Once upon a time, in a land far far away….

Hello all, thanks for visiting my blog. Trust me you won’t be disappointed!

First a quick introduction to me. My name is Laurence Hawker and I’m the tender age of 19. I study geography at Lancaster University, and for my second year I’ve been given the great opportunity to study abroad at the university of Colorado at Boulder. For more info about me click on the ‘About me’ tab.

My basic aim in writing this is to document what promises to be the most incredible year of my life. I’d like to pass on my experiences, provide a small dose of entertainment and give people a break from work/Facebook.

I left sleepy East Devon at 1am on 19/08/2012 (I cannot cope with the American date system yet), amid some tears and strange emotions. After almost a year of planning, fretting and work, that name on a piece of paper was finally becoming a reality. Boarding the bus, knowing I would not see my family for what is likely to be 10 months was very odd indeed. Having to wait at Heathrow for 5 hours wasn’t ideal, but luckily I found a way to make my bags into a very comfortable sleeping service. Taking off on the Virgin Atlantic flight was surreal, knowing that this was no holiday. However, this emotion was soon eroded with the presence of free food and movies.

Upon arrival in Chicago, I was immediately struck by the scale of the place. For someone who hasn’t been to the USA, I don’t think anything can quite prepare you. Most vehicles here would be classed as small tanks back home. I eventually found my way around the maze that is Chicago O’Hare to the train station to go downtown where I was planning to stay for 2 nights. Burdened with my life processions, and with only 2 hours sleep in the past 38 hours, I eventually stumbled into my hotel. To my pleasant surprise, this hotel was rare in that it was actually better than the pictures on the internet would suggest. They even had a doorman and concierge! I think my state of exhaustion exasperated this. It was 4pm when I walked into my room, but I knew a nap would be curtains for my body clock. The bed looked so tempting but instead I took the tram across town to the one time tallest building in the world; Sears Tower (now known as Willis tower). After ascending 110 floors, I was greeted with a spectacular vista of Chicago and Lake Michigan. Apparently, on a clear day you can see 4 states! Impressive stat. Fortunately, I had timed the visit to perfection as I witnessed what I can honestly say was the most beautiful crimson sunset I have ever seen. After 3 hours up there (and feeling like the paparazzi with the amount of people who asked me to take photo’s of them), I descended and hunted for something to eat. As I was in Chicago, I thought I’d try the classic Chicago deep pan pizza. I stumbled across a bar/pizzeria on a random side street and ordered the smallest possible portion. People who know me will testify that I eat a lot, but after half of this pizza, I was soundly beaten. I staggered home, feeling like I was pregnant with a food baby. Next day, and after the most spectacular sleep ever, I explored Chicago in earnest. Predictably I went downtown and visited the cloud gate (or the bean). Feeling rather hungry I sampled some american pancakes, and oh my, they were good! After a quick power nap, i visited the much heralded Art institute of Chicago. I have to say I regret this. Simply, I did not leave enough time! Such a great place and 3 hours wasn’t nearly enough. I’m by no means an art fanatic but I was blown away, especially by Monet and Kippenberger! Ambled around by the river, went for an inspiring run along Lake Michigan and then consumed a ‘small’ burger at the iconic cheesecake factory ( i fully intended to sample the cheesecake, but annoyingly I was too full!) Next day, I ran a few errands, then splashed out on a taxi to Chicago Midway to catch my flight to Denver. I would throughly recommend to anyone to go to Chicago. It has a great vibe, splendid architecture and you really got the sense that “I’m in America”

On the internal to Denver, I splashed out for first class (only another $10), so i had enough leg room for a sumo wrestler and a great window seat. See, I’m a big fan of the window seat, but 2 and a half hours of corn fields did get a little repetitive. As the plane was descending into Denver, I honestly thought we were landing at the wrong airport as it was so flat. For some reason, I had got in my head that Denver was going to be surrounded by mountains. As part of a program arranged by the university, I was lucky enough to have a host family in Denver who had offered to pick me up and to stay at theirs for the night. Jodi and Chris (my host family) picked me up after i initially started to get into another blue Subaru to the bemusement of the owner. I didn’t know it was waving at the girl behind me and not me!! I was treated to a lovely mexican meal and some of the most pleasant conversation I’ve had in a while. What lovely people.

Next day,I moved in. Holiday over ( or so I initially thought). I was overwhelmed by the scale of my apartments, as practically everything else in this country. Basically felt like it was a hotel. For the rest of the week, I went to loads of events and met so many people from so many different walks of life. And in this first week, I didn’t have to cook once. The Americans are definitely a fan of the free food event, and being British I certainly took to this like a duck to water! I played so much football (I refuse to call it soccer) in this week. A fellow player commented that wherever you are in the world, you can make friends if you have a ball. How true this is, and it has eventually evolved into the wonderfully named Bearcelona ( the apartments where I live are called bear creek) intramural team, that I am somehow captain of despite being the worst player. Other highlights in this week included eating doughnuts from a string and going to watch the USA pro challenge bike race with a complete stranger. I met so many great people this week that I knew I’d be happy here.

Week 2 – Classes have begun! Ironically back in the UK this was a bank holiday! I initially used the bus to commute, but I quickly realized cycling was the way to do things in Boulder, so I invested in a used bike. What a great move, it’s so liberating! Classes are so much different over here, as you sit at an individual desk in a group which is never more than 80. There is a much greater interaction between lecturer and student. Students over here are much more keen to get involved as opposed to the awkward silence which often met a question in the UK. In my opinion, this system, with getting weekly homework is a better way of learning. Sure, you have to work more, and that’s not exactly fun, but it’s a lot better for getting your head around concepts. The weekend involved a great trip to flatirons and the royal arch to be precise. I was lucky enough to be invited by Bessie who had a car and knowledge of the mountains. She continued the teacher role, explaining to me the rules of American football whilst watching CU (University of Colorado at Boulder, where i am studying) loose to CSU. The appetite for college football over here is ridiculous. Sure this game was a derby, but the two teams playing are frankly pants in the greater schemes of things, but there was still 45,000 at the game and it was televised live on ESPN . Glad, i watched it on TV though as CU lost a game they should have won. To cap off a wonderful saturday, I went to a small party and met with some Japanese, Koreans and French. Great company and amazing Korean food cooked by Woosin. However, the next day he kicked me in the head as we were playing football, resulting in a large cut above my lip. To be fair it was completely my fault as i stooped far too long for a header. However, being in America, you immediately think “How much is this going to cost me”. Thankfully it wasn’t that bad, but a fellow footballer had a $1900 bill for a small foot injury! Also, on the sunday, I was lucky enough to see Barack Obama. Despite having to queue and wait around for almost 6 hours, his speech was brilliant. I managed to get within 20 meters of him. Such an honour to see such an inspirational man for so many people. To me, I just cannot see 13,000 people turn out to see David Cameron make a speech, and that’s what makes US politics so intriguing (if not a bit crazy at times)

Week 3 – Finally got all my classes sorted, after using the classic “I’m an exchange student and this is my only opportunity” line of argument to worm my way onto some courses. Also, i went to my first model UN meeting and it seems so interesting. I can’t wait to get involved, and hopefully go to a conference. A friend from back at Lancaster, James Lester, arrived on thursday as he makes his way to Oregon to partake in his own study abroad adventure. He travelled across the country by train, and I have to say I respect him for doing this. It’s not easy traveling by yourself. Had such a whirlwind 4 days with him. On the thursday night we went to a small gathering hosted by Joe, a German friend. Friday night saw us attending a curry night at another friends, and then venturing out to a stereotypical US party. It was crazy! Saturday, we bused it up to Nederland, and then to a random trailhead. Nederland is a very strange town, with a bohemian vibe. Unfortunately, we didn’t really leave enough time to do a proper walk, but it was great to get deeper into the Rockies. The aspen’s turning in fall was also a great sight! We bused it back, and attended yet another social event! This time it was a sushi party hosted by Saori and Mathilde. I had never tried sushi, but i have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Even learnt how to use chopsticks after some struggle. Felt on top of the world. Here we formulated a slightly crazy plan to hike up to the flatirons to see sunrise, with Saori and Mathilde. Didn’t get to bed until 12.30, but had to wake up at 2am to let James back in. This meant we got about 2.5 hours sleep. We set out at 5am, torches in hand to hike up. Despite not entirely knowing where i was going, we hiked up and clambered up on this rock. What a superb view! We could see as far as Denver. I would recommend you check out the photo’s for this! By this stage, we were all very tired, so we slept for almost 3 hours. It was a bit sketchy, as if you rolled whilst sleeping you would likely plummet to your death. Eventually, we trekked back and basically spent the rest of the day eating our weight in food. This eventually end up as a cheesecake factory farewell for James. Actually, sampled cheesecake this time! Would throughly recommend, with 50 cheesecakes to choose from. The Americans certainly don’t mess around when it comes to food.

Week 4 – Started the monday morning with a 4.45am get up! Never an ideal start to the week, but had to see James off. I wish him the best of luck with his travels! On Tuesday, we had our maiden football match as Bearcelona. Despite a few communication issues (there are 8 different nationalities) we pulled through for a mighty 2-1 victory to top the table. So remarkable how just a kick around has involved into this. Wednesday actually saw my first rain day. Shocking! I even had to wear jeans. Met up with Chris and Jodi in the main student canteen. The place is crazy with something like 14 different stations and you can eat as much as you want. There’s everything from sushi to Mexican in there. I then had an interview for AIESEC, which is the world’s largest student run organisation which primarily sets up internships for students abroad. My desire is to get involved, so I’m looking for a position within the finance team. Model UN was again brilliant. On the friday, I went into international coffee hour with no plans for the night, but after a few chats, i ended up going to an Arabian night hosted by an international organisation, then off to a concert in a back room of a bar. It was a very intimate location and the quality of music very good. The concert goers kind of summarised Boulder, as it had quite a hippie-ish feel. Cycled back at 1am. I love cycling at that time as it’s so quiet and the temperature is actually bearable! Had another great curry night at Saskia’s and laughed so much. I’m so lucky to know such a nice group of people! Decided to leave a little earlier than i would have liked though as had to get up at 3.30am the next morning for my maiden hiking club adventure. For this we left at 5am and drove up to Mount Sherman, which was approximately 3 hours a way. It is one of Colorado’s 54 famous 14ers. The hike was reasonably easy, but at that height (4,297 meters), you certainly notice the altitude! On top, we had ‘tea and crumpets’ in honour of the british theme to the hike. On the way back, we had lunch in Fairplay, which is the very quirky town where the TV show South Park was based. Didn’t get back until 6.30pm, and then had football ‘training’ ( in reality just a kick about) for another hour. Absolutely shattered!

So thank you for reading my first post. Frankly, if you read all of this, you deserve a round of applause! In subsequent weeks i will post every week so each post is more manageable to read. I apologise for omitting anyone/anything but it’s difficult to write about these 4 incredible weeks without writing a small novel. Keep checking back and don’t forget to check out the pictures!!!

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One response to “Once upon a time, in a land far far away….

  1. Your tutor from the land far, far away is very impressed and quite envious of your travels. Have a great time! PS if ever in Montana look up my relatives

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