In my opinion, school in the US is a lot less taxing than Singapore. And it’s not just because I am an exchange student – many US students turn up for class even less than I did! Plan your module mapping early – look out for what modules can be mapped back from your PU back to NUS through EduRec – sometimes modules in the PU have certain pre-requisites that prohibits us to take them: so plan about 6-7 modules to take if you wanna map 5 modules back. UT Austin had many exams throughout the semester – just make sure you set aside about 2-3 days before the exams to spend some time revising the content (and the classes you’ve missed hahaha) and you should do fine. With that being said, attendance on exchange is largely quite flexible. Hence, spend more time travelling! I had a 4 day work week in school, and I generally spent Thursday night to Sunday nights visiting other states in US. Here’s a breakdown of the places I visited:
- Texas – I studied in Austin, Texas, but there are so many beautiful cities within Texas to visit – San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth are just a few hours’ drive away and with a car it was super convenient and worth it to check these places out – I’ve watched NBA, NHL, MLB sports games, a UT Austin College Football game, Six Flags theme parks, and even concerts catching artistes like State Champs and BLACKPINK within Texas itself. Texas is truly an underrated city that is most certainly worth checking out!
- Manhattan, New York – hands down my favourite place. The “Big Apple” is the prettiest city you’ll see with attractions like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Wall Street, Times Square and Central Park. I would say it is a must visit! You can even take a 2D1N tour to Niagara Falls.
- Washington D.C. – a comparatively ‘safe’ city due to its proximity to the many government institutions. Do visit the Smithsonian Museums, check out the Washington Monument, and the highlight would be the White House.
- New Orleans, Louisiana – Go during the February/March period to bask in the festivities of Mardi Gras. Bourbon Street is basically Clarke Quay on steroids – there are a zillion bars there with cheap affordable drinks.
- Las Vegas, Nevada – Starting with the ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign, the Strip spans 4 miles of casinos, hotels, clubs and basically everything you dream of. According to a friend, you can play online with virtual tokens and trade for free rooms at certain hotels. Do visit the clubs like XS, Marquee or Omnia with resident DJs like Garrix, Alesso and Zedd that you don’t really get to see often at affordable rates of about $50 cover entries.
- Los Angeles, California – The hype of being in Hollywood aside, visiting Santa Monica, the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood sign, and the different Studio Tours showing behind the scenes of your favourite sitcoms and movies was a real highlight of LA. Not to forget Disneyland and Universal Studios that are in close proximity from central LA, and Grand Canyon (Arizona) that you can visit on a day tour from Gray Line, or by driving yourself.
- San Francisco, California – Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island are must-sees within San Fran, and do remember to set aside a day to visit Yosemite, which is about a 3-4 hour drive away.
- Florida – Visit Orlando for the theme parks, and Miami for the beaches. Orlando is just filled with so many theme parks and 2 factory outlets, while Miami is a nice beachy area where you can suntan or attend Ultra Miami Music Festival near the end of March.
- Detroit/Ann Arbor, Michigan – I visited Michigan only to meet a friend, but visiting a campus town was a refreshing change from the touristy areas of the US, and I had a great time taking in the atmosphere of Ann Arbor’s acclaimed Hash Bash. If you have the time, you can even drive (about 2/3 hours) out to Cleveland in Ohio.
- Chicago, Illinois – A city with its distinct red train tracks often seen in movies, Chicago was a pretty city with iconic locations like the Bean and Navy Pier.
- Denver, Colorado – Denver is a quaint place with a new up and coming arts district RiNo (River North) with art exhibits and nice cafes. Colorado Springs is only an hours’ drive away, where you can visit the super gorgeous Garden of the Gods Park.
- Nashville, Tennessee – if you are a music lover, this is a must-visit place. Lower Broadway has so many gorgeous bars with neon light signs and a band performing in every bar on that stretch. There are generally no entry fees so it is the perfect chance to bar hop until you hear your favourite songs playing at a particular bar.
- Seattle, Washington – Not to be confused with Washington D.C. (which is on the East Coast), Seattle is all the way on the other side on the West Coast. Just like San Fran, it is famous for its seafood and more notably the first ever Starbucks branch.
- Vancouver (Canada) – While visiting Seattle, a simple drive up takes you to the beautiful British Columbia. With a large Asian population and many modern beautiful malls, Vancouver is one of my favourite places as well. Nature is just a stone’s throw away from the modern city – take time to visit Stanley Park and the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
- Atlanta, Georgia – The Hollywood of the South, I came to Atlanta because I am a big big The Walking Dead fan. Atlanta is also the birthplace of Coca-Cola – the museum is a really nice place with Coke testing from Coke brands all over the world, and I could even attend Shaky Beats Festival at the start of May, catching DJs like Gryffin and Martin Garrix.
Travelling took a big chunk of my overall budget, but I certainly do not regret it. The United States is such a culturally diverse country and every state is slightly different. Overall, I spent about $20k on all my exchange expenditures combined. Some tips to save money – cook a lot at home! A meal in the States averages USD 15-20 per meal, and even a meal at a fast food joint costs about USD 10. Visit Asian marts and supermarkets and whip up some home cooked meals with your friends can be a great experience, but don’t forget to try out some of the famous US joints like In-N-Out Burger, Shake Shack, Texas Barbeque, or the American Chinese joint Panda Express that sells the US equivalent of Mixed Rice.
All in all, just be adventurous – if there is a place you want to visit, just do it. Try many things as exchange is the best time for this: Concerts, US sports games (I really really recommend this!! The atmosphere is always so so good), museums, sight-seeing, tours, theme parks (Six Flags!!), bars/clubs – there are just so many things to do DON’T just stay at home to study, go out to explore because that is what exchange is for!!
Written by: Derrick Tang
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