What do you do when everything is just slightly different to how you think it is? Things feel the same on the surface; the language, the societal norms, going to lectures. However, though there might not be one singular example to give a big culture shock, lots of small things added up to make me feel like I was really in a different country on a different continent.
Rochester, New York, is a city comparable to Southampton or Portsmouth, on Lake Ontario near Buffalo and Niagara Falls in Upstate New York. It is home to lots of innovation, such as the Kodak company, and one of the world’s best music conservatoires, Eastman School of Music. That is where I found myself at the end of August, looking at the grand early 20th century building and wondering what the year ahead would have in store for me.

The main difference I found while studying at Eastman was the style of teaching. I was now at a conservatoire, meaning almost all my waking hours were geared towards performing music. This was in contrast to my first two years at Southampton, with essays, performances and compositions all part of a more rounded music degree. It took a while to get used to, but eventually I could happily lock myself in a practise room for 3 hours a day, a thought which a few months before catching my flight would have made me feel very unwell. The competitiveness of having 25 other trombonists in the same class helped my drive to practise and get better all the time.
Teaching was also different with the amount of contact hours, and how the classes are structured. Not only were there less academic-style classes, but they also felt a lot less reliant on self-study. Apart from being given a few paragraphs of a textbook to read before a bi-weekly class, all other information felt more spoon-fed. It was more comparable to an A-level class, than any module that I have taken in Southampton.
I wasn’t at Eastman for the academic tutoring though. I was there to spend a year getting as good as I possibly could at the trombone, playing in the best standard ensembles I could dream of, and spending hours on end striving to get minute facets of my playing better. It helped that concerts were played at the sublime 2,500 seat Kodak Hall, and that ESM had an active hand in the running of ensembles. In fact, one of my modules was simply to show up to ensemble rehearsals and concerts on time.
Performing also took me around the States, including a trip to Washington, D.C. to play at the American Trombone Workshop. All this was something that is completely different to anything I could experience at Southampton.

Outside of the practise rooms and concert halls, I found living in America to be almost alien to me. Being able to speak the language already made my life much easier than studying abroad somewhere else, but small changes in culture felt awkward. Even things such as the tipping culture was hard to get my head around, even though I had done my research beforehand and knew what I was in store for.

The biggest change from life in the UK, however, was the weather.
When I arrived in Rochester at the end of August, it was humid and around 30 degrees centigrade. Living in my small box room in the student tower was cramped, stuffy and exhausting. Within 2 months, the temperature had dropped by 20, and by mid-November, the sun had left on a 5 month sabbatical, not to be seen again until the end of April. During the winter months, 5 layers was a minimum, even for my 3 minute walk from halls to campus, and wind chill meant that the coldest day of the year in January, went from -20 to feeling more like -30.
When the sun finally came out again, 2 weeks before I flew home for good, it was a blessed relief. No amount of Vitamin D pills can replace the feeling of having the sun on your face, and it was probably the leading cause of home-sickness in my year (not including family, friends, dog etc).

Overall, I wouldn’t swap my year in Rochester at Eastman School of Music for the world. I met amazing, funny and talented people, saw natural beauty incomparable to anywhere I have visited in Europe, and pushed myself to be a better musician than I ever thought I was capable of. The small differences in culture and teaching styles and the big difference in weather may have put me off at first, but I was lucky to be able to still enjoy myself with a great group of friends, and supportive family and friends 3,500 miles away.
Living in a foreign country (even one that may not feel as foreign as France or Portugal) has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I implore anyone with the same opportunity that I have had to grab it with both hands and not let go.

A Year Abroad in New York

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