Ralph Rutter on North Carolina State University
The ten months I spent at North Carolina State University was a maelstrom of discovery, wonder, work, play, learning, indulgence and culture.
On arrival, the copious amount of meetings, greetings and general socialisation that took place, along with finding classes and orientation events, made the exploration of this new environment inevitable.
And what an environment it was: a clear blue sky and the brilliant sun beaming down upon thousands and thousands of red bricks; red brick buildings, red brick paths, walkways, walls and plazas, red bricks wherever one went. Astonishingly, I didn't get sick of red bricks! They are part of the character and identity of NC State, subtly emblazoning the whole campus with the School's colour.
The Brickyard is the main hub of student traffic on campus, a large open area straddled by the library on one side, a food court on the other, the bookstore on another, and lecture buildings in all other directions; and while this may sound a bit saturated with buildings, it is balanced by the Brickyard flowing into a peaceful green at one end and a shady copse at the other.
Around the campus one could also find a secluded pond hidden behind the baseball field, an idyllic little wood down a winding path, a romantic rose garden dotted with swings big enough for two, along with various other follies and beauty-spots, some tucked away for tranquillity, and others bridging adjacent parts of campus to brighten up a stroll.
I found the style of teaching and assessment at NCSU quite far removed from that which I've grown used to at Surrey. The American pedagogy is geared more towards covering a greater number of subject areas, whereas in the UK we concentrate on fewer topics but we study each of them in more depth. In addition, while there is a great emphasis on the final exam here, usually with a weighting of about 75% of the overall mark.
In the States there is continual testing throughout the semester with the contribution of each test to the final grade distributed quite evenly among them. This meant that I had to get into the habit of studying the material more consistently throughout the semester.
From this experience I now have the fortune of having an expanded collection of learning tools at my disposal, and the knowledge of which one suits me best for a given situation. Having learnt that I can excel in a totally unfamiliar educational approach I have more confidence to embrace my upcoming final year.
Another aspect of American University life that I found to be quite different from its UK counterpart is sport. In British university life sport is generally considered a hobby in which some choose to take part and others don't, while in the US it is more of a component of society that permeates the university experience.
As well as watching sports, playing them was a large part of my exchange too. I love that it was so effort-free to find some sport to play on campus. Alongside the residence halls on campus were beach volleyballs courts for anybody to use, and there were several fields around campus for student use too. It wasn't uncommon to be walking home from the dining hall and see a group of students playing a self-arranged game of ultimate frisbee, soccer or one of many other sports, some I'd never even heard of before.
The gym and all of its facilities were easily accessible to all students as no membership was required and no fees were imposed, having your student card was all that was needed to get in and rent equipment. Basketball is my favourite sport and so it was right up my street that I could make my way down to the courts, indoor or outdoor, at almost any time of day and expect to find some strangers who would be up for starting an impromptu ʻpick-up gameʼ. Being able to get stuck into street basketball culture in the United States was one of my dreams come true.
I had the time of my life at NC State. I've learnt so many things, seen so many places and met so many people in the last year. This experience has given me the ʻbugʼ to go out and travel again at the next available opportunity.