Hey everyone, it’s been nearly a year in the making but I’ve finally made it to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia, or UVA!
There are a lot of things that you need to do before exchange, but it is worth it! The 360 International application, your Exchange University application, Visas, Health and Travel Insurance, Accommodation, and everything else can take a while to get sorted. My advice would be to keep on top of things, especially your Visa and immigration forms, and if you’re looking to live off-campus, start your search as early as you can.
Getting to Charlottesville
I chose to fly with Air New Zealand direct to Houston with a two-night stopover. I was lucky to visit Houston a few days before Hurricane Harvey, so hope that the city recovers quickly. After this I flew via Charlotte, North Carolina and arrived at Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, around a 15-minute drive to downtown. Charlottesville takes its role as a University city seriously, and it’s not uncommon to see UVA branding on almost anything including the airport, cars, and even on the road!
I arrived in Charlottesville in the aftermath of the violence and rallies of August 11 and 12. Although it was a bit unsettling to see the events in the news before arriving, everyone I talked to was adamant that the protests did not represent the true Charlottesville.
Charlottesville is a university town with most things centred around campus and ‘The Corner,’ a row of cafes, restaurants, and shops adjacent to the Rotunda.
I chose to live off-campus so could move in as soon as I arrived. I’m fortunate to live in a house with a bunch of great guys (who are obsessed with Africa by Toto), but more on housing in my next post.
UVA has a lot of its own unique terms, one of them being ‘grounds,’ which means the University campus. The grounds are the only American University designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s easy to see why. From the flagship Rotunda and Lawn, to the Amphitheatre and numerous statues, UVA is a beautiful place to visit every day. There’s all you would expect from a University: numerous libraries, dining halls, the bookstore, gymnasiums, and sports stadiums. No matter the time of day, nothing beats walking up the lawn and glimpsing the Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson and inspired by Rome’s Parthenon.
UVA’s grounds are vast, so walks can be lengthy between some buildings. Fortunately, the free University Transit Service has you covered with frequent buses to, from, and around grounds. Charlottesville Area Transit also provides free rides on their bus network to UVA students, which is handy for trips further afield.
Orientation and Classes
The orientation for exchange students was on the Sunday before classes, covering class enrolment, general tips, and paperwork, followed by ice cream! The International Students Office is handy for any questions, from ID cards to travel, and the advisors there are always friendly.
There’s always a range of events going on for International Students such as Pizza on the Lawn, an International Students’ Picnic, and a trip to Washington, D.C.
I’m based in the College of Arts and Sciences (also known as ‘the College’), which is the largest of UVA’s ten schools. Students are encouraged to visit a range of classes to see what interests them. I spent the first few days visiting a range of classes before I finalised my timetable. My two core courses are in the Economics Department but I’ve taken the opportunity study classes that I wouldn’t normally take at Auckland in Entrepreneurship, Creative Writing, and Politics.
Classes at UVA vary widely – my economics classes are in ‘traditional’ lecture-style classes, while the other three have between nine and eighteen students. These courses are focussed on student and professor discussions, something which is a bit different for me. The professors get to know your name and it’s certainly obvious if you don’t attend!
Being summer the weather is quite hot and the air conditioning in classes is a welcome relief. I’m told that the Fall Semester allows you to experience the full range of weather as the trees shed leaves, and there’s even a chance of snow in December.
UVA boasts over 700 student-run clubs and organisations (about one for every 30 students), so there are many options to get involved. A Fall Activities Fair was held on the Lawn and in the amphitheatre the day before classes started. The most common strategy by students is to sign up to anything that interests them and to be more selective once the semester starts. I’m involved in a few clubs, including The Cavalier Daily as a Photographer and News Writer.
The Cavalier Daily is UVA’s student newspaper, Charlottesville’s oldest paper, and was named as one of the top 10 College Newspapers in the country. For those of you interested in fraternities and sororities, they do recruit in the Fall Semester, but the ones that I talked to are only looking for students who will be at UVA for at least a year.
If you look hard enough, there are always things happening on and around grounds. I’ve been to talks featuring NASA Astronaut and UVA alumnus Thomas Marshburn, Political Scientist Larry Sabato, a tour of Charlottesville start-ups run by Hack Cville, an International Student’s trip to Washington, D.C., volunteering for the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program, pre-games, football, eclipse watching, taking photographs of sports games, and more.
The Dave Matthews band hosted the Concert for Charlottesville, an evening for the community to unite in the face of recent events. This was an action-packed event, featuring performances from Pharrell Williams, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Coldplay, and Stevie Wonder, all held at UVA’s home of football, Scott Stadium.
Other things to keep on the lookout for in the coming months include the Virginia Film Festival, UVA’s Bicentennial celebrations, and the Thanksgiving break.
Charlottesville seems a world away from anything else, but it’s actually quite accessible to the rest of the country. Washington, D.C. is less than three hours by Greyhound (bus) and Amtrak (train), or less than an hour by plane. Unfortunately the UVA Semester Calendar isn’t that travel-friendly with a few small breaks, rather than a longer mid-semester break as in New Zealand, but I’ll see what I can fit in.
I’ve had a great time at UVA so far, although it promises to get busier with midterms and assignments due all at once!
If you have any questions feel free to email me at dgov422 (at symbol) aucklanduni.ac.nz (no spaces), or comment below.
You can also follow me @daryngovender_ on Instagram, or @daryngovenderCD on Twitter (they’re both works in progress!).