I had recently finished the third year of my undergraduate studies in Communication in Caracas, Venezuela, my hometown, when I started thinking of transferring to the United States; I was primarily motivated by the debilitated economics and the restraining political situation in Venezuela.
After several months of research on the internet, I found that by best option was in the Pittsburgh area, categorized by the liveability rankings as one of the cheapest cities to live in USA, and so I found Slippery Rock University. SRU is located 45 minutes North of Pittsburgh, has around 7,000 students and awards international students a tuition waiver if they keep a GPA above 3.0.
SRU is very well-known for its Physical Therapy, Exercise Science, Sports Management and Physical Education programs. It also worked for me because the Communication program was the same I was doing in Caracas, and the department did transfer 95% of the credits from my first three years.
To travel to the United States and finish my studies there meant a lot to me, not only because of the academic achievement of obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, but also because it would allow me to visit some of the most famous touristy cities in the world. Furthermore, I enjoyed being part of SRU’s international community because I met people from many countries, shared cultures and dining evenings in which we would all cook and enjoy other countries’ food. Also, during the first year, I was an officer of the Internations Club which allowed me to relate to all the international community, students and faculty, and organize activities to enhance our stay in the US and expose our cultures to the domestic residents.
In the Pittsburgh area, I enjoyed going to events at the Mellon Arena, baseball games at the PNC Park and football games at the Heinz Field; I didn’t know football well, but I had never experience such fanatics as people have for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I also visited the important museums of Andy Warhol and Carnegie Museums. A shockingly beautiful experience was to visit Mount Washington, from where I could see Pittsburgh’s skyline. Plus, visiting the places known as Waterfront and Station Square were delightful for me because of the nice restaurants and relaxing atmosphere I could enjoy.
I nice activity for international students is to go visit the Strip District in Pittsburgh. This is a district in which I could find products made in Venezuela and all international food and spices. It felt like paradise to me. Additionally, shopping was great for me thanks to the popular Prime Outlets in Grove City, only 50 minutes from Pittsburgh and 15 from Slippery Rock. I loved it not only because it was extremely cheap compared to shopping in Venezuela, but also because there are no taxes on clothes in Pittsburgh. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to go, I know another important must-do in Pittsburgh is the Heinz tour, in which you will see how the famous tomato sauce is made.
Unfortunately, I must admit that the one thing I did not like and did not work for me was living in the dorms. It was a very uncomfortable experience due to behavior and customs of the domestic students, but it was something I had to learn how to live with only for one year until I moved off campus.
As I said before, while studying at SRU, I would take every break I had as an opportunity to travel. Some of the cities I visited were Cleveland, Ohio; Ocean City, Maryland; Madison, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Las Vegas, Nevada; New York City, New York; and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Wherever I went, I tried to stay at one of the Hostelling International hostels. From my experience, I can say this chain of hostels is one of the most reliable and the hostels are well located, neat, adjusted to the students’ budgets and have 24-hour check in.
Whenever I traveled by bus, it became an uncomfortable experience because unfortunately, Greyhound would always run late, which didn’t work for me; the delays always made me lose connections, therefore making arrive to my destination much later than planned. Travelling by Amtrak was never an option because connections from Pittsburgh never had good schedules and the journey was overly extended. So, whenever possible, I would look for cheap flight through STA Travel, Travelocity and Expedia.
Every trip was amazing and I enjoyed a lot every attraction I could get to. Nonetheless, I will only name the ones that I remember well and that interested me the most from each location:
Cleveland was a one-day visit in which I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I highly recommend this place, it is a great place to visit and remember all the well-known rock and pop artists.
Ocean City is a beautiful place to go to the beach and walk along the shore seeing the sunset. You can also visit the amusement park and do some summer clothes shopping.
In Madison, I visited the Monona Terrace, an emblematic building of Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Union Terrace; two places where I could enjoy art exhibits, musical performances, while having a sweet treat sitting and seeing the sun setting on the isthmus. At the Union Terrace, my friends and I also rented a sailing boat to go along the lake.
The two cities I liked the most were Minneapolis and Chicago. Minneapolis has a beautiful architecture and the lake that separates it from Saint Paul, make the evening skyline a delightful scene; plus, the Mall of America is very nearby and definitely took my shopping experiences and knowledge to a whole new level. In Chicago, the most wonderful sightseeing experience was at the top of the Sears Tower, front which you have a 360 degree view of the city. Moreover, the famous windy city has enlightening and enchanting cultural activities like visiting the Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium. I cannot forget to mention the Navy Pier from which boats sail every hour and take you along the Chicago River for a different view of the city.
Another iconic city, the one that never sleeps, is Las Vegas. The main goal when flying to Vegas was to take a tour to the Grand Canyon, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it there because the tour got cancelled due to the weather conditions of that tough winter season. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time in Vegas and my stay at the Circus Circus hotel. This hotel has an incredibly cheap night rate and also has an amusement park inside that made my day a very fun one.
In the Strip, where all the hotels are located, I could see everyone walking up and down, seeing the shows outside the hotels and going inside the hotels to play at the casinos. I played a little at the slots machines, but I lost as it usually happens to me when gambling. The hotels that I enjoyed the most were: The Venetian and its resemblance to the Venetian canals and gondola trips; Treasure Island and its pirates’ battle; Caesar’s Palace and it beautiful Greek architecture; The Paris and its Eiffel Tower representation of the original; and The Bellagio, outside of which there is a water fountain where lights and music shows take place.
Undoubtedly, the most iconic city in the United States, the one I must go, was New York City. The Empire State building, Broadway, Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, Little Italy, Ground Zero, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Central Park, Rockefeller Center are definitively a must-do while in New York City. These places are indescribable, so I suggest you get a map of the city and visit each one. I promise it would be an unforgettable experience and trip.
When I think back and remember my stay at the United States and all those trips I made, I realize that I went there and obtained not only a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, but also got to know wonderful places and learn from the US culture. In addition, I had the opportunity to share and learn about other countries and cultures through the international students at SRU.
This experience changed my perspective of how communications open a world of opportunities to you, how important it is to learn other languages and to visit other countries. It also helped me develop my skills on managing public relations, advertising and graphic communications, which would become my work field afterwards. It opened my eyes to a world of customs that were different from mine; it also made me realize how each culture differentiates and what are the highlights of my culture and how there are things from my culture that I cannot live without.
To anyone I know, I always advise to travel. It will help them grow as human beings. I try to travel every year to a new place whether in my country or abroad.
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