5,000 miles from home – the story of a lifetime

Beautiful sunset from the cliffs close the the Marine Lab, Trinidad.

Anyone can go abroad, to study, to travel… but few really live. Few experience to the fullest what it is like to immerse yourself with no hesitation into everything that is new, everything that is different. 

I flew here… to this new place, alone and a trifle intrepid. Stepping off a passenger plane so small 10 steps could take you from the tail to the cockpit, I was greeted by a scene from a movie. Even to this day I can smell the dry, yet fragrant air, feel the fine dust that covered everything, from the sheriffs car, to the monster trucks in the parking lot that everyone here drives. The dry hills rolled out in every direction, transitioning to verdant farm land and towering redwood forests, and in the distance, a glimmer of sapphire blue, so bright it burned your soul. 

From day one in my new home I knew I never wanted to leave. Everything was simple, everything was perfect. I’d chosen to live on campus, and had been placed in a single room on the ground floor of Trinity, Campus Apartments. Despite my room being one of the smaller ones contained in the three story complex, it was by far one of the newest, cleanest dorm rooms offered. The ‘describe yourself’ form used to allocate housing, which I had laughed at for being childish worked out wondrously – my three suitemates and I gelled instantly and made a new, empty place so full of laughter that coming home each day felt like returning to your family. 

Orientation week… is certainly not comparable to the typical freshers week in the UK. Alcohol is not widely served on campus, and the few events I found out about and attended were very homely… apparently this is typical of all US universities… partly due to the higher drinking age of 21, and partly due to the very different attitude of the system. Here they refer to Uni as ‘school’, they still have homework and people doing straight biology take compulsory media classes… the entire culture here surrounding assignments and test results was definitely not what I expected. For me it was welcoming, and made me feel less out of place being a confused international student, but also made me appreciate the standard of education we receive in Southampton. 

One of the first things I did was to join the women’s novice intercollegiate rowing team. I have never been part of a sports team, let alone sat in a rowing boat… but it made my short time at HSU into something most international exchange students don’t experience… Getting up at 5am six times a week  I have seen more sunrises than I care to remember. The long, hard training sessions that pushed you both mentally and physically… it was all worth it for the bonds I formed with the other women, friendships that will last a lifetime, formed in the dark, on a fog filled lagoon before the world awakes. Together we learnt a whole new sport, but together we became something stronger than we could have ever been independently. This cumulated in placing third at the Head of the Lagoon race in San Francisco, but we all know if we had all trained that bit harder, pushed that bit more we could have won. Seconds behind the next boat, the team now has their aim in sight. Joining the crew team was the highlight of my exchange. I volunteered on 12 hour research cruises, hiked the grand canyon, travelled up and down Oregon… Whilst here I have seen and done countless amazing, inspiring things… watched herds of elk graze lazily, silhouetted by the setting sun across a bay…. Visited the Lost Coast and climbed to the top of the world. Living in a Redwood forest and learning from some of the most involved, enthusiastic professors brought theory to life more than your imagination, and taught me who I want to be, and how I want to live. 

To round up – study abroad at Humboldt State University, join the rowing team, and travel as much as you can… but more than that… live in a place so unique you struggle to believe it exists, and just love every breath that you take. 

Sunrise over Humboldt bay, outside the aquatics centre. This was the first time the womens novice team were on the water together.

5,000 miles from home – the story of a lifetime

Genie Vickery


I am currently enrolled on the MSci Marine Biology with Oceanography course, and have just returned from studying abroad at Humboldt State University in California.


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