Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

Iowa1 My expectations of Iowa were farms, cornfields and swine. Upon arriving in Iowa City on a warm August evening, I realized I could not have been more wrong. Granted, the majority of the state is covered in corn, but Iowa City embodied what the state is next known for – the Hawkeyes. School spirit is inescapable. Every person is shrouded in black and gold. Statues of Herky, the school mascot, are dotted around Campus to remind you that “it’s great to be a Hawkeye”. School spirit is what’s so great about American college life. As a Brit who has never held a huge interest in sport, I was transformed into a loyal fan that anticipated each Saturday with excitement. Saturday meant another tailgate, another football game. Sport was at the heart of student and community life in Iowa City. It was a uniting factor that British universities lack, and could definitely benefit from.

My expectations of Iowa were farms, cornfields and swine.

After football, Iowa City’s next best pastime are eating and drinking. Downtown Iowa City boasted a plethora of shops, cafés, restaurants and bars. You could indulge in Sushi, Italian, American, and Mexican food matched only by southern Texas (I’m yet to visit Mexico). However, Iowa City’s main attraction when it came to food was Froyo, or frozen yoghurt to anyone unfamiliar. Yotopia is Iowa City’s original froyo shop. Set up by a young woman named Veronica, it was the life and soul of downtown Iowa City. Using locally sourced Iowa produce, it was a fantastic example of the individualistic entrepreneurship of a young American inspired by the central tenets of the American Dream. Come rain or shine I could not go without my froyo fix from this magical apothecary of frozen delights.

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At night, the Pedmall (the centre of downtown) came alive. Mug Club at Brothers Bar became our go-to hang out on ‘Thirsty Thursday’. With dollar you call it, you can’t resist agreeing with DJ Snake and Lil Jon: ‘turn down for what?’. Iowa students were only too eager to show us internationals the ropes of American bar culture. Once you’ve overcome the initial shock that grinding is the preferred choice of dance move for boys and girls alike, American nightlife is extremely sociable and ultimately a lot of fun. From a weekend, UIowa certainly lived up to its reputation as number 1 party school in the States.

…grinding is the preferred choice of dance move for boys and girls alike

Iowa 3Iowa is located in the heart of the Midwest. There’s a running joke that Midwest states are merely flyover ones; you only grace their airspace to get to either Coast. However, the Midwest is one hundred percent worth a visit. I thought I’d enlighten you as to just a few reasons why. For starters, the Midwest does brunch like nowhere else. Brunch is a recognised culture in the Midwest; so much so that it’s even achieved verb status there. If you achieve nothing else from a weekend, you must brunch. As a self-confessed foodie, this was my dream. Every weekend, I was faced with the most enjoyable dilemma imaginable – French toast or pancakes? I’m going to plug two of the best breakfast establishments on the continental US: the Bluebird Diner in Iowa City, and Wildberry Pancakes and Café on E Randolph St, Chicago. If you get the chance to try either, do it! With the most extensive and delicious menus, you’ll find yourself in brunch heaven.

People don’t think twice about smiling at you in the street, or asking how your day is going. Midwesterners are truly the nicest, most genuine people.

Speaking of Chicago, it’s another of the Midwest’s finest attractions of the Midwest. Chicago, lovingly known as the Windy City, is wonderfully endearing. Filled with breathtaking architecture, Chicago is beautiful and culturally diverse. Chicago’s proximity to Lake Michigan also makes it an extremely outdoorsy city. Pathways alongside the lake run the entirety of the length of Chicago and are perfect for walks, runs, cycling, even roller-blading. In the summer, Chicago’s city beaches come alive; a good thing considering the couple thousand miles distance from any ocean. On top of all this, Chicago’s residents are some of the friendliest in the US. The hospitality and welcoming nature of Midwesterners is unparalleled. Customer service is impeccable – something that I truly missed on my return to the UK. People don’t think twice about smiling at you in the street, or asking how your day is going. Midwesterners are truly the nicest and most genuine people.

Iowa4Although my love for Iowa and the Midwest meant that I would have been happy to stay there for the entire year, I wanted to make the most of the unique opportunity for travel that a year abroad offers. The main piece of advice I would give to anyone on, or heading off on his or her year abroad is, travel, travel and travel some more! I have now visited 18 states and found each and every one of them fascinating. My travels showed me how truly diverse America is and just how much there is to see. What stood out to me the most was the constant  juxtaposition between its vast cities and natural beauty. The bright lights of Las Vegas suddenly disappear into the vast desert that engulfs the Grand Canyon. The soulful rhythms oozing from the streets of New Orleans merge with the Louisiana swamps and plantations. The contrast between the urban and rural is exemplified even more in the depths of Texas, where you leave the tourist hub of San Antonio and the Alamo to find on the border with Mexico only a ‘Cowboy Church’ and tumbleweed. This vivid change between the urban and the rural makes traveling in the US simply captivating. A sensory experience which visually exemplifies the huge dichotomies of its society. This makes any journey an interesting one for an American studies student!

Photo Credit - Joe Graham Photography

Photo Credit – Joe Graham Photography

I travelled by cars, buses, trains and planes to get around the US. Domestic plane travel is unreliable and expensive. I spent many hours sitting in Eastern Iowa’s regional airport stressing out because my initial flight was delayed, and my connecting flight was getting closer and closer. I sprinted through several airports, and missed my flight home for Christmas (thankfully the kind man at British Airways found me a seat on the next outgoing flight. I cannot image that O’Hare is the most joyful place to spend Christmas). This leads me to say, make an acquaintance with the Megabus. It will become a lifesaver for your travels. Also, explore the possibilities for train travel. Few Americans themselves use them, let alone tourists, but for a long north-south, east-west journeys, they are a dream. Travel on your year abroad fosters so many unexpected relationships with people and places that you will treasure forever.

To end my gushing, I can honestly say that Iowa City was, and still is, home. I vividly remember being sat enjoying a September sunset from the Pentacrest. At that moment I knew that Iowa – the state, the town, the university, and the people- had a place in my heart unmatched by any location yet.

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Written by Amy Roberson (Fourth Year Single Honours American and Canadian Studies)

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