A mantra I have set myself for my time living and studying in Philadelphia is ‘If you can do this you can probably do everything else’.
Whatever it may be, there will be challenges I haven’t faced before and by putting yourself through those situations you learn to deal with them leaving you a more capable traveller and student. You are forced to get used to things very quickly, sink or swim. However, this should not be off putting. You could be a person travelling alone for the first time, attempting to navigate a new city or being subjected to a new language – to make the jump in to the unknown can be intimidating but you will walk out on the other side having had the experience. Some of the biggest challenges for me are the easiest to others and vice versa. As a self-sufficient person, living independently away from what I know and where nobody knows who I am is not a problem, in fact pleasant. However, being a more introverted person means the fairly basic tasks of airports, organised fun and the general extraversion of American people are more demanding. I’m hoping that throwing myself at the barn door covered in rusty nails will leave me a more capable and well rounded person. This is also reflected in classes. There is less emphasis on self-directed learning, there is regular homework / quizzes and depending on the class, graded class participation. This will take some getting used to, but used to it I plan on getting, for I will likely return for my final year at Aston in a stronger position because of it.
An excellent aspect of the course structure for exchange students is that for 50% of your courses you are open to study subjects unrelated to your degree. This has given me the chance to exalt some of my passions and now put them to the test academically. By far my favourite class so far has been my Astrophysics / Astronomy class. Not only has it so far covered fascinating themes such as Constellations, earthly phenomena, telescopes, the solar system and asteroids; but also gives you a solid grounding in scientific literacy. Do you really know how the common occurrences such as seasons, lunar phases, eclipses, tides and the scientific method work?
The opening weeks have been somewhat disrupted by the Papal Visit. As is to be expected the city was in lockdown and military presence on every street corner. Despite the temptation to take a trip into the city to see the events it would have also have been a lot of hassle, so I decided to divert my time elsewhere. However I’m regretting slightly not going to see one of the most important and followed people on the planet, and sharing in the emotion much of the crowd must have experienced. I spent this new found time wandering around the University of Pennsylvania, a beautiful Ivy League university less than a five minute walk from my accommodation. As well as this I have spent a few evenings relaxing at a local Jazz Café, listening to amateur and local musicians playing esoteric songs I will likely never hear again.
It is now the time of year in which the clubs and societies are recruiting. Another chance to get to know likeminded people and keep a balance between work and play, which can be more difficult than it would seem. I signed up for the Freethought Society and the Debating Society; but there are a lot of clubs and societies – more so than at Aston probably due to Drexel being a larger University. It will be interesting to hear different perspectives on topics and see how things differ from in the UK. There really should be something for everyone no matter what you enjoy, and if not there is always the possibility of trying something new or discovering a hidden talent.