Last weeks in the USA

During the last few weeks of my time in the United States of America, I had a rapid tour of Washington, D.C.; New York City; and Chicago (although I lived there for around 9 months, there is always more to see – especially since the sun was finally out again)! The day after checking out the National Mall and the Burning Man sculptures (exhibit named “No Spectators”), Diana, who was accompanying me on this whirlwind tour, took me around Georgetown, a really pretty neighbourhood next to the Potomac River that also features a historic canal that is currently being restored. Since there had been a lot of rain before my visit, the Potomac was almost bursting its banks with rapids having formed along its length. From one of the bridges that crossed a sidestream, I was able to see rocks with tiny patches of vegetation hanging on for dear life – even a tiny tree struggling to stand its ground! One person was even kayaking in the main river, not for the fainthearted!

The next day we got a train to New York. Unfortunately, it was raining when we arrived and I, lacking a raincoat, got to ‘jellyfish up’ in a lovely yellow rain mac. The rain let off by the time we had eaten lunch, allowing us to see Times Square without being drenched. If you’ve ever been to London, think Piccadilly Circus but bigger – like most things in the US!

On the following day, we explored many squares in NYC, as well as some parks and Lady Liberty from a distance. NYC has some lovely areas to see, although it’s very compact and pretty busy too. I ate a traditional New York bagel (again, huge) with some vegan garlic and herb cream cheese, which was pretty damn good. Later on, we saw the 9/11 memorial fountains which were quite a sight to see. After seeing the sights, it was time for the flight back to Chicago and catching an Uber to the airport was an absolute nightmare!

To make the most of the sunny weather in Chicago, Diana and I took a trip up to the Chicago Botanic Gardens (CBG), I was particularly interested in seeing the bonsai trees. It’s a huge garden so there was no way for us to see all of it in the time we had, plus, it was far too hot to stay for long. On another sunny day, we visited the beach and I got to play some volleyball – a sport I’ve missed playing a bunch whilst in the states.

In the final few weeks before I left the US, I got to spend some time with some of the wonderful people I met whilst living in Chicago. We played games, went to the Lincoln zoo, had a boozy brunch, took an architectural boat tour, even went out to a club for a drag show. I’m very sad to leave them and my life in Chicago behind, but of course am excited for what the future holds back in the UK, including a summer internship with the Biology department at Edge Hill!

Final Exploration of the US Capital

In the latter half of May, after my official “intern-like” sandwich placement at The Morton Arboretum had ended, I was lucky enough to spend a long weekend in Washington DC and New York City. Washington DC has many galleries and museums that are part of The Smithsonian Institution – nineteen total, plus the National Zoo. I managed to visit six of these over two days: National Museum of Natural History, Portrait Gallery, Hirshhorn, Freer Gallery Of Art, Sackler Gallery, and Renwick Gallery.

The National History Museum was the first museum on the agenda. Instead of being greeted by the fossil of a beloved Tyrannosaurus rex, as I am at The Field Museum in Chicago, an African elephant stands guard at the entrance. Named the Fénykövi elephant, it was the largest land mammal on display in a museum at the time of its unveiling in 1959. This history museum is not without bones, however. There is a whole hall dedicated to bones and osteology and even has an augmented reality app that fleshes out and brings to life the specimens. After the museum, the Portrait Gallery was next, mainly to see Former-President Barack Obama’s portrait. Sadly, Michelle Obama’s portrait had been moved so wasn’t easily found. On the same day, I also visited the Hirshhorn, Freer Gallery Of Art, and Sackler Gallery. At the Freer-Sackler Gallery, I was particularly fond of the Peacock Room and Monkeys Grasp for the Moon.

The following day, a day far hotter and drier than the previous one, I explored the National Mall – a large strip of land that features monuments and memorials. I particularly enjoyed the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, it’s large like the Lincoln Memorial but more empowering than it is imposing. Before that, however, I checked out the Burning Man exhibit at the Renwick Gallery. Burning Man is known for its large burning effigy, but what I didn’t know is that many artists exhibit other works, such as sculptures, at the event. The Renwick exhibit houses sculptures that draw inspiration from Burning Man as well as pieces by artists who have previously showcased their work at the event. I particularly liked the giant sculptures of crows, Untitled by Jack Champion. They just look cool!

I may never have visited these places, and definitely would’ve missed some of the exhibits I found interesting if it wasn’t for already being in the country due to my sandwich placement. I couldn’t recommend an experience like this abroad enough!

End Of My Sandwich Placement

On May 10th, I officially finished my sandwich placement here at The Morton Arboretum. Although the official “end date” of my placement (and the deadline of my two assignments: a reflection piece and an essay on how to solve an issue in my field), I am staying in the US for roughly another month. This is the “grace period” and for my J1 visa is 3 days where I am essentially a US tourist. During this time, you aren’t allowed to work or study so if you plan on staying through the grace period then you must have a break – it’s mandatory! It’s worth noting here that you do have to leave the USA before your grace period ends, that’s 30 days under a J1 visa at the time of writing.

Dodecatheon meadia (shooting star or prairie shooting star)

Whilst I won’t be working for the arboretum or field museum during this time, I have volunteered my time to help in the field and continue to work on the paper with Andrew Hipp and Lane Scher – since two thirds of us have finished our term at the arboretum, it’s more like a personal project right now! Back in the field, I got to see the prairie one last time as I volunteered a week after I finished work; I was helping others with staking new colour-coded plastic pegs at the corners of each plot. It was particularly difficult to find the metal stakes – a metal detector was used – since the previous pegs had faded from a year’s worth of weather and some had even melted from the burn last month. The new growth has really shot up since the fire, with even a few plants flowering. I’m sure more have sprung to life since I was down there.

Phlox pilosa (downy phlox or prairie phlox)

Before the end of my placement, I also guest starred on a podcast for the arboretum! Called “Planted”, this podcast is yet to launch but follows the careers of scientists in plant-related careers and is hosted by Meghan Wiesbrock and Jessica Turner-Skoff. As I am yet to finish my degree, I’m featured in an episode centred around choosing your direction, specifically choosing your direction guided by your interests. I was fairly anxious about the whole ordeal – even about doing the practice run a few days before – but of course it was fine. Although I possibly talked about Pokemon just a tad too often!

A Fund for Student Opportunities

If you follow my blog posts here on Inside Edge, you know that I’m currently in the United States of America, on a sandwich placement at the Morton Arboretum. I was fortunate when arranging up this work placement that Edge Hill University had just set up its Student Opportunity Fund (SOF) – a fund that students can apply for to help them make the most of career enhancing opportunities. The fund’s goal is to make sure that no student at EHU passes up a potentially life-changing experience because of the financial burden it might impose.

When I was in the midst of applying for my placement as a Research Affiliate at the Morton Arboretum, I realised quickly that costs would add up. An updated passport, a visa, flights and insurance would quickly put a hefty dent in my finances, leaving my maintenance loan severely lacking for the year abroad. Thankfully, my personal tutor, Paul Ashton, and the Money Advice Team (for whom I was working for at the time as a Money Buddy) informed me about the Student Opportunity Fund and that I could potentially be successful in acquiring additional funding.

Any student on an undergraduate or PGCE course attending EHU can apply for the fund, which will supply them with up to £2000 to support the proposed activity. The projects can be near or far, large or small, requiring the maximum amount available or a portion. Applications could cover travel and accommodation expenses, for example, for unpaid work experience or volunteering; interviews or assessments not covered by the employer; or conferences, festivals, or events where you’re showcasing your work. The fund could also cover costs of developing and making creative material.

Many students have already made use of this amazing fund to enable them to experience some wonderful opportunities that improve both their transferable and career-focused skills:

Applications are judged by a panel and must be submitted over ten working days before the panel convenes. For this academic year, 2017-2018, the remaining dates of convention are:

  • Friday 13th April 2018
  • Thursday 3rd May 2018
  • Wednesday 6th June 2018