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Photo Essay Contest

David Wilson
Host Institution: Edgewood College -Wisconsin-
Home Institution: University of Strathclyde
Period: Fall 2009


Madison: Hidden Gem of the Midwest

Whittling down a choice of nearly 150 universities to a preferred top six didn’t seem easy at first. However I decided upon Midwest America based on the fact that I had previously lived with American students from that area. Looking back, what a great choice I made...

I travelled stateside mid-August a day after turning 21. My first stop was Chicago, where I spent a couple of sunny days exploring the city in all its greatness. There was so much architecture to see and unique things to do. Millennium Park, “The Bean”, Navy Pier, John Hancock Center and sampling Chicago style pizza were all crammed in to a short visit. I had a suspicion that this was a city I would be visiting again (and I did, twice!).
After a whirlwind visit to neighbouring state Michigan where I had an all American experience watching a NASCAR race, it was finally time to touch base at my new home; Madison, Wisconsin. I got the immediate feel of a college town on arriving in Madison and was greeted by a friendly faculty member at my college who drove me to my accommodation on campus.

Edgewood’s campus is situated next to Lake Wingra and a stretch of woods which can both be explored by boardwalk. Not only is this walk scenic and in touch with nature, but it can be a relaxing location to study at. The college itself is in a nice neighbourhood and there were stores, coffee shops and restaurants less than a five minute walk away. I was an early arrival so I had a lot to take in within the first couple of days. Luckily Edgewood provided an international student orientation which introduced us to all aspects of college life and gave us an opportunity to get to know each other. It wasn’t long before we became a close-knit group of friends whether it involved having dinner together in Phil’s cafeteria or exploring Madison’s student oriented nightlife.
Madison aka Madtown has great student nightlife because it’s essentially a college town. There’s a large choice of bars downtown which cater well to the student budget! If you’re not of age then there are plenty of other things to do in Madison. The main street downtown called State St has some cool, hippyish shops and a choice of ethnic restaurants. The downtown area comes to life regularly during Saturday Badger football games. The 80,000 capacity stadium is often sold out and the games are a big deal for the city. Even if you’re not a fan of American football, the atmosphere at the game itself is worth the visit! Halloween night is also a big deal in Madison, when the city holds its annual street party ‘Freakfest’. Downtown is literally buzzing with tens of thousands people donning weird and wonderful costumes and with big musical names headlining, for me this was a memorable night.
The classes I enrolled in were very different from what I was used to. Classes had more of a classroom feel which meant there was room for open discussion. Professors really appreciated hearing points of view from students from outside the US. I definitely preferred the exam format as there was continuous assessment throughout the semester, so on average I had one or two tests per week. Some of my professors liked us to write about our own point of view or experience on assignment topics, meaning I was using personal examples to back up theory. Groupwork and presentations were also a common part of class assessment, and in two of my classes I had to do peer evaluations on fellow group members.

One thing I loved about the longer duration semesters in the States was that there are breaks throughout the term. I did a lot of travelling, including Toronto and Niagara Falls during fall break. I was able to meet up with another friend who was studying abroad in Canada which gave me some welcomed reminiscence of back home.
My study abroad experience enabled me to make some amazing American and international friends. My American friends helped me to break down the language and cultural barrier, and it wasn’t long before we were accustomed to each other’s ‘Americanisms’ and ‘Anglicisms’. I was lucky to be hosted by several of my college friends. A highlight has to be my Thanksgiving dinner experience. I was told to expect an impressive spread of dinner on this well-celebrated day of the year but nothing could prepare me for the feast laid before my eyes. My friend is part Jamaican so I had an American-Caribbean fusion meal from the traditional turkey to a deliciously bizarre goat curry. So if you do study abroad during Thanksgiving, expect a good feed!
As winter kicked in, my last few weeks could be summed up by one word: snow. Unlike a heavy fall back home, life continued as normal after the one ‘snow day’ we had off college. Wisconsin is renowned for having freezing cold winters with heavy snowfalls. I found that people embraced the snow, especially the students living on campus who partook in a massive snowball fight! It was sad and surreal saying my goodbyes but I marked it in style by throwing a farewell night out, ending my time in a way that I would remember most fondly. I decided to stay in the States for Christmas and New Year, making the most of my VISA. Christmas was spent in Miami with a group of friends which was the polar opposite of a typical Christmas I am used to, but I loved it all the same. I roadtripped my last couple of weeks to some places I’d heard of but never really knew much about, including Nashville and St. Louis. The best five months of my life ended in Chicago, where it all began. I found it to be a perfect and very fitting end to an unforgettable time of my life.
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