My Year Abroad..., Politics...

My top five things about Barack Obama…

One of the main reasons I was so excited to come to the US this year was the fact that I would be present for an important moment in American, and World, history.

Can America re-elect their first African-American president?

Since being at SUNY I’ve been taking a course which takes a real-time look at the Presidential campaigns of both Obama and Romney. In all honesty, sitting in a class full of third year political science majors is pretty intimidating to a British student who knows fairly little of the workings of the American system. After a few initial reservations, I stuck it out because I know there’s a lot I can learn from these people and my professor and I want to be involved with this election in some way, even if it is just as a spectator.

I’ve always had an interest in politics. My parents were members of the Labour Party(back in the pre Blair/Brown years) so I have memories of being taken out leafleting when I was very small and playing with the kids of other Labour Party parents at meetings. Lots of my parents friends, who I’ve grown up knowing, are from that circle, although their membership in the party has declined dramatically in recent years for obvious reasons! Anyway, because I’ve grown up having lots of intense discussions about politics with my family, I can’t help but enjoy following the Presidential election. On an ideological level I am fully in support of Obama gaining his second term. I’m sure anyone who has an interest will be well aware of the differences in the candidates so I figured I’d list a few other reasons why Obama is the obvious choice.

1) He’s Left-Handed

So being a lefty myself, I feel an affinity with all those that have had to struggle all their lives in a world created for right-handed people. Of course I’m joking, honestly being left-handed makes very little difference to my life but I can say that I’ve never met a lefty I didn’t like and some of the ones I do know happen to be incredibly awesome…I feel sure that this applies to Obama as well.

2) He’s read all the Harry Potter books

So Harry Potter is almost definitely one of the best things to come out of Britain. I’ve read all the books myself as well as having had them read to me by my Dad, just as Obama is reported to have done with his own daughters, and he claims to love them all. Anyone who can juggle being President of the most powerful country in the world and getting quality Harry Potter time in with his kids is a pretty impressive guy, worth a vote just for that I’d say.

3) Celebrity endorsements

My mum is a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and, thanks to her, I also enjoy a bit of Brucey now and then. Known for his political activism, I wasn’t surprised when she sent me a link to an article on his website today in which he stated his reasons for supporting Obama in the upcoming election. You can find the article here if you want to give it a read. Having read this, I thought I’d check out which other celebrities have voiced their support for the President. A quick google search returned an entire Wikipedia page devoted to celebrities in support of Obama including Will Smith, Beyonce, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Hathaway, Leonardo Dicaprio…well you get my point. What I can gather, therefore, is that Obama’s a pretty popular guy (with a very attractive fan base!). I’m sure Romney has the odd celebrity backing him, but with Springsteen on side, all I can say is, who can argue with The Boss?!

4) Obamacare

So one highly contentious policy issue is Obama’s creation of what critics have termed ‘obamacare’, which attempts to decrease the amount of Americans who cannot afford insurance and reduce the overall cost of health care. What the Affordable Care Act does try to do is ensure that all Americans will have access to affordable healthcare when they need it. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve been brought up in a strongly left leaning household but I literally cannot fathom why anyone would be opposed to this concept, even if only for the reason that a healthy society is a more prosperous one.

5) He’s just really cool

Not only is Barack Obama a pretty great president, but he’s also probably the coolest guy to ever have lived in the White House.

Whether he’s commenting on a parody of himself singing Call Me Maybe, being photographed drinking a pint of Guinness or dancing and singing on national TV, Obama is undeniably cool. Despite his opposition attempting to use this against him in the recent campaign, Obama’s ‘coolness’ is what makes him so special as a president. Who can really say that they wouldn’t want to have a drink and a chat with President Obama?

So there you have it, my thoughts on who should take the next four years of presidency. Of course it makes little difference what I think, and since most of my readers are also British, all we can do is sit and watch the next few weeks unfold. All I would say is that, regardless of who you’re going to vote for, if you can vote then please do. I could go on for days about how strongly I feel about people using their vote however little difference they feel it makes, I have come across so much apathy about the presidential election since I’ve been here and I just hope that on the day people make the effort to go out and make a choice.

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My Year Abroad...

My top five foods that I miss…

One of the main things people would talk about when I told them I was moving to the States for a year was how jealous they were of all the American food I’d have unlimited access to. I live in halls here and me and my friends are on the unlimited meal plan which means we can literally take as many trips to the dining hall as we want (and trust me, in the beginning, that was definitely the case!). On arrival in Albany we were literally overwhelmed at what the dining hall had to offer. All of us English wandered around in awe at the seemingly endless choices…the wide variety of hot meals to choose from, salad bar, wrap station, I mean, there’s chocolate milk on tap people! Bizarrely, as the Americans began to move in, they had a distinctly different response. While we were running around getting endless platefuls of food, every American we spoke to was completely underwhelmed, much to our frustration! We  put it down to Americans having being spoilt by food choices throughout their school career, they had no idea what it was like to be forced to eat the school dinners we had to put up with! Yet as time’s gone on we’ve gradually got less and less excited by the food and it’s got to the stage now where I’m just dying for a few home comforts.

1) Marmite

So I’ll start off with an English classic. It’s safe to say I am in the camp of LOVING marmite. I’ve long been known to say that if I had to choose one meal to live on for the rest of my life it would be marmite on toast. Probably my perfect meal would consist of two slices of thick white bread, lightly toasted with loads of melted butter and marmite. And of course a cup of tea (which they can’t do properly here either!) Basically I’m hoping that my mum has a whole loaves worth ready for me when I get home!

2) Baked Beans

Something else which only the Brits know how to do properly; baked beans are just the perfect food in my opinion. Since being a student, beans have become pretty much a daily occurrence in my diet. These days, beans remind me of waking up hungover and my house mate making me and my friends cheese and beans on toast, another meal competing for the number one spot. One of the most simple foods and yet I would happily eat them every day, cold or hot, in a bowl or straight from the tin, with pretty much anything and at any time of day.

3) Cheese

When I think of the cheese aisle in any English supermarket it’s literally a whole aisle with hundreds of different cheeses. All different textures and flavours, from all over the world. Compare that to the cheese I’ve been offered since being here which all tastes pretty much the same, think plastic burger cheese. To be fair, this is probably not the case for the whole of the US, just my dining hall. All I’m asking for is a nice slice of brie…

4) Percy Pigs

Percy (and all his friends),  for those of you who don’t know,  are Marks and Spencer’s own brand of jelly sweets. Basically the best sweets you’ll ever have. My older sister, who knows of my love for these since she introduced me to them years ago, often provides me with a large supply at Christmas, Birthdays and sometimes randomly in between. Even my friends have been known to buy me some since word got out about how much I enjoy a good Percy or Penny pig now and then. I’m greatly looking forward to a trip to M&S when I get back, just to stock up on a supply.

5) Baking

Ok, so this isn’t strictly speaking a ‘food that I miss’. In fact, the end product isn’t really what I miss at all.The actual act of finding a recipe and baking is really the fun of it in my opinion. I started baking when I was little, just like so many little girls who get taught by their mothers, or in my case by my grandmother since my own mum has more interest in the eating than the baking (to be fair to her, she is an amazing cook, she just claims the ‘baking gene’ skipped a generation). I also used to bake with my sisters, just the one recipe entitled ‘Hedgehog Cake’, still probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted…although as if there could ever be anything bad about chocolate, golden syrup, butter and biscuits mixed together! As I got older I used to love baking at home for my family and when I went to uni it was always fun to make cakes for people’s birthdays or just for fun. Now that I’m here and have no access to a kitchen, I realise how much I miss being able to bake.

I may add as a side note that there are many foods which kick England’s culinary ass but maybe I’ll save them for another top fives.

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My Year Abroad..., Uni Life...

In Progress..

Sorry to diverge from the theme so soon, another top fives will be here over the weekend. Today I just had an experience which I felt like writing about and where better to do it than in my blog? So I’m sure this will make it into a top five eventually, hence the title. Right now though it’s just a bit of a ramble on my thoughts today.

Junot Diaz is the author of several books, the most recent of which being ‘This Is How you Lose Her’ which is a collection of short stories. Today Junot Diaz came to Albany as part of the New York State Writers Institute to talk to my lit class and members of the public about his work.

The main thing which Diaz draws from in his writing is his background. He’s Dominican and most of his stories focus on the character of Yunior, a young Dominican guy growing up in America. I finished the book a few hours before I was due to hear him speak and the last story, called A Cheaters Guide To Love was amazing. Completely heart wrenching but in a way with a glimmer of hope right at the end. Anyways, I’m not about to write a book review, all I would say is it’s definitely worth reading!

The reason I’m writing about this is actually because the person I saw speak and was lucky enough to meet briefly today was someone incredibly inspiring. Despite the fact that the world he writes about is a world which differs drastically from the world I’ve been experiencing for the last 21 years, I felt a connection with almost everything he was saying. I guess the sign of a great writer and speaker!

Listening to people, like Diaz, who have created something which I’ve loved to read or experience and who speak so intelligently and basically are just really cool, always gives me this feeling like I should be doing more to try and be just a tiny bit as great as them one day. Maybe I won’t ever even come close but the one thing I do know, the thing I’ve always known, is that I want to spend a significant portion of my life surrounded by people who make me feel that way. People who have so many more interesting things to say and have experienced so much more than I have (luckily I happen to have a few of those in my own family!). Sitting in that room earlier, I really wanted that hour and twenty minutes to never end.

Something people who know me will be all to aware of is my conviction that ‘i’m not good at anything’. Sorry guys, I imagine that’s pretty irritating! But the main lesson you could take from Diaz is that he only got good by working hard. Obviously he’s a smart guy, but he told us again and again that his love of reading is what makes him a great writer. The key, he seemed to think and I think he’s probably right, is to keep on doing the stuff you enjoy doing and you’ll find what it is that makes you happy enough to keep doing it every day for the rest of your life and hopefully you’ll get pretty good at it.

One of the main problems with being a student is having too much time. This sounds strange; all this time is something which I know all the working people in my life would love to have, but all this free time has done to me is breed a kind of apathy and utter laziness which I almost feel ashamed of. I used to be interested in so much stuff and when I came to uni I was convinced I was going to take every opportunity, go and see every guest speaker and work really hard but since starting uni, the majority of my time is spent watching TV, sleeping, drinking and basically doing nothing. Sounds great for a day or two but this seemingly infinite amount of free time has prompted me to over and over again put things off ’til tomorrow’.

This probably sounds all a bit ridiculous and I feel sure that to really get it, you had to be in the room with this guy. Maybe I won’t find what it is that I want to do but I feel like the hours and hours of free time I have right now is a good time to start trying!

As for my time in Albany, I just hope that this feeling lasts long enough to leave next year feeling like I’ve really made my time here everything it could be. I’m having fun and meeting new people, going out and enjoying uni life, but I also want to go back to Nottingham still feeling inspired. Hopefully enough so to write some amazing dissertation and do well in my degree!

Lucky for me, over the next few weeks there’s a load more authors coming in to talk to us and as geeky as it sounds I can’t wait!

That’s all for now.

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Junot Diaz’s signature in my book!

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