Aran Spivey

Aran Spivey
History and Politics '15
Second Year BA History and Politics at QMUL. Born and raised in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Studying abroad in the USA, at Boston College in Massachusetts. Fan of all things LFC, travelling the globe and living outside my comfort zone. Looking at international law/human rights/political risk/foreign diplomacy/civil service after graduation, or maybe even some more education. See, you're just as confused as I am.

Finals and Wrapping Up

The semester is drawing to an end and the library is inundated with kids cramming for the week which decides whether it’s an A or a B. Finals Week on campus is a huge deal, and like last semester, people are freaking out and going crazy. On that basis, it’s a good time for me to update this blog with what I’ve been doing recently.

Saturday saw me and a group of friends take a day trip to New York, taking a 2am Megabus and returning at 9pm the same night. It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated, and I would definitely recommend it as a way of saving on accommodation. Being my second time in the city, it was way less stressful and I got to see some things off the beaten track, like the shops/cafes in Greenwich Village and the Highline Park on lower west-side. I really got to see a different side to New York than the previous crazy tourist hub, from when I last visited in November.

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Sunday saw me get to see my absolute favourite band, Foals, for the second time. I’m sure you British have heard of them more than the kids here. It was at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Boston, it’s a really cool old building with an old style decor and rustic red seats. They played with Cage the Elephant and it was pretty fitting that my final gig in the US was my favourite band.

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It’s been a couple of months since I last posted and there’s been a few small events which I’ve been involved with. I participated in a program called BC Splash, where a couple of hundred high school kids are invited into BC for a day of classes, which are all taught and composed by students here. I taught a class on studying abroad and moving away from home which got a great turnout and was a really cool opportunity to share my experience and hopefully intrigue kids into going abroad while at college.

This semester has also seen my rise to world Wiffleball champion. (Educate yourselves: http://www.wiffle.com/). This hybrid rounders/baseball game has been a hilarious way of proving to myself how I should definitely stick to football (soccer). Intramural sports have been a really good way to keep up with staying active while here at BC, playing soccer on a team last semester then wiffleball and dodgeball this semester.

The end of classes has passed and it’s actually been sad to see my last BC classroom. This semester I’ve heavily concentrated on human rights/international politics/security/globalization which I’ve really enjoyed and feel like I’ve started to develop strong understanding on a lot of key topics, both macro and micro. One class which was absolutely great, has allowed me to help draft a UN Human Rights report of the Maldives which will hopefully be submitted to the relevant UN  branch which has been a great experience to work on. As much as this year abroad has been a fantastic opportunity to travel and see new things, I’ve tried to stay academically focussed and this semester especially, I’ve really enjoyed the classes I’ve taken.

So as I finally stop procrastinating and get around to studying for my impending finals, I find my self becoming nostalgic of a huuuuuge 9 months, preparing head back to God’s back garden. (aka. North Yorkshire).

Hopefully I can collect my thoughts a couple more times before I leave the States on the 21st of May!

 

Aran

Midterms and Spring Break

Two alien concepts to us Brits: Midterms and Spring Break.

 

Professors love nothing more than making you struggle mid-way through the semester and making sure you stay on top of all the work, rather than leaving it to a huge coffee-induced cram session the night before a big end of term exam. These tests in the middle of exams are to be expected in all classes, and it’s indicative of the American system’s insistence on keeping education better monitored, with less onus on the individual. As I sit typing this, 5 hours after my final exam until the end of the semester, I’m happy to be focussed on packing for SPRING BREAK, which starts for me, on Friday evening.

 

It’s one of those things that everyone has wanted to do, fly into California and road-trip the coast. It’s very weird to think that this will be me this weekend, leaving far behind the sub-zero temperatures of New England. Staying in San Diego, with the luxury of a car, trips to LA, the coastal towns, beaches and parks are going to make up most of my 11 days away from Boston, as well as the normal California sightseeing. Everyone here is hyped up for Spring Break, and unlike our reading weeks at home, everybody seems to be going away. The Caribbean looks to be the main destination of choice, Punta Cana seemingly the most popular. The obvious choice of Mexico also crops up, with BC kids looking to find some sun, and legal drinking for many, in Cancun. Even other trips around the country, to DC, New York or Chicago are all hotspots for the week-long rest at the start of March. I can’t deny that I’m more excited for this than anything else on exchange thus far.

 

But I’m not going to lie, I’m already dreading the influx of new Facebook profile pictures, cover photos of cocktails and over-filtered instagrammed beaches.

Del Mar Beach, San Diego

Del Mar Beach, San Diego

 

Aran

First Six Months in America

I think this may be the only British student abroad blog on the site, so here goes…

Six months into my year abroad, I feel like its time to summarise what I’ve learnt so far and reflect on this crazy experience. It’s difficult to succinctly describe the process of moving to another country and assimilating into a new way of life, but I’m going to try anyway. With two thirds of my time away already complete, it feels like I’ll be back in the UK in no time at all; hopefully the process of maintaining this blog can slow down those somewhat depressing notions…

Gasson Hall

Academic Life

Boston College as an institution is ranked within the top 35 or so universities in America, and as a $60,000 a year university, its certainly not a holiday. Classes are much more orientated around the professor, and rather than a syllabus devised by a department, the teacher as a lot of leeway in terms of how the class is taught and assessed. It  has both pros and cons in my eyes. It means that teachers can model assessments based on the structure of a class, for example the small class sizes are conducive with a syllabus which often includes small group presentations and projects. Also teachers adapt their classes on a yearly basis, to follow student recommendations or changing topics within  the subject field. The other side of this, is that teachers have substantially more say on your grade than at home, meaning that office hours act as a perfect opportunity to share thoughts and raise questions which help build you as a student in the eyes of a professor – who ultimately will give you the grade.

The system of classes is very different here. At BC there’s whats known as a “core” (although all schools don’t require this). This encompasses a range of subjects meaning that all students have sufficient grounding in math, theology, history, cultural diversity… etc etc, which works well to ensure that all students have  knowledge of numerous areas of study. Taking only history and politics classes here had meant that I’ve been able to specialise heavily on those subjects, but the typical experience will see a vast selection of modules in other areas. For me, the amount reading is huge, and days are often 10 hour work days, with work on weekends too. The small classes make it difficult to avoid the reading, but  the sheer work ethic of so many of the students here acts as a form of motivation, to contribute to class and to really engage in what you’re studying. To put it bluntly – it is more difficult here. The depth of knowledge required to hit the top grades is immensely high, and professors don’t like to dish out the best grades unless they are truly deserved.

Bapst Library

Social Life

One of the reasons I chose Boston College over other schools, was the quintessential American college campus which I’d be living on, in and around Americans and international students alike. As much as I want to dispel all those stereotypical “myths” about what university in America is like, I genuinely don’t think I can. Yes people drink out of red cups and yes there is a crazy amount of American patriotism.

On most campuses in America, sport in some capacity acts as a social structure, but also a point of real competition and energy, especially in relation to local school rivalries (sucks to BU). Whether it be ice hockey, football, basketball, or even less popular sports, some of these huge occasions can be the highlight of the week, drawing in huge crowds and an electric atmosphere cheering the team on. Even if you don’t like sports or are completely indifferent towards them, they truly provide an integral part of the social life here and some of these events have been in the highlights of my year so far.

Aside from sport, there are hundreds and hundreds of organisations around campus which cater for all niches or hobbies, and it’s easy to find something that fits your needs, whether you can dance, sing, draw or  talk for hours, or even if you don’t have a hobby but jut want to help out a charity or give something back to the community. I hate the cliche, but there genuinely is so much going on – thus there probably is something for everybody.

Home of the Red Sox

Home of the Red Sox

Boston: The City

Sometimes downtown Boston acts as fantastic respite from the bubble of campus life, and it’s a city which is actually fantastic. Taking the public transport system, affectionately (or not so) known as the ‘T’, the centre of the largest city in New England is easily accessible. For me, Boston has a great mix of touristy hotspots and great little quirks around the city, giving it a composition which I really like. It’s not too busy that it’s claustrophobic or where you have to fight to walk down a street, but there’s vibrancy and life here so that something is always going on.

Currently in the grip of (another) winter storm, it is freezing. Averaging about -5 degrees celsius which is nippy, not to mention the relentless snow which persists. It’s nice to still have 4 seasons, even if it means spending a significant portion of my year all wrapped up and wishing warmth still.

Boston City Centre

Boston City Centre

Travelling

So far, I’ve been to New York, New Jersey, Niagara Falls and Toronto in Canada which were all incredible. I have so many plans to visit places, but its all about finding the time (and money) around college. America is HUGE, something which I underestimated for definite, you can’t just drive to Florida, or get a train to Chicago – its all about flights. This makes things more expensive, but making friends along the way (hopefully) and begging for free accommodation cuts the cost of travel substantially. My best two trips are yet to come however, California for Spring Break (yes it’s a real thing) and then Florida at the end of the academic year. Still have a huge bucket list involving DC and back up to Canada for Montreal/Quebec perhaps, but I’ll worry about that another time if the opportunity arises.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

New York City

New York City

 

What’s Next?

Currently in the midst of mid-term hell (midterms are exams halfway through the semester), should I come out of this fortnight alive, spring break in California at the start of March awaits, which looks to be the highlight of my entire year! (Touchwood). Then with Florida at the end of the semester, I have some really cool things to look forward to, not to mention the culmination of the ice hockey season, and the famous Marathon Monday, where the Boston Marathon makes its way past BC around Easter time.

 

I’m going to try and keep this updated after eventually getting round to doing it. I hope there was some insight in there!

 

Aran

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