, and we quickly followed. Standing outside by the road, there were very few people around. After a slew of police cars, two limousines passed, one of which held our friend Barry (who we later learned was off to dinner) waving at our small crowd of about 6 hilariously screaming women, now crying with a life-changing happiness that only seeing the president could bring. It really was a moment of pure Americana. Needless to say, they then returned inside the shop to buy a hoard of presidential merchandise to remember the occasion. I don’t know how I forgot about this event, but there you go! Not something I expected to see while in DC, but something that made it very special!

Marathon Monday

One of the big events in Boston is the annual Marathon, which takes place every April on a holiday known as ‘Marathon Monday’. Boston College get the day off that day as the marathon route goes right through the Chestnut Hill campus, and it is seen by students as a bonus day of partying, naturally.

With some friends in the morning of Marathon Monday

With some friends in the morning of Marathon Monday

Unaware that Marathon Monday was on this day, I had put my name down to help out with my theatre lab classes, which were still going ahead in the lead up to one of the big mainstage shows by the Theatre department, Avenue Q, which was fast approaching. I remember after passing by a morning party (drinking began around 10am), and picking up some freebies, I went to the theatre to help build some set for the show. I was working away until I got a missed call from my sister at home. Confused, I also checked my UK phone, to see a list of texts from some Glasgow friends asking if I was ok and that they heard the news… I went on to check the BBC News page and heard of the bombings in town. After assuring everyone I was ok, I spoke to other people about what was going on.

The rest of the day had a really solemn tone. For a day that had started as one of celebration, the Lower campus dining hall was quiet and there was a prominent police presence on campus. As we had roughly a week to the show and lots to do, our rehearsal went ahead. For a comedy musical, our rehearsal had a really different tone and no one really knew what to say. I don’t really need to tell you about what happened at the finish line that day, as I’m sure you’ve heard all about it. But I can tell you about my experience of the events that took place soon after Marathon Monday.

Later that week, we had a ‘cast bonding session’ which basically consists of a social gathering at someone’s apartment/dorm room for socialising and hanging out with the cast of the show. I think it was a Thursday evening, and I remember I had some deadlines for the next day which I was going to go home and finish off after cast bonding. It was pretty late, and just before I left, we got news of an incident in Cambridge at MIT, where a police officer was shot. I remember wondering if it was linked to the bombings earlier in the week, but quickly dismissed that thought and assumed it was separate. I walked home alone late that night, and remember hearing police sirens in the distance.

The next morning I did the usual thing of turning of my alarm and seeing emails that had come through on my phone. One was from one of the Theatre staff telling us to stay safe, and the other was from BC telling us that as per order from the police to not leave home and stay locked inside for the rest of the day. I turned on the news and saw that the events the previous night in fact were linked to the Boston Marathon bombing. The fight in Cambridge involved the suspected bombers whose images were now released to the public so that the city now under lockdown would be able to help the police in locating and capturing the surviving suspect. The lockdown lasted most of the day, and we followed the news the whole time. Nothing happened for ages, so the lockdown was lifted.. and then maybe half an hour just after, it was placed again due to events going on in a town over from Brighton, where we were – the police were in Watertown and it felt like the end was near. It was such a surreal day, and it really did feel like we were part of a dramatic movie.

Now, I have to say that it is so impressive that they managed to effectively close the city, locate and capture one man. But it also seemed insane that these measures were taken – it paints a very ruthless and determined picture of the police, and with memories of 9/11 still very much in everyone’s minds, no chances were taken and the problem was to be quickly nipped in the bud while they still had the chance. I’m not saying that it was the wrong thing to do, but the images and stories we heard about the capture of the suspect, and the sheer size of the police force is scary when considering it was to capture one man. But capture him they did, and perhaps even more unnervingly, the celebrations began. I love the American spirit and all, but I have to say I feel uneasy when people are celebrating the capture and death of suspected bombers, relating to events which resulted in the deaths of a police officer, three innocent people at the marathon and hundreds of serious injuries. A lot of my American friends agree. Hearing from a Scottish friend who also studied abroad at BC a few years ago, this reminded her of the parties that began upon the news of bin Laden’s death. It definitely brought an unnerving tone to the end of a surreal week.

Avenue Q

Bein puppets in Avenue Q with my friends Lori and Jake. So much fun. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

It felt wrong then going back to the final rehearsals for a show about puppets singing and dancing about racism, porn, etc in a fun, bouncy way – but I have to say that it was nice and maybe needed for a place recovering from such an event. We had a very full on schedule, with an entire weekend of tech rehearsals, followed by two tech/dress rehearsals ahead of the opening night the following Wednesday. I had an absolute ball doing the show, and our cast was a great group of people. I made some of my best friends from Boston through doing Avenue Q – some of whom were cast members, some helping with tech/creatively, and one in charge of managing the whole production.

Our cast performing 'One Day More' at the BC Arts Fest. Avenue Q meets Les Mis. Click to watch on YouTube!

Our cast performing ‘One Day More’ at the BC Arts Fest. Avenue Q meets Les Mis. Click to watch on YouTube!

I’m so glad I went ahead and auditioned for the show, as I learnt to work with some really talented people, and the process was different in some ways to what I was used to at home. I also got to learn puppetry which was such a unique experience. I would definitely recommend getting involved at the theatre department at BC because it is such a close knit, caring community. And they are very, very good at what they do – you will learn so many lessons and skills as part of it.

 

Thanks for reading! Next time I’ll share stories of finals and more trips on holiday! So much travel and fun. This time last year I was starting at BC, and I’m so jealous to see people starting at orientation once again. Studying abroad really was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

-Andrew

9. Spring Break Part 2 and Back to School

A typical New Orleans street entertainer. Pleasing the crowd (or just my camera) with a jiggle.

A typical New Orleans street entertainer. Pleasing the crowd (or just my camera) with a jiggle.

Travel Woes

Our time in New Orleans was coming to an end, and with us running out of things to do it felt around the right time. We had a great time there – once you’ve done the French Quarter and a couple of nights on Bourbon St you’ve kind of seen it all. Of course, I was annoyingly not 21 yet so properly going out proved to be an issue (well, kind of). We had wanted to do a plantation tour but they were out of the city and did cost quite a bit, especially considering we had already paid for a swamp tour. The weather in New Orleans over spring break also wasn’t that warm – I eventually broke out my winter jumpers. It was also cold in Washington DC, where we were due to fly out the next day.

And then we got the message that our flight had been cancelled due to a snowstorm forecast for DC. This proved to be a bit of a nightmare – we had to reschedule flights, and the man who owned our hostel in DC was also being really difficult. Despite his own view that the weather in DC wasn’t that bad, our flight was still cancelled, and he wasn’t very understanding in advance about compromising over the extra day(s) we had to spend in New Orleans. Luckily the hostel we were staying in at the point could keep us there another night, and we decided just to stick it out in the airport over the next night.

On reflection, it was pretty funny. The transport gods continued to annoy us – with the most unnecessarily loud work being done on a decoration hanging from the ceiling by the check in desks, police officers zooming by in funny little buggies, and the most annoying ringtone from our friend who was sitting by us (this was all at 4am, of course). We eventually checked in our luggage and boarded the plane. Our attendant Mary obliviously provided great entertainment during the safety demonstration  to the point where we had to hide behind the safety leaflet to hide our tears of laughter. Delirious.

After some time, we eventually made it to Washington D.C. half-asleep.

Finally, DC!

Finally, DC!

Washington D.C.

Washington is a great city. We had an hour or so long nap when we arrived at our hostel. The manager was actually much more compromising once we had arrived and eventually was so kind to allow us to not have to pay for nights we told him in advance we wouldn’t be there for. Having said that, the hostel was interesting. It really was the kind of place you’d expect to see on one of those shows that showcase the worst of the worst – a bit of a dive. But it was a place to come home to (for now, two nights). Washington is a cool place, if you don’t mind museums and seeing ‘old’ buildings. The architecture was funny – it was like the kind of thing you’d expect to see in Europe, but on a massive scale. The buildings were huge.

The American History Museum was probably my favourite thing to do in DC – you’re sure to find something that interests you there. In there you can see everything from Kermit the Frog to a re-enactment of the Greensboro Sit-in to the US flag that flew over Fort McHenry on the night that inspired the national anthem. All in all, a very cool place that is definitely worth a visit.

If there was somewhere I would recommend skipping, it would be the American Indian Museum which is thoroughly boring. Architecturally, it’s a really interesting building, but inside it’s kind of redundant with not very much to see, and moreover, the website is useless in telling you what there is to see there too.. Being restricted to one and a half days in Washington forced us to pick out the things we really wanted to get to, and whilst we didn’t get around to seeing all of it, we did make it to most of the big things. The free Senate tour is also worth it – not least for the incredibly cheesy/empowering introductory film they make you watch (Out of Many, One) which is a treat. We had a great time at the Natural History museum too, including outside where I made a friend:

The next Snow White.

It’s a very nice, clean city with good public transport and polite people. A lot of young professionals work there and I think the pace of life there was well suited to Aoife and myself. We could see ourselves living there sometime in the future. Two days weren’t really enough – but we did pack quite a bit in. If we didn’t have the transport problems, our original plans would’ve been just fine. I’d highly recommend this city though, particularly as the polar opposite of our experience in crazy New Orleans! Which I did like in its own way. Overall, a great spring break and a well needed trip away from college.

A Bit About Classes

Speaking of which, the classes I had this semester were great! My Jazz Harmony and Arranging class allowed us to do harmony stuff in class but also play around on Friday afternoons as a small class – we’d learn two new jazz songs every week and have to do improv stuff as a group. It definitely relaxed things a bit and allowed us to see the practical application of the theory we did in class. My other music class was a history one again, but it was on the Romantic Era which is filled with amazing music that I hadn’t really fully appreciated before – it definitely opened my eyes and was a surprise course this year.

In theatre, my two labs kept ticking over, where I’d be working on helping with electrics (hanging, focusing and problem solving things with lights) and doing work with building set, which was an easy way to get two credits. My Modern Theatre class was also pretty interesting, particularly after taking my 20th Century Music class last semester – it’s interesting to see similarities in general art trends in relation to world events throughout the 20th century, but this class did involve quite a bit of reading, some of the plays being long and dry.. My Stage Design class was one of the real highlights though – our teacher is amazing and her way of teaching helped open up your mind in a more general sense when it comes to creative process. It was a total start from scratch type thing, and I’ve never done any kind of set design before this – but I really enjoyed it and I was proud with some of my work by the end. It definitely takes a lot of time and effort to do this class, but it’s pretty rewarding. Getting to do practical classes in set design is something I would never have got to do at Glasgow, and had I wanted to, I could’ve done courses in a long list of other disciplines in music and theatre. This is another benefit of studying abroad, I feel – it’s not just living somewhere new, it’s a totally new way of exploring your subject.

Avenue Q, the department theatre production I was in, was also ticking over throughout all of this – it came flying by into April before I knew it and the show was almost here. In the next blog I’ll talk about this, and a couple of unexpected events that revealed more to me about Boston as a city.

For now though, thanks for reading!

Andrew

8. Montreal and Spring Break Part 1: New Orleans

Hi all!

Sorry I haven’t posted in ages! It has definitely been a hectic couple of months, including a laptop crisis which didn’t make blogging easy. But more of that later – I’m going to take you way back and catch you up on some of the travelling I’ve been doing in North America this semester.

On the road again.. to another country

On the road again.. to another country

Montreal

So towards the end of winter, after the time of the Beanpot and lots of other icy activities, we decided to get an Enterprise car and drive on up to Montreal for the weekend. I was lucky to have a friend studying at McGill there, which is a really nice university. Boston got pretty cold during winter (down to -15 degrees) but Montreal was something else. And we were there when it was ‘warm’ – I’ve been told the late -20s are what is considered standard.

Driving up to Montreal is actually fine. Once we got past the crazy Boston traffic (we went during rush hour at night) it’s pretty quiet through the north part of New England. We made the stellar decision to stop off at the amazing steakhouse chain known as Longhorn. I don’t know if I’ve talked about it before, but if you get the chance to go, it will not disappoint. The car journey took us around 5 hours, but with the greatest hits of Avril Lavigne, my roommate Aoife and I made it through the long journey without a hitch. Well almost – the French roadsigns were a bit confusing, but we still got there in one piece.

We didn’t have that much time in Montreal, but we got to wander around the university, see some of the busier parts of the city – some of which is actually underground! There are loads of shops and malls that are built underneath the city, so that during the winter months you don’t need to walk out in the cold. It was also really weird looking around everywhere and seeing French being used so widely. It felt like I was back in Europe rather than just across the border from America – which I would say is true for Montreal more generally. It’s much more European in architecture and the general feel of the place. It’s a very cool city, in both definitions of the word. I enjoyed buying my first legal drink in North America, the whole attitude towards which really emphasises the redundant and counterproductive laws in the US. But the real discovery of Canada is its obsession with another treat.

Maple syrup.

They’re literally obsessed.

Everywhere you would go, you’d see bottles of that stuff, they’d put it in coffee, leave it on all the tables in restaurants, and my favourite use of it was for a wintry ‘maple taffy’ which was just as much fun to watch being prepared as to tackle eating.

Braving a smile in the cold winter of Mapleland as we attempt to eat their national dish. It's pretty messy.

Braving a smile in the cold winter of Mapleland as we attempt to eat their national dish. It’s pretty messy.

It was a fun thing to eat – just kinda sticky. They spread a trail of warm, melted maple stuff over a box of crushed ice, leave it for a while and then roll it up onto a stick. It was really nice with the warm cider they sold with it. Along with Tim Horton’s (a donut etc chain) Canada has some great sugary snacks. Go Canada. We had a really good time in Montreal and I would love to go back there to properly explore it – it’s a great contrast to Boston and I would encourage anyone in NE America to go visit it if they can!

Spring Break

But if you think that’s all the travelling we’ve been doing here, you are greatly mistaken. American college kids have a tradition of going on holiday to somewhere exciting for their Spring Break, which is basically a week off classes. Again, with my fellow international roommate, we decided to go for the culture over the sun, sea and sand option. This led us to choose New Orleans and Washington DC as a double whammy Spring Break. I’m going to talk about our trip to New Orleans first, as there is certainly a lot we fit into our (unfortunately) extended visit there. Here we go.

After finishing mid terms (literally, as soon as I finished mine I was off) we went to Boston Logan airport to fly out to New Orleans via North Carolina. North Carolina is a place that is the very definition of fantastic. We stopped off in Charlotte, which was filled with rocking chairs in place of normal chairs, singing bathroom attendants, and above all, the most amazing accent ever. I swear I will be returning there just to listen to people speak. Hilarious.

Something that recurred on my year abroad, was dreadful transport luck with Aoife – we are cursed. However, the transport gods didn’t quite get away with it this time around, and although the captain of the flight went missing (yeah, really), we eventually were on our way to Louis Armstrong airport (again, yes, really) in New Orleans.

One of the many great busking bands in New Orleans - in a nicer part of town which I call Good New Orleans.

One of the many great busking bands in the city – in a nicer part of town which I call Good New Orleans.

We got a room in a hostel for a couple of days, which was a very cool place and had some nice dorm style rooms. Our room however can only be described as a voodoo two person shed. Situated by a picturesque bubbling green pond, the room offered some lovely decor of pagan rituals and allowed for nightmares to ensue easily. Here’s a taster:

I don't even know what this has to do with New Orleans.

I’m not entirely sure I know what this has to do with New Orleans.

But other than this weird room, it was a totally fine hostel. Any hostel with a soft white cat roaming around wins me over.

New Orleans as a city was definitely a funny one. The jazz music and culture that we were looking for is there – the French Quarter is totally beautiful and the streets are just what you’d expect. However when you wander over to the famous/infamous Bourbon Street, a whole other side of the city is revealed. It’s tackier than blutack. Expect lots drunk people people begging you to go into strip bars and then throwing beads down at you on the street (free stuff is always good, so actually can’t complain there). As someone who has never really been interested in the whole culture of those holiday destinations in the Mediterranean (e.g. Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents), this didn’t really appeal. But the live music there is excellent, and the traditional food is amazing too. Get hurricane cocktails, gumbo, jambalaya and above all – beignets! They are SO good – but don’t go to the famous Cafe du Monde where they are just average – there’s a place called Cafe Beignet in a little square of ‘Jazz Legends’ on Bourbon Street that has the best ones I had whilst there. They are basically warm dough snacks covered in sugar – but it was a definite highlight of spring break, if not the whole year. It worries me how uncertain I am that that is a joke…

I managed to get just a quick snap of this alligator. Snap.

I managed to get just a quick snap of this alligator. Snap.

We also did a swamp tour where we got to see alligators, snakes, some weird birds, pigs and turtles. It was a fun day trip – the bus tour to which also allowed us to see some parts of town that have still been left devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It’s pretty crazy to see so many houses just abandoned after the storm – and it did make me uncomfortable to think about such a fun party city be shaken by something that horrific. The city is really built in the flattest place I’ve ever seen, and the way it’s woven into the swamplands and other bodies of water does hit home the scale of that disaster. The rebuilding is very much still going on with some parts of town just being moved back into now.

Other things worth seeing in New Orleans are Jackson Square, which is very European in style and a lovely change from Bourbon Street; Canal Street which is the main street; Royal Street is really pretty too; and one of our favourite experiences was a very fancy cinema which was hilarious highlight. We saw the average film that is Identity Thief  but thanks to the classy cinema we had a great old time. Served food and wine at the push of a button as we sat in comfy leather seats reclining our feet, we spent an evening feeling classy. I guess as students it’s the little things in life.

Anyway, I’m going to continue Spring Break Part II in another blog, featuring DC, flight cancellations, sassy hostel exchanges, and rushing to see as much as we can in just under 2 days. Hope to update you all soon and let you know how our experience in the capital was!

Till next time,

Andrew

7. The Second Semester Begins

Hello friends – it’s been a while!

Okay, so standard me, the second semester just began months ago, but let me tell you all about what I’ve been up to since!

I did my best to edit this photo because before my it was just completely white. My phone couldn't handle all the snow and sun together.

I did my best to edit this photo because before my it was just completely white. My phone couldn’t handle all the snow and sun together.

The snow here has been crazy! We have seen storms leading to piles of snow up to 4ft high, and a couple of classes have been cancelled as a result. Boston are seriously great with clearing it out of the way though – New England in general is known in the States for being prepared and quick with ploughs to deal with their typical winter weather. It still made for some very different walks down the street recently.

Courses at BC

So upon my return to Boston, getting classes sorted for the second semester is something everyone has been organising. The way it works here is that there is a way to sign yourself up for courses here through a program (not unlike MyCampus, except this system actually works. Sorry, not sorry – the administration side of things like this at BC is pretty good and well maintained, and it’s certainly something other universities could learn from.) This lets you see what courses are open, when they are and gives you the option add/drop classes within a given time frame. This add/drop period is so useful for trying classes out and seeing what works best for you in terms of work load and scheduling. Some classes require permission to join them, but this isn’t usually a problem – particularly if you are an exchange student.

Once you have your courses sorted, the Boston College Bookstore is organised in a great way to help with getting your materials for classes. Aside from being a treasure trove of amazing kitschy maroon and gold memorabilia, the back of the book store actually contains, to the shock of all, books. The way this is done is the shelves are categorised alphabetically by course code. This means you can wander down and find the course you require things for and then you are conveniently presented with the entire collection of books that the teacher for that course has required you to get. Now, the bookstore isn’t the cheapest place, but the bookstore does also have a website where you can also search by course – this semester I just copied in the ISBN for each one and got them for cheaper on Amazon. Student success.

This semester the courses I am taking are: Modern Theatre and Drama, Music of the Romantic Era, Stage Design, Jazz Harmony and Arranging and two ‘labs’ in Stage Electrics and the Scene Shop. The labs are one credit pass/fail courses where you have to do a total of 26 hours in each just helping out with making, constructing, fixing set and hanging, focussing and taking down stage lights for the theatre productions in the department.

The Theatre Department

Boston College is pretty lucky to have a great theatre department. Based in the ‘Robsham Theatre Arts Centre’ – which consists of a large traditional mainstage and the smaller but more versatile studio space known as the Bonn Theatre – it is the home of theatre majors. The building also has a green room where people during the day just hang out and chat (the wise use of sofas end up kind of sucking you in and you can never leave) which is beside the costume shop and the scene shop which is used to make all of the sets and props for the productions BC stage (this year there have are 6 BC department shows – this isn’t including the handful of productions by the two student groups.) This year has been dubbed ‘the year of the puppet’ as there have been classes in puppetry this year as well as productions heavily featuring the use of puppets.

The start of the semester is also a busy time for the Theatre department as this is when auditions take place for the productions. I have been lucky enough to be cast in the mainstage production this year which is Avenue Q – essentially a take on Sesame Street that is instead aimed at post-college twentysomethings and the problems they face. I’m playing Nicky who is somewhat based on Ernie, and thus involves puppeteering. I will keep you in the loop of how this goes – I feel very lucky to be able to participate in this show at BC whilst I’m here! Everyone in the department is friendly and relaxed, and some of my best friends in Boston are through the Theatre department.

More Sport, More Fun

TD Garden in Boston. I managed to get my beautiful face on the screen (the real achievement of the night)

TD Garden in Boston. I managed to get my beautiful face on the screen (the real achievement of the night)

Okay, so after being formally introduced to the Boston College Eagles playing ‘football’ some friends and I were lucky enough to get a hold of tickets to the final of a college tournament known as The Beanpot. This is an ice hockey tournament that involves colleges in the Boston area – BC have been recurring winners in recent years, and this time around they were playing Northeastern University. Now American Football had a fun atmosphere, but I can’t lie when I say that I think the game itself isn’t that exciting to follow. Ice Hockey is completely different. I am not a sporty person at all (Boston is a great place for those of you who are) but I really enjoyed the Beanpot. And of course BC won, which made the whole night even better.

Boston College also have a great way to bully taunt the goaltender – which involves an elaborate chant at him whenever BC score. I recorded the event just for you – aimed at the poor guy called Rawlings whenever we scored.

Well blog friends, thank you for reading. My next update is going to get you up to date with some trips I’ve been on recently – including Spring Break! It’s scary that it is March already, and classes will soon be done.. Now begins the rush to squeeze in everything on our Boston Bucket List. Go.

Till next time!

-Andrew

6. Happy New York!

Hello to you and apologies for the dreadful title of this blog.

I hope you had a wonderful new year, I spent mine in NYC hence the pun. Today I’m writing from the green room of the theatre department on a snowy day in Boston. The weather is very cold just now (hitting around -14, that’s celsius, not the bizarrely unique American fahrenheit) and there is snow aplenty. But enough of this British chat of weather, and on to American news.

Christmas in Boston

BATMAN pyjamas with Maggie. What an awesome family.

BATMAN pyjamas with Maggie. What an awesome family.

Being a student, flights across the Atlantic are relatively expensive. Here are a few reasons why spending the holidays where you are studying is the way to go:

  • You save money.
  • Many Americans love to play the hostess with the mostest. This means they are often very keen to have you come stay with them.
  • Your year abroad is an entire single experience. Going home in between will break that up into two – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something to bear in mind.

In relation to that last point, deciding this is really dependent on your own personality – some people will want to spend time at home with family and friends to help homesickness etc and give you a break from Americanness (thanks to you, WordPress for correcting the spelling of that word – apparently it does exist) but if you are okay with staying abroad, I feel it makes sense in the long run. I went to my friend Maggie from my directing class’ home. Her family were lovely and let me stay a couple of nights and we also had a look around their hometown, which is just outside of Boston. I skyped my family in on the day for a bit, which was nice but I was also welcomed into Maggie’s family traditions, including being very kindly given new (batman) pyjamas to wear on Christmas eve over into Christmas morning. It was a really lovely holiday – I loved getting to meet new people and learning about some new traditions! I highly recommend experiencing Christmas in your study abroad country!

New Jersey and Book of Mormon

On the lead up to New Year, I took a trip to another friend of mine’s in New Jersey. Alessa’s place was great and again we got to spend some time in her hometown (saw Les Misérables at the ‘movie-theater’, meh) and then had our crazy trip into New York City to see two shows in one day. We were up at 6am and lined up in the below-freezing temperatures for 4 hours outside the theatre for standing room tickets to the incredibly popular and sold-out-for-months show that is Book of Mormon. Tickets were roughly $30 and we got to stand at the back of the theatre to get to get to see the show. It was worth the wait, but I can’t help thinking it would have been even better if we didn’t have to stand outside for hours! Highly recommended! And thanks Alessa, I’m sure we wouldn’t have survived that wait without each other’s company.

New Year

I met a friend from home for New Year celebrations in New York. We stayed in a dodgy apartment in the Bronx which was pretty funny. Overall New Year was hilarious and I thoroughly enjoyed the city atmosphere surrounding it. If you choose to spend hogmanay here, just avoid Times Square. As picturesque as it may seem, it is a dreadfully busy and FREEZING way to joyfully bring in the new year. Also there are no toilets anywhere.

LUCKILY we didn’t do this. We managed to find tickets to a hotel party which was really, really funny. It was at a Novotel near Times Square and was filled with 40+ businessfolk. Mary from London, if you’re reading this, you’re the best. Despite (or perhaps because of) spilt drinks that resulted in a brawl, awful dancing from the hotel’s camp clientele (gleeful middle aged ladies clad entirely in sequins) and a music selection that would rival even the trashiest of 80s clubs the night was a total blast and probably one of the funniest nights out I have had. I highly recommend it if you’re up for a laugh and don’t mind being the youngest folk there.

One of the highlights of the night was this shimmering angel. Too good.

One of the highlights of the night was this shimmering angel of cheese. Too good.

Speaking of New York – I’m going to spend a bit of time just talking about it in relation to Boston.

New York is around 4 hours away by bus from Boston. Buses are very regular and there are many companies that offer budget trips. For the past two times I have visited from Boston, I have opted for the dubious ‘Lucky Star’ company (take a look at their website to see what I mean) who, in fairness are totally fine and for a last minute ticket cost $20 per journey. Although, my last journey encountered a shattering window on the bus (only the outside pane thankfully) and a big delay because of a snowstorm/people travelling back into Manhattan for the upcoming new year celebrations… This journey ended up taking 6/7 hours instead of the usual 4. At any rate, it’s fairly accessible, and if buses aren’t your thing there are also trains and planes you can look into. The bus is fine though, even if you think you might indeed need a lucky star to get there in one piece.

In terms of accommodation in NY – it can be very expensive. Keep a lookout for special deals with hostels etc (I stayed here with my sister in October which was pretty good – but the people in our room stole our toothpaste. Hm) or if you’re going with friends, definitely look at staying in an apartment just outside Manhattan. This seems to be popular with students and may be more cost effective.

NYC in general is a blast though, and a great way to spend a free weekend! I shall wrap things up there for today! I hope you enjoyed hearing about my winter break. We are now back in the usual routine of classes! Next time I’ll tell you about my experience so far Spring semester classes and the great BC theatre department!

Happy New Year!

-Andrew

5. Finals, Football and Freedom

Hello friends across the pond and wherever else you may be.

It has been too long. How are you? I am going to write a couple of blogs over the break to catch up on everything I’ve been meaning to tell you. I’m just home after going on a pilgrimage through the cold weather of a student-deserted Boston in search of cookie dough to make a Pizza Hut-esque dessert (it didn’t work out too well) but I have many things to report!

An impressive attempt from the internationals at decorating. Please, do not adjust your screens: this is in fact a real, undoctored photograph of our tree.

The temperatures have dropped, the ‘sweaters’ have come out, the boots are on and the snow is yet to arrive. There have been some days of snow in Boston, but not enough for it to lie more than a day or so. I’m thankful for this, but also want to see everything looking extra wintery to make up for the dreaded end of year rush that is finals…

And this is Boston's inferior attempt at a tree. Absolutely pitiful.

And this is Boston’s inferior attempt at a tree. Absolutely pitiful.

I have only just finished finals – the exams and essays (papers) due at the end of the semester. It’s a crazy time of year, and as some of the American exams work in a ‘let’s-see-how-much-they-can-remember’ way, it gets very stressful. That said, I’m alive and thankfully it’s all done. Essays were fine (if a little last minute, whoops) but like I say the exams here often have a large element of memorising nuggets of information. Which, yes, does make you more knowledgeable on that subject, but for someone who isn’t great at memorising dozens of individual composers dates of living, it wasn’t a nice way to be spending my evenings – it’s kind of dry and very, very frustrating. (I resorted to remembering things based on my innate and extensive knowledge of rap/cockney rhyming slang; such fun.)

Now that they are finally done however, everyone has left the campus for their homes. Except me. I’m spending my winter break in America which is highly exciting. I’m staying with my friend from Theatre at her home outside Boston, before heading down to New Jersey and possibly New York. Should make for a different Christmas. It will be strange not spending it with family, but thanks to Skype I’ll still be able to see them and friends! Speaking of which, I still haven’t felt homesick as such. I mean, I miss cookie dough (strange craving for that tonight) amongst other things and seeing everyone, but other than that I feel like I’ve settled in fine into American living. Which I feel is a testament to how nice everyone is here at making you feel welcome!

American College Football

Myself and fellow international/roommate Aoife in our BCness!

Myself and fellow international/roommate Aoife in our BCness!

Whilst on the topic of American living, the big Boston College vs Notre Dame football game happened since the last update. This is referred to as ‘THE HOLY WAR’ due to similarities between the two schools. They are both Catholic schools with a longstanding rivalry between them when it comes to football. However, the biggest difference is, Boston College’s football team are currently dreadful (sorry, not sorry). Of course, I don’t really remember much of the game… and I had to leave because it was so cold my nipples were about to fall off (true story) but from what I hear they didn’t do very well and lost. But it was great fun and there seemed to be a great spirit in the stadium, complete with a sea of Gryffindor, sorry BC, coloured fans.

The first game of the semester at BC's own stadium. "Murica"

The big marching band during the first game of the semester at BC’s own stadium. ‘Murica.

I’ve only managed to make it along to two of the BC football games (despite buying a season ticket). I wouldn’t recommend buying a season ticket unless you will actually go to all of the games/sell them all off. However tickets for the famous Notre Dame game are always very sought after, so you can make a nice profit if you sell those ones on. We’re very keen to make it along to an ice hokey game (as BC are actually very good at it) and Boston in general has plenty of sports teams and there’s a lot of history and sights to see there, such as the Red Sox stadium at Fenway.

So what now? Well I’m going to hang about in the flat in Brighton for a bit and then head off for the holidays. I hope you all have a great break and I look forward to sharing more news with you about what I have been up to over the break. I’ll discuss Thanksgiving next time and let you know how Christmas is going!

Thanks for reading,

Andrew

OH also – I know the deadline is coming up for students to apply for studying abroad. If you want to ask me ANY questions please fire off a message at 1002567m@student.gla.ac.uk as I would love to tell you more about BC but obviously some things depend on individual people’s interests/requirements! I highly recommend BC as it’s amazing, and you will have the time of your life! 

4. ‘School’ Life, Gnomes and Hurricanes

Hello blog friends!

Boston College in the ‘Fall’

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted on here, due to a hectic couple of months settling in the US. So what can I fill you in on? Well, I feel like I’m settled in now which is cool! But also means that all the scary new stuff now feels normal, and it is like routine university life now..

Class Life

Or rather, it’s not like Glasgow University life. At all. This semester I am doing 5 courses (jeez) which are History of Jazz (music), Opera (with a grand total of 3 other classmates), American Musical Theatre (theatre), Directing and 20th Century Music. The first thing I would recommend is not doing 5 courses – which BC in fact also recommend to international students. It is a lot – particularly when you’re adjusting to their system of working. US ‘schools’ as they call them here, tackle work on a class to class basis rather than week to week, and in terms of assignments you have to hand in, it’s very full on. Most courses have assigned books, and you just have to get them and all you need is in there, with assigned chapters for each class. Very different to the pages of recommended/suggested reading at Glasgow for you to find what interests you and go with that for the essay topic. Here, you do many little assignments (that still take time) but are a little easier to do if I’m honest. It’s less work but more of it!

Classes are good though – everyone is lovely. In particular the theatre department at Boston College are great – with a board of students helping to organise events for the students, including Apple Picking which was excellent fun.

Who knew picking apples could be so much fun? We party hard.

Speaking of which, I believe I’ve mentioned the International Assistants thing that BC does before – I have to say this is the best idea ever for helping other students settle in, and they have done such a good job of making us feel welcome. Little shout out to my IA, also named Andrew, who invited me along with other international students for dinner with his family a couple of weeks ago. Along with the other IAs, he’s done a great job of showing us the sights of Boston and helping us understand the campus and classes here. But everything is going well, just very busy with classwork all the time! I now understand the work hard/play hard mentality that divides the weekdays and weekend for US students.

Eagles

I said I would talk about this in this blog – but I’ll properly get into sports stuff in a future blog (gotta leave something to talk about next time, right?).

The Boston College Eagles is part of the big American College sports phenomenon of naming your sports teams after an animal/something else crazy and intimidating. So this is what the Eagles references everywhere are pointing to – and on that topic, school pride is a massive deal here. The Boston College Bookstore is less of a bookstore and more of a mental merchfest. BC hoodies, trousers (pants), hats, scarves, jackets? Got them. BC wine glasses, tumblers, mugs, coffe cups? Check. BC blankets, pens, pencils, wallets, keychains, underwear? They’re there. BC LICENCE PLATES, OFFICE CHAIRS, Deckchairs? Indeed. And my personal favourite: BC Gnomes?

They got them.

“What else do we not have we could make lots of profit from?” And apparently Santa plays hockey for BC.

With. Miniature. Hockey. Sticks.

And whilst in Scotland, walking around dressed head to toe in college gear with matching backpack, cap and socks might be considered weird, here it is encouraged. You cannot be keen enough.

Hurricanes

No, I’m not referring to a rival sports team (nice segue there, even if I do say so myself..) but Hurricane Sandy. When we first heard about the approaching hurricane, it got pretty tense. E-mails telling you to watch out for falling debris and trees and to not leave your house unless for class (because obviously you’ll be fine), quickly turned into giving us Monday off class as a precaution. People were stocking up on lots of food and drink and preparing for the worst, and whilst New York and New Jersey were always going to be really badly hit, there were still worries here about the potential damage the storm would cause…

Well, in the words of my fellow international student “I was expecting something a bit more dramatic” as we all peered out of our windows. I mean, THIS (at BC, ironically in front of the careers centre) is pretty dramatic, but sights like this weren’t common in Brighton. And this certainly wasn’t either. Which was a little disappointing, but still an interesting study abroad experience! Bring on the Boston snow…

I hope you enjoyed this month’s mini-blog – I promise more interesting useful blogs will resume once I have time to breathe from the next bout of impending class work. Ugh. Thanksgiving will be the next big holiday which is exciting! I also have stories of family visiting and travelling to New York via hilarious budget coaches. That can wait.

Speak to you all soon! Thanks for reading.

Andrew

(HAPPHALLOWEEN! sorry, I couldn’t resist..)

3. Eagles in Brighton

Hi!

I have now been living in Boston for a month. 4 weeks ago today, I was wandering into town in the most clueless way ever. If I were to pass my past self in the street now, I would firstly laugh, then show him how the T works and that people aren’t actually that different here. Which reminded me about these blogs.

A typical Boston house. In a typical street. Probably called ‘Freedom Drive’ or something..

Accommodation

Finding a place to live. Okay. So Boston College is pretty much in the Brighton area of Boston. Here is the information on the BC website for On Campus and Off Campus accommodation. This is what I know of the different options:

  • On Campus Housing – for this you will need to apply once you have been accepted to study abroad at BC – as in before you leave the country. This is so popular/limited that they have a lottery (not kidding) to select who is going to stay where. If you don’t get it you’ll need to find off campus housing. The halls at BC are good enough – they can have a lot of people staying in one place – and you’ll be sharing a room (which is the norm here) – but it’s pretty good, and right on the campus itself.
  • 2000 Commonwealth Avenue - This is a sort of more upper class halls, just opposite where I’m staying this year. It’s basically nicer student accommodation in a fancier place. And a fancier price, I believe too.
  • A House - It’s normal here for houses to be rented out by students. This usually means everyone gets their own room, and share kitchen/bathroom/living spaces etc. These are much fun and are popular for parties (which are of course, bad).
  • An Apartment - If you go for a room in an apartment, you can either search with a group of people, or look for a room available. This can be done through a realtor or just from word of mouth. This is a common thing here too.

These are the most common options. Seniors at BC often stay in the Modular Apartments (or ‘mods’) which remind me of the classic days of Eurocamp but with two floors. They’re very well renowned for their crazy parties. So I hear..

So my off campus housing search was VERY fun. What I will suggest is that when BC give you access information for their Roommate finder site, use it. You may be lucky when you arrive and find somewhere to stay – however the truth of the matter is, it all depends on your circumstances. If you arrive early (like a good week or two), you should be fine, as all the students will be taking their time to arrive and sort out where they’re staying. It’s not enough to just assume you will find somewhere no problem as someone else might have – it is much better to have somewhere with enough time in advance so you can relax and enjoy settling in. I left it until I arrived, about 4 days (including non working days) before orientation – 3 full days of activities – began. I was lucky enough to be told that one of the International Assistants was looking for someone to take the place of her flatmate who had decided to move out and sub-let their room for the year. For the academic year, which is a bonus, as places tend to do the whole 12 months which is a nightmare, and as housing is relatively expensive. I’m now staying in a nice basement apartment with two other SUPER-AWESOME BC juniors (translation: a basement flat with 2 other lovely 3rd year students) in the Brighton area. Fun side note – as Boston is part of New England and all that stuff, so many streets are named after places in Britain and Ireland. It’s funny/odd hearing people talk about walking to “Lothian Road” or “Strathmore Street”.

Furnishing Your Apartment

Also people love to be very scaffy here in Boston when it comes to furnishing their apartments. There’s a hilarious 2 day period where everyone just dumps their stuff on the street – I think because it’s more expensive to get it taken away/moved properly – for other people to look at and take away. It’s like a surreal version of Bargain Hunt.

Flats tend to come without any furniture in them – not even a mattress. So when you end up passing a woman in the street who is moving her stuff out, and you’re awkwardly caressing her coffee table on the ‘sidewalk’ debating whether to take it or not, and she asks if you’re looking for a queen size mattress (for free) – say YES. Like I did, which resulted in carrying it down the street like a crazy person. This was with the help of my friend Alex, and then some random called Emmett – people are indeed very friendly here.

I didn’t keep it at the hotel of course, but she kindly let me keep it at hers until I had somewhere sorted. I then had to rent one of these bad boys to help deliver it to mine, but it was far, far cheaper than buying a new mattress:

More like U-LOL. Probably the funniest episode of study abroad so far.

Orientation

Orientation was a 3 day long period of introductions, meals, talks and activities. A lot of repeated information – the first two days have all the important stuff in it, but by the third day, everyone was getting a bit tired. You’re told all about class life in the US, how BC works, about health insurance, clubs, visas, classes and pretty much everything you’ll need to know. It also included this great boat cruise down at Boston Harbour.

Downton Boston at sunset

This was a nice end to the day – and a good way to see the city in a different light. You’ll also begin to learn from Orientation a very important six letter word that sums up American school life at BC: EAGLES!!! 

I’ll talk more about about school life in the next blog, as I think there’s so much to it and I need to go and get something to eat just now (sums up the forever classy and exciting style to my blogs well I think).

Probably a burrito or something like that. They’re obsessed with them here.

Speak soon!

Andrew

P.S. Can you tell I’ve found the colour option on WordPress? This does not bode well.

2. I-94s, Best Westerns, 7-Elevens and MBTA

Hi everyone!

Today is Tuesday the 28th August 2012, and I have now been in Boston for 4 full days. I love it. I’m going to break down each part of the journey below – I hope I don’t miss anything out as a lot has happened in the past week!

Going for the classy look as ever

A day of flying

So on Friday the 24th I was up at 5 in the morning (this time should not exist) to leave for Edinburgh Airport. I got on this hilarious (literally lolling on the plane) flight to Dublin, complete with faded decor and awful computerised classical music to accompany us on our less-than-an-hour long flight. There were people from Boston sitting around me as well, which was the first little alarm bell to go off in my head that this was becoming real… Anyway the flight left on time (miracles can happen apparently) and before I knew it I was at Dublin airport. After sufficient faff and walking around, I finally found myself in the correct terminal and with a nice little smoothie to keep me going for the next four hours until my flight to Boston.

I want to make a little note about Aer Lingus/Dublin Airport regarding something they have decided to do recently. As you may know, whenever you go into the USA, they are crazy with their security. They love forms and fingerprints and keeping up tough appearances, and in keeping with this, you have to fill out a customs declaration form to say you’re not smuggling any chickens/potatoes/oranges into the US. Now usually this is done when you’re about to touch down in the US and then you go through immigration when you arrive. If you are flying from Dublin Airport to the United States this is done before you board your flight. They have created this part of their airport called ‘Pre-clearance’. Once you go through this, you cannot go back into the terminal; that’s you until you board the plane. Now this is an excellent idea, as it means all the dreaded faff is out of the way beforehand, and also if you are not allowed in the country, you and your chickens haven’t wasted a day flying over the Atlantic for nothing. What isn’t excellent, is the fact that neither the airline or the airport have bothered telling you anything about it. Had I not asked, I probably wouldn’t have allowed sufficient time to fill out the forms. There seemed to be a big area to wait for this, so there seems to be potential for considerable queues to form. In addition to this, said forms aren’t labelled very clearly (in fact I couldn’t access one of the forms at all until after I had begun to be screened by an officer) but you need to fill out your Customs Declaration Form AND your white I-94 Form which gets stapled into your passport. The guy who spoke to me treated me like I was stupid for not knowing this is how things worked at Dublin, despite the fact he then mentioned that it was the only place in Europe to do it this way. You can find, after searching the Aer Lingus website myself, this information here. Sorry for the slight rant – it wasn’t really a problem for me fortunately, but it is something everyone should be aware of – and it’s a bit disappointing/strange that they’ve failed to mention that that’s how things go at Dublin! As long as you ask specifically for both forms and leave plenty time to fill them out and wait in line, you will be fine.

Leaving Europe

One of the most daunting things I have found about getting ready to leave the country is trying to prepare yourself for this new city and lifestyle. But no matter how hard you prepare yourself, nothing compares to being there. I knew how the city was roughly laid out, how to get around, what it looked like and so on – but it isn’t real until you’re there. That may sound a bit pretentious and hazy, but I found that quite a big thing to face moving away. That newness and unfamiliarity really kicked in that I’m moving there for the year, and that’s a very exciting thing which is a mix of about 100 different feelings. The first part comes on the flight across the Atlantic – but as the flight is so long, you get over it and it turns into excitement/mental insanity where you just wanting to get off that plane of crying babies (my all time ‘absolutely not’/can’t handle it situation) and claustrophobia.

But then you arrive, and it’s incredibly exciting. I picked up my luggage (eventually, after waiting at the wrong luggage carousel for a while… good one) and headed out to get a taxi. This is the good thing about pre-clearance – you are ready to just leave the airport! The taxi cost about $40 or so with a tip. I am currently staying at the nearest Best Western in Boston for the week. After this, I lied down, checked Facebook, called home, watched some dreadful American TV, felt satisfied and slept from 9pm till about 6am. Jet lag problems.

Leaning. Also definitely shorts weather.

The First Day

Okay so the next day was pretty funny. I got up and left nice and early, and popped in to the local 7-Eleven (Kwik-e-Mart) and got myself a Charlie Card for the week. This gives me unlimited use of the ‘T’ (the tram/subway system in Boston). I began to walk into town. Again, I started internally laughing because it’s all so ridiculous. It becomes real when you’re walking down unfamiliar streets – in the sense of just the pavement, the side of the road cars drive on, road signs, the temperature and so on. The T kept trundling past me as I missed it at each stop. Of course, I decided to just keep walking into town, which ended up being a 5 mile walk. I arranged to meet up with another exchange student which was nice – and I then met a whole load of other people. This made everything feel much more normal – so I would recommend meeting up with someone if you can once you’ve had time to explore the city for a little bit on your own first. The city is beautiful and so clean! I am looking forward to getting to explore it some more in the coming months. The campus is also beautiful and full of lovely friendly people and properly American buildings. It really is like stepping into an American movie.

I’m going to leave housing and orientation to the next blog as there is a lot to talk about, but thank you again for reading! I look forward to sharing more of my adventures no doubt filled with more ridiculously awkward tourist mistakes and American taboos, especially when I start classes on Monday.. And as always, if you have any questions please feel free to contact me here! See you all soon.

Andrew

1. Introductions, Applications and London!

Hi everyone!

This is my first entry of my blog documenting my year abroad. I’m studying Theatre and Music at Boston College in Massachusetts, USA. Sorry this one will be quite long – but just look at the bits that might interest you! Please feel free to get in contact with me for any questions you may have about studying abroad.

A Wikipedia classic

Considering that half a year ago I didn’t really contemplate studying abroad I’m very excited and a little nervous about the whole thing. I want to be as honest and interesting as possible with these blogs, as I know that above any information you can get from universities and websites, a first hand perspective is the most valuable advice you can get. Thanks to my friend who studied in Boston last year, I went ahead and went through with the application and here I am now jetting off in less than a month to the big USA. A bit daunting.

Applying

Applying to study abroad can at times seem like a long process with a lot of effort needed on your part, but if you use all the tips given to you by the International team and your own department at uni, you can’t go wrong. My first piece of advice is to look at everywhere on offer. You might have your heart set on just the one place, but look through this list of all the non-Erasmus paired universities to find the city and school for you! I quickly settled on the East Coast of the USA as I’m not sure I would like to be living day-to-day by the sun and sea of California, but I wanted to be near a big exciting city – not in the middle of Oklanowhere. Not gonna lie, part of the reason I chose BC was because it was talked up so much by my friend who studied there. So get as much first hand information as you can from people who study at your choices – I definitely sent my fair share of emails to departments at some US schools. Don’t be afraid to have a good online creep to dig up what you can!

The Glasgow International Office are also there to help you – get answers to any questions you may have before you move forward. Some subject departments are better than others with providing information and assistance with applying, so get in contact for guidance from your department’s Abroad Convenor early as they might not contact you.

In terms of the application you need to allow time for information back from your prospective universities – you wil need dull things like chosen course credit loads, proof of money to support your year and other stuff which is frankly tedious – but very much worth it for what you get out of it. I’m now past pretty much all of that and can look forward to moving away!

Getting Ready

The stage I’m currently at. There are some things you should probably consider that I didn’t know about at first. Extra Costs are the first glaringly obvious one. People who had returned from abroad said “Oh the only extra cost is really the flights.” Well, I can say that there are a few extra one off costs for things you need to enter the US. For example, I had to pay for a series of Hep B vaccinations as Massachusetts law requires all full time students to be protected against a slew of nasty things. You have to get these from a travel clinic (oh, the woman there was a right laugh, she didn’t seem very impressed that I was getting jags for America of all places. Glares of confusion and judging looks followed.) It doesn’t hurt physically – although the price was £40 per one, and you need three. Then there is the Visa to think about. For this you will need to pay for a SEVIS fee and a MRV fee, as well as for them to courier your passport back to you. UK students will also need to travel to the either the American Embassy in London or the Belfast Consulate, so you may need to factor costs for that in too. I am not trying to put you off by any means – only to make you aware of extra costs which people might not tell you about initially. Factor these costs in and you will be in a much more optimistic place in gearing up to go! It’s all for what I’m told will be the best year of your life.

I went to London for the Visa application and made a nice little holiday of it on the cheap (cheers Megabus for £20 travel) and stayed at a friend’s flat. Saw some sights through the Olympic madness, LOVELY weather and saw Sweeney Todd while I was at it.

Definitely shorts weather.

The embassy experience itself is COMPLETELY fine. People will try to scare you by saying it’s terrifying, but it is absolutely not. You can’t take anything electrical with you (also there were signs saying no guns and bombs, so be careful there too). Literally go in with just your documents and wallet and you’ll be fine. The worst part about it was the waiting – you have to wait to get your fingerprints taken and documents processed initially which doesn’t take too long. However I had to wait a couple of hours for the interview itself. The staff are very neutral in their expression, so don’t be put off by that – they just want to know that you’re being a genuine person who is studying for a year in their country. The guy who interviewed me asked a grand total of about four questions before approving my application, which was great. It was very straightforward and relieving to have ticked off.

I also want to mention that Boston College’s Communication is absolutely great. I haven’t quite sorted out accommodation yet, but they have helped me every step of the way and continually sent messages to keep me up to date with what’s going on. The staff are helpful and responsive to any questions you might have. We have also all been assigned an international assistant – a current BC student there to help us settle in.

So that’s where I’m at just now! I cannot wait until a month today when I will be in Boston. Although I am nervous, it’s great to know I have plenty of support from Boston and the ambassadors before me to help. I look forward to letting you know how I get on now.

Thanks for reading!

Andrew

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