Monday 25 November 2013

Next chapter... Virginia!

The Capitol.
I know I've been back over 3 weeks now, and I just KNEW when I started this blog that I would be totally rubbish at keeping it updated... but I am a trier! Here's the part about Virginia... the final chapter of my travels across the pond (for now!)...

So I was picked up at Richmond airport by the one and only Tessa Diehl and her beau Frank, who kindly drove me all the way to Williamsburg! I was staying with Tessa for two nights, and then a hotel for the rest of my stay, as I didn't want to get in her hair too much and her room-mate has exams.

The White House.
Tessa goes to the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, which is one of the oldest universities in the US so has many traditions, and old architecture. The campus is very green and beautiful, Tessa gave me a tour on my first day. She lives in Monroe Hall, a special accomodation reserved for the 'Monroe Scholars'. The James Monroe Scholars Program is offered each year to the top 10-15% of all admitted students to the College of William and Mary, and gives them a special stipend to pursue research, which is amazing for a freshman, as you wouldn't normally get to take part in research until your final year, like you do here in the UK. So in the USA, unlike back home in the UK, the freshmen share dorm rooms. It is much like our first year accommodation - shared flat with shared bathrooms and kitchen, except here, the boys are one wing of the corridor and the girls are the opposite end - and they all share rooms! Williamsburg is quite small and walkable, so Tessa also showed me around the town before we headed for dinner to the Blue Talon Bistro because it was Tessa's roommate, Mary's, birthday.

The Lincoln Memorial.  
The next day, Tessa and I set off on a road trip to Washington DC! It took a couple of hours, but it was a lovely day and when we got there, walked the National Mall to The Capitol and then all the way down to the Reflecting Pond and the Lincoln Memorial. We even had time to explore the Natural History Museum on the way! We stayed until evening as Tessa insisted that this was the best part of the day to see the mall, and it was breathtaking! Unfortunately the Washington Monument (the giant obelisk) was having some repairs done due to damage caused by the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the region in August 2011.
Since he attends George Mason University near Washington, Frank came to meet us for the evening and took us for dinner in a real American diner (very exciting for me)!

Real American cheerleaders!
The pep band.
On the Saturday, it was the William and Mary Homecoming Weekend. It's an event that most schools have over in the US once a year, where alumni return to the university for a reunion. There was a parade on the Friday, which we missed because we were in DC, but on the Saturday there was a big American football game - obviously from my cheerleading days I have seen them before, but in America, it is a TOTAL amazing experience. The games and stadiums in schools are HUGE - beforehand, everyone meets in the parking lot to have a pre game meal and drinks out of the back of their cars, this American tradition is called tailgating, which I had never heard of, but it was a must. We went to meet for a BBQ with Tessa's friends, Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed fraternity - everyone was lovely. William and Mary is a relatively small school, but the atmosphere was electric, we watched the pep band, the national anthem, the cheerleaders and dance troupes before the game started, and we WON! Go Tribe!

On the Sunday we went to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg for the annual Howl O Scream night - it was terrifying! Haunted houses, scary monsters dressed up chasing us around with chainsaws... the rides were awesome, but I spent most of the night awake thinking someone was coming to get me in my hotel room!

The next day Tessa drove me all the way to  Gloucester Point, to visit a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (more widely known as VIMS). The man in question is Professor Jeffrey D. Shields, who has an array of crustacean disease research under his belt, and is a bit of an idol for me, so it was great to meet him! His work includes the 100 Lobsters Project, and various Hematodinium (Bitter Crab) projects. It was nice to have some impartial advice, share ideas and get perspective on my work - No doubt it will be Jeff who reviews some of the papers I hope to publish from my PhD thesis! It was a great afternoon - and Tessa had a chance to talk to him about a possible lab internship, so it was win-win. Later that day, Jeff gave me a lift back to Williamsburg - much to my amusement, his license plate read 'KrabDr'... amazing.

As it was my final night, we went for dinner and then watched a halloween show put on by the Chemistry department at William and Mary - pretty cool - and hilarious, their professors and postgrads were great - I don't think we'd get away with half of it here in Swansea though - health and safety nightmare! After this, we went to a haunted house that the students were setting up - one of their halls of residence used to be a hostel, and is aptly named Hospitality House - nicknamed the Ho House. For one night, some students vacate their rooms and they decorate the halls to hold ghost tours - it was amazing, and I would love to see something like that here in Swansea - there it such a community spirit and they are all having an amazing time without having to go out and drink themselves senseless. 

The next day, I had to say my goodbyes before getting a taxi to the airport... I have alot to think about, digest, read and reflect upon, but I will save that for another blog post... Goodbye North America... hello London (and, if you hadn't guessed already, it was raining when I landed!).