Georgia – Exchange to Gannon University, USA
Semester 2, 2016
Since arriving in the US in July, I have taken 20 flights to 3 different countries and 11 States. Since I was little I have always been fascinated with America and have always wanted to travel through the US, so I knew that I wanted to make the most of this experience, not only by attending American college and having the ‘college experience’, but also by seeing as much of America and the surrounding countries as I possibly could. Side travel while studying was something I was very interested in.
As almost all flights out of Melbourne fly into Los Angeles, I started there. In LA I did most of the typical ‘touristy’ things, I went to Disneyland, did the Hollywood tours, went Universal Studios (purely to see the Harry Potter section, not even embarrassed…) and went down to Santa Monica pier to see the sun set, an absolute must in LA! From LA I headed to Las Vegas for a few days, really just to go to the Grand Canyon. As I wasn’t 21 yet, the trip to Vegas was short as that really eliminates a lot of popular Vegas activities. It’s still an amazing sight, but 2 days was really long enough! While in Vegas I did a tour of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and words really can’t describe just how amazing this was! It was well worth the 12-hour day, because it is truly one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world! If you’re thinking of going to Vegas, a trip to the Grand Canyon is really worth it, all the pictures and movies cannot do it justice!
After Vegas I flew to New Orleans, Louisiana. I’ve always been (shamefully) obsessed with the show Swamp People, so I was really excited to travel to Louisiana and see it first hand. I stayed in the French Quarter which was absolutely beautiful, I loved all of the French inspired architecture. I went on a night ghost and cemetery tour throughout the city which was really interesting, if for nothing else other than to see the French Quarter at night and hear some of the history of the city. Before leaving I was warned about staying in New Orleans and how it could be really dangerous for tourists. A lot of people told me not to stray from the main two or three streets of the French Quarter as I’d almost certainly be robbed. Honestly I didn’t feel threatened or unsafe at all while I was there. I was cautious when I first arrived, but really you just need to be smart and sensible and follow your gut reactions. If you’re feeling a little off by a situation, remove yourself from it. On my last day in Louisiana I went on a swamp tour and got to see American alligators up very close (they’ve got nothing on our crocodiles though!)
From Louisiana I flew to Texas where I stayed in Fort Worth which is about 30 minutes outside of Dallas and is the original ‘cowboy’ town of Texas. Among my other childhood dreams, I wanted to be a cowgirl, so coming to Texas was really exciting and naturally I went to a rodeo while in Texas. But by far the best thing I did in Texas was go to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. This is the museum for the JFK assassination and is located in the building where the shots were fired from. I spent 4 hours at the museum and was so impressed with the exhibit! Fort Worth also had without doubt the best steak I have ever had, and the ribs were also really good, as to be expected from Texas!
By the beginning of August, I flew from Texas to Havana, Cuba which was an absolute eye opener! I only had 5 days to spend in Cuba which I divided between Havana and a small town North of Havana called Vinales. Going to Cuba really is like stepping back into the 1950s. All the cars are from the 50s and the architecture hasn’ t changed since then either. In both towns I stayed in ‘home stays’ which is essentially Cuban Airbnb’s, but the home owners are always there. This is how a lot of Cuban’s earn a large portion of their income, and I would 100% recommend anyone travelling to Cuba to do this! They were so accommodating and friendly, and were amazing cooks! In Vinales I did a horseback tour of the area. On the tour I went to a coffee plantation, a Cuban tobacco farm and through the Cuban country side which was really beautiful to see. In Havana I explored the city and I loved seeing all the old buildings, even though a lot of them are run down and partially falling apart, they were still so beautiful.
From Havana I travelled to Mexico where I spent a very busy 5 days. In Mexico I went to the Chichen Itza ruins outside of Cancun and the Cenote Ik Kil which is an ancient swimming hole near the ruins. The Chichen Itza pyramids were incredible to see, and swimming in the Cenote Ik Kil was amazing. For my 21st birthday present, my friend organized for us to go swimming with whale sharks off the coast of Cancun which was incredible. This was without doubt one of my favourite things I’ve done during my travels. On my last day in Mexico I swam with sea turtles at Akumal Beach which was equally amazing before heading to New York.
New York City is another place that I’ve always dreamed of traveling to. In New York I explored the city, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, took a horse and carriage ride through Central Park, visited the Statue of Liberty and saw the city from the Empire State Building. But probably the most moving thing I did in New York was visit the 9/11 museum. I was in New York a week before the 15th anniversary of 9/11 and my visit to the museum was incredible. It’s hard to fully understand the level of destruction and devastation that 9/11 caused, but being at ground zero certainly put that into perspective.
After being at Gannon University for about 2 months, we had our fall break over the last week and I took the opportunity travel back to the West Coast to San Francisco and met my boyfriend and some friends there. San Francisco is a beautiful city, it reminded me of a mixture of Melbourne and Sydney. While there we took the 5 hour drive out to Yosemite National Park, which was filled with tight, windy roads up mountains, but was just beautiful. We walked the Golden Gate Bridge, went to Fisherman’s Wharf, rode the cable cars and tackled the many steep streets of the City. We also tried to go to do a tour of Alcatraz Island, but soon found out that those tours book out 3 months in advance. So if you plan on going seeing the famous prison, make sure you book early!
So far during my exchange I have been so fortunate to have travelled to so many amazing places and I can’t wait to keep exploring more.