This trip by the way was for work, not for pleasure! I was fortunate to get the opportunity to be part of an international delegate for the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) to attend their regional conference in Connecticut. ACUI is based in America and is a non-profit organization that brings together college union and student activities professionals and provide resources, training, job and networking opportunities. Since America is so big, they’re split up into regions and the conference I attended was in Region 8 which encompasses the New England area.
I went for the four day trip last November with the President of Societies, Head of Societies and Head of Campus Life. There was a large Irish contingent which included colleagues in other Students’ Unions and University staff such as Maynooth, DCU, UCC, UL and Mary Immaculate College. The Irish made up the majority of the international delegation, with just others from Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales and University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
The purpose for us to make this trip, and specifically curated for us, was to visit several Universities and tour their Student Centers. This was of particular interest to us in DIT (now known as TU Dublin), because we’re looking at exemplars for the development of student facilities in Grangegorman. I’m going to give you an overview of my four day trip, what I learnt and experienced about the American dream.
I usually nonchalant to the Airport for all my flights at least 1 hour before take off and not the recommended 3 hours! However, not this time as I knew I had to get through US Pre-Clearance before boarding our Aer Lingus flight. I thought I would be interrogated in a separate room as to why I’m going to the US, but instead it was 20 questions on the spot and I almost forgot what ACUI was when I was asked. All four of us got through and the 7 hour flight was fine after watching a couple of movies, taking a snooze and eating decent airline food.
When we landed in Boston Logan Airport we surprisingly bumped into a student from Bimm who was on the same flight as us. He’s originally from the States, though lived most of his life in Ireland and was visiting some family for the Thanksgiving celebrations. We checked into our hotel and chilled for a couple of hours before the delegation got the chance to meet each other.
We gathered together, with greetings and name tags as we made our first trip to University of Massachusetts, Boston (UMass Boston). It has a student population of 16,415, and such a massive campus that the University owns its own boat which they take on their lake for events during the summer. This was my first experience of how much money is in America and seeing where those $100,000 student loans go towards. Their student center had four floors, managed by over 30 staff; the majority of which we’re student-staff. It is shared with the University with One-Stop Shops for the Registrar and Bursar, but not really a ‘student’ center as we we’re told that academic use get priorities to spaces. It catered for many student organisations, groups and the student government with specific facilities and shared office spaces. One of the highlights of the tour was their 600 capacity ballroom or multi-purpose venue. UMass Boston was really impressive and showed what you could do if you had lots of money and space, neither of which are a luxury to TU Dublin in Grangegorman.
We were only staying in Boston for one night as the majority of our University visits we’re in Connecticut. We took the bus to our next place: University of Connecticut (UConn). It seemed like for the whole trip we spent most of our time on the bus travelling, a fact which you’ll come to learn about more later! If we thought UMass Boston had money and space, UConn was just on another level, with pitches, stadiums and a bookstore almost the size of Bolton St! It does have a bigger student population of 23,845 as well as regional campuses and plenty of on-campus student housing. Their student center has cultural centers for Women, Asian-American, Puerto Rican/Latin American and African-American. It also caters for 700 student groups, ballroom with 400 seating capacity, radio and recording station. Even with all of that, they’re building a new recreational center that would be 180,00sqm and they said it still wasn’t big enough!
We then went from the utopia that is UConn to the prestige of Yale University. We got a great tour of the whole campus and learning about the history which brought this world renowned University to New Haven. I learnt that with 12,000 students at least 50% receive financial aid package that averages $45,000. However, you still need at least 50k of your own money, so still only the super rich and brightest can attend. Their student activities is centered in their residences on campus with Deans in the University; one looks after Academics and the other the social life of the student residence. The other aspects of the tour included their library which looked like a church inside and outside and it’s own manuscript library with over 800,000 books. We had to finish off the tour with a the trip to their bookstore to get something to prove that we went to Yale.
Bus journey of a lifetime
On our walk back to the bus it started snowing. This meant that the snow storm which we were warned about had come earlier than expected. We had the choice of either taking the risk to visit Quinnipiac University and not make it back or just go straight to our hotel near Hartford. We went for the latter option just to be safe as it was only an hour and half journey away. Remember earlier I said it seemed like we spent most of our time on the bus and this was the reason why! Our journey took 4 and a half hours, which involved sliding, the smell of burning tyres and the struggles of going up a hill. At one stage on a really steep hill, the engine cut out and we started to slide down the hill. Fortunately, neither the driver or the bus could give up and we made it safely to our hotel. I don’t know how he managed it as the snow was the worst that I’d seen and surprisingly they weren’t as quick to clear up the roads.