Lizze, studying at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA
Most people at Hopkins didn’t come for Baltimore, they came to Hopkins in spite of Baltimore. I have been met with many incredulous stares when I tell classmates here that I actually chose to come to Baltimore for a study abroad year. I can appreciate that the (perhaps ironically called) Charm City immediately conjures up scenes from The Wire, which may prompt the majority of people to put Baltimore in the places-I-definitely-never-need-to-visit category, an idea backed up by a bank teller that I was talking to on one of my first days in this new city who insisted she never watched The Wire because she could just go outside her front door. Cue unsettled and awkward laughter from me.
After three months of adopting Baltimore as my new home, I have learned how to defend it and I insist on doing so, perhaps over-zealously at times. The city’s bad rep for violence and petty crime combined with the 2015 riots that made international headlines, certainly cast a shadow that blocks out the many gems the city harbours. This is accentuated by the ‘Hopkins Bubble’, a curse that almost all students here fall prey to. Travelling further than the library is almost unheard of except for special occasions or unavoidable circumstances, which creates a short sightedness about the community that JHU sits in.
Neighbourhoods such as Hampden are bursting with character, where classic American porches line The Avenue and offer a diverse array of treats ranging from Baltimore made ice cream at the Charmery, hipster coffee spots and several iconic examples of the Baltimore Love Project scattered across the streets. Without a doubt the most astonishing hidden treasure in the city in the George Peabody Library, which is aptly described as a ‘cathedral of books’ and is one of the purest sources of joy for any bibliophile.
JHU is brimming with opportunity, it offers the chance to learn from giants within certain academic fields- which I experienced when Sol Snyder, who can essentially be viewed as the modern father of the study of Schizophrenia, came in to talk to us one day about this very topic (I fangirled in a very geeky way). Conducting undergraduate research is a hallmark of the university, which was initially founded on the ethos of learning by doing. Contacting professors and researchers personally is strongly encouraged in order to gain practical experience, meaning it is common for students to leave JHU with their name on several publications.
My American experience so far has rattled me on several counts: whether it’s the staggering amount of school pride or that the president (lovingly called Ronny D) holds a B-list celebrity status within the school, my English reservation is continuously challenged. The direct and to the point nature of American culture is truly refreshing and constantly has me rethinking my beat-around-the-bush style of interactions. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is part and package of a study abroad year, which is perhaps why I have found myself taking up acrobatics, spinning fire with flaming hula hoops and spelunking in West Virginia. Perhaps the most charming aspect of JHU is that it is only home to 5,000 undergraduates so you quickly discover the interconnectedness of all the students. After only 3 months I find it hard to walk to class without saying at least 5 hellos.
Someone told me within my first few weeks here that the best thing about Baltimore is that Washington D.C. is an $8 train away. Harsh? Perhaps a little. But the travel opportunities are great. The city is situated on the east coast making day trips to D.C., Philadelphia or New York very possible. Overnight buses can take you as far as Toronto for as little as $13.50. BWI airport that serves Baltimore & D.C. is a major international airport, making travel relatively accessible. So far I’ve managed to jet ski in Key West, have a snowy Christmas in Montreal and celebrate New Years in New York (up next is a Cuban January!)
JHU certainly deserves its reputation as an intense academic experience, but that in no way means there is no time to have fun, instead students here have truly learned the art of balancing academia with extracurricular activities. If you have any questions about JHU or basically anything at all, feel free to give me a shout on email@example.com