Friendly manattee in Crystal River

So as part of my MSc in Oceanography at Southampton, I took the opportunity to sign up for the study abroad program. I have to say I didn’t hesitate much, and having lived in 6 different countries in my life, I reached the end of my second year trembling in anticipation when I knew I was going to Miami. I was seeing myself on the beach all day and in clubs all night, with some sporadic studying in between but as it turned out…. I wasn’t actually that far off!

After having to sadly leave my friends,

Sad goodbyes to all my friends here in the UK
Sad goodbyes to all my friends here in the UK

I first arrived in the usual 30°C weather with about 90% humidity and it felt like moving through molasse. I arrived a bit late for the induction days but luckily, my friend, who was in the exact same boat as me, doing oceanography (sea what I did there?) with study abroad was able to fill me in and I ended up meeting a wonderful bunch of people from all over Europe who all ended up in the Sunshine state. I was living on campus, which for cons had that rooms and bathrooms were shared. I ended up with a Puerto Rican dude who was very nice and we quickly made friends. In about a minute of meeting each other in fact. He came in holding beers. Still, even though it was with a great person, sharing my personal space was sometimes difficult. On the pros side though,  I had food included in the price, which let’s you step away from having to shop and cook and you can just enjoy just about any kind of food throughout most of the day. And obviously most of the classrooms were close from my room. And by close I mean 15 minutes walk.

Which brings us to one thing I did struggle with quite a bit while in the US: the shear size of everything. The campus that I thought was huge, stretching about a mile in every direction when standing in the middle of it, was considered averaged size or small in the US. Getting around in a city that seems endless proved itself a bit more challenging that I anticipated and many dollars went to Uber drivers when friends weren’t around. Also, the marine sciences campus was about 45 minutes away in a shuttle provided by the Uni. Now, as a consequence of the debatable, yet not regretful choice I made years ago, I had to go there everyday. I ended up buying a bike and cycling there as it was quicker (traffic dependent), hotter (weather dependent) and healthier (car crashes dependent). But with size comes diversity and for that, Florida is a gem. My family came over for Christmas to do some exploring and boy, what sights and wonders we were in for! From sunset on the beach with margaritas to swims with manatees through BBQs in the Everglades, the region around Miami is just incredible!

Chichen Itza, a great Inca pyramid in Mexico, perfect place to go before the spring break celebrations!
Chichen Itza, a great Inca pyramid in Mexico, perfect place to go before the spring break celebrations!
Friendly manattee in Crystal River
Friendly manattee in Crystal River

Study-wise, the great thing was that for the first time in Uni, I could pick my modules! Which means I could choose the professor I wanted to study with, the level of difficulty (to an extent), the place, the time… Being very keen about oceanography I picked graduate level modules for the most part. So they were actually challenging modules, with a lot of work required but they were in small groups, hence a much better opportunity to interact with the lecturer and the course mates. Overall, I think on top of all the fun I had, I did really grow academically, which was, of course a great feeling.

I guess that makes for a great transition towards the best part of Miami: the fun! The weather is just legendary, never below 15°, making shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops the ultimate outfit for every day. The beaches are gorgeous and the nightlife crazy. A beautiful thing for me was the bar located at the marine school, making a classic day timetable look something like class–>beach–> pint. A district we ventured around a good bit as well is called Wynwood, and is home to a lot of artists. Galleries are everywhere, walls are covered in gorgeous paintings and events like Bob Marley tribute concert a magnificent thing!

Impromptu paddleborading session with some friends. Even had dolphins drop by!
Impromptu paddle-boarding session with some friends. Even had dolphins drop by!

The best thing I experienced in Miami though were the friends I made. Miami being a very cosmopolitan place, I met awesome people from all over the world. Italians, Argentinians, Brazilians, French, Spanish, Puerto Ricans and even Americans! We shared amazing times by or on the water, paddle-boarding, sailing, tanning and laughing. I made incredible memories and I’m still in touch with most of these great people.

Having been back for a few months now, I can say that I truly miss Miami. Going there was a bit more difficult than I thought, with all the paperwork, grades requirements, obligation to get an insurance… But it was without a doubt one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. In fact, I’m now seriously considering applying for a PhD there, in oceanography. So if you get the chance, dive for it!!

An amazing bunch of friends to spend some time and grab a drink with!
An amazing bunch of friends to spend some time and grab a drink with!
A Miami oceanographer log book

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