Study Abroad – An Honest Preparation Guide

This is for anyone who is about to go on an exchange abroad, or who is thinking about it, to find out what you might expect from the experience.

  • It will be exciting at times and it will be scary at times. Through all of it, the time you have is only temporary so make the most of the exciting moments and don’t worry too much about the scary ones.
  • There will be boring days, not everything will be exciting, you will get into a routine, and the study abroad experience will become ‘life’ for a while.
  • When you get back after the year, give yourself some time to relax at home. You might not be able to process all that has happened, but you will appreciate the space to sit and just be.
  • You won’t enjoy everything about it. There will always be bits that you wish were different, or things that you don’t want to do.
  • You’ll gain a new appreciation for the experiences you’ve grown up with and for British culture.
  • You’ll gain a new appreciation for what new experiences and different cultures can teach you, and how some things that you have always known can be viewed differently.
  • Travelling is fun. It is also tiring, and stressful, and boring at times. But it is worth it.
  • You’ll meet a lot of different people from a lot of different places. An awareness for other people and cultures will stay with you even after returning from abroad.
  • You will make mistakes, whether it’s cultural blunders or forgetting to buy a travel visa (yep, I did this), it’s all a part of what makes studying abroad what it is.

Most important to realise is that studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity to grow and learn new skills that are hard to find anywhere else. It’s a great chance to make new international friends and to realise how big the world really is.

I would recommend anyone to live abroad for a while, it is an eye opening experience.

Trish

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[Semester 1 where me and my friends from Germany, America, and France all went to see Bohemian Rhapsody at the local cinema.]

Goodbye for Now

Finishing my year abroad was probably one of the weirdest experiences of my life. Going home at the end of the second semester was very different from going home for Christmas, as this time I knew it was unlikely I would be able to go back to California anytime soon. In the last month I spent in Humboldt, I really learnt how attached I had become to the place and the people I had met and it was very sad to say goodbye to this part of my life. 

I found that by the second semester, the year abroad started to feel a lot more real than it did in the first semester, and I began to see my life in Humboldt as less temporary. I think this was one of the biggest lessons I learnt from the exchange, that it wasn’t so much about going to a new and exciting place to be doing new and fun things everyday, but it was about what it is like to live life in a different place and culture. This adaptation to a new lifestyle and exposure to other ways of living was one of the most valuable parts of my experience, and it was strange to say goodbye to that.

The final month in Humboldt was busy. I had a lot of academic work to finish for the semester, I tried to spend more time with the friends I had made before leaving, and on top of everything I had to finalise travel plans and start thinking about the next year by choosing my modules and paying housing deposits. I think this final month, where uni work was carrying on like normal despite everything else that was going on for me, taught me about treating everything, even things that are out of the ordinary as a part of life. I was desperate not to focus too much on the future as I wanted to enjoy and remember the last few weeks abroad, but I also needed to finish organising. By realising that this tension I was living with was okay and didn’t have to be resolved I think I managed to get more out of the end of my year abroad.

Having been back at home for about a month now, it sometimes feels like my year abroad didn’t even happen. I have settled back into British life very easily and I have been very busy with an internship and other events that have been going on almost immediately after getting back (in hindsight, I should have given myself a bit more breathing space to relax after my year out). I think the year abroad experience is still all too recent to fully sort out my thoughts and feelings on it all, but there have been subtle differences in that I feel I am now more confident and I do think the way I see and understand the world has altered slightly, I realise there’s a lot more on offer than what I’ve experienced at home, and there must be even more to learn from travelling to new and different places which I am much more open to doing since living abroad for the year. 

I think it will still be a while before I understand exactly what this experience has meant for me, but for now I am very glad I did it and I will continue to look for opportunities to learn new things and be open to living outside of my comfort zone.

Trish

Back to School

I’m almost halfway through my final semester in Humboldt and time still isn’t slowing down! After the mixed feelings I talked about in my last blog post, I am really enjoying my time here, the friends I’ve made, and all of the great opportunities and new things I’m learning in my courses.

The biggest change for me this semester is that I now have a roommate. The days where I could spread my stuff out across the room are gone and I now have to share quite a small space with another person. I knew I was probably going to have to have a roommate when coming to the US, most of the dorm rooms here are for two people, so it wasn’t a shock to find out and I was lucky to have had the room to myself for a whole semester. Living with another person in the same room hasn’t been as bad as I thought it would be as I get on with my roommate and neither of us spend too much time in the room. However, I do get woken up when she comes in at a different time, or if one of us is ill it can really disrupt the other person’s sleep. I am looking forward to getting my own space back though, as the flat feels very small when all six people are in and there’s no private space, aside from the shower and the toilet!

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^ Whilst we were away, some of my flatmates put up this banner and whiteboard which was really sweet to come back to.

One of the best things about coming back for the second semester has been seeing all of the friends I made last semester again. I’ve definitely found a little community here and it has added to making Humboldt feel like a home away from home. When I think about going back to the UK in the summer I keep imagining myself showing them all around and sharing with them my culture, only to remember that they won’t be coming on the plane back with me!

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^ Over spring break I got to spend more time with friends outside of lectures and work!

I have been really enjoying my classes again this semester. I am taking more challenging classes compared to last year as I have now learnt more about the US system and how their modules are classified. I am especially enjoying a class called Social Change Digital Production, where there is one main project for the whole semester and a friend and I are making a documentary about sustainability and waste management in Arcata (the town that HSU is in). This class is really interesting not just because I am getting to have some film production experience, but also because I am learning more about social change media from an American perspective. In the class we have recently been discussing social change media that has had an impact on us. I talked about Blue Planet II and other people in the class have talked about topics like Black Lives Matter and the Me Too movement – Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too movement even came to the university for a talk a couple of months ago. I’m getting an insight into what matters to my classmates right now.

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^ We also visited the Wiyot tribe for our documentary. Arcata is built on their land which includes Table Bluff – shown in the picture. Learning about Native American history has been a really interesting part of my time at HSU.

Although I have been enjoying these classes, I am getting a little bit tired of the format they’re taught in. Unlike at Southampton where I’ll have 2 or 3 essays or presentations for each module over the whole semester, it almost feels as though I’m back at secondary school at HSU. In most classes, we have small homework tasks to complete each week and my Chicano Literature class, for example, is taught like an A level English class where we go through a couple of chapters each lesson. I am looking forward to getting back to Southampton where I feel there is a lot more freedom over what we can study because there is so much individual study, and where we are left to our own devices and I feel more responsible for my own learning.

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^ Spring break also gave me time to explore more of the campus and the woodland around it, the sun even came out!

Part of this mindset might be because I have been doing a lot of planning and organising for next year. I have been accepted onto an internship programme, I’ve mapped out my module choices, and I’ve sorted out a house to stay in for the year. It’s been strange juggling the mindset of looking forward to next year whilst also becoming more comfortable in Humboldt and more accustomed to the culture here. I am learning a lot about loads of different things here, and I will be taking a lot of it with me when I get back home.

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^ Since I haven’t been fencing, I’ve started running to make sure I’m fit enough to compete when I get back home. The woods behind the dorms are just one big hill so it’s taken a while to get used to!

Trish

* A note on the title – all of the American people that I have met here refer to university as school which has taken a bit of getting used to! *

Home For Christmas

Hello! This has been a long time coming and since getting back into the swing of studying and catching up with friends here in Humboldt I’ve been very bad at keeping this blog updated! My time at HSU is going so quickly, and even though I’m almost halfway through the Spring semester now, I’m going to talk about my time back at home over the Christmas holiday.

First of all, I am so grateful for being able to get home for Christmas. I had such a great time getting to see my family, my boyfriend, friends, and cats! I think I really would have struggled staying in America for the whole month that we had off and the trip home really helped put things back into perspective, realising that ‘real life’ is still functioning. It was great to be looked after at home for a few weeks. As well as home comforts, biscuits, squash, crumpets, etc… I loved getting to see most of my family at Christmas parties as that is something I would have really felt left out of if I had had to stay in the US. 

When I landed back at Heathrow (just missing the drones), I wasn’t too sure what to expect or how much time I would need to adjust. Strangely, I found that everything felt completely normal as soon as I got back. I don’t think I really experienced reverse culture shock and it almost felt like I hadn’t been away at all. It was also great to see my boyfriend and catch up with him face to face rather than over Skype! With Sam in his last year it has been interesting navigating the different pressures we’re under, but getting to go to the cinema and relax was really good, even if I did underestimate the power of jet lag and managed to sleep through half of the film!

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During the month I also made it back down to Southampton to see some friends and speak to my PAT.  Talking about my plans for final year was really exciting and it was great to see my my friends who I used to sit in lectures with. But I’m also aware of wanting to enjoy the rest of my year abroad before I think too much about getting back to So’ton next year!

Whilst I was back at home, a friend I made in Humboldt came to the UK to visit some other year abroad students who he knew from last year. He came down to London and I got to show him the sites and share a bit of British culture with him which was really fun. It also reassured me that the end of my year abroad doesn’t have to mean the end of the friendships I’ve made here. I can’t wait to show more friends around the UK once I’ve convinced them all to visit me!

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After such a great holiday, I had very mixed feelings about returning to Humboldt and although I knew I had to go back, I was quite resistant to the idea after finding home so comfortable to back in. I think one of the reasons I’ve put off writing this blog post is because I enjoyed being home so much that I’m trying not to think about what I’m missing out on too much so that I can enjoy my time here more. But despite my hesitations, after a long 32 hour journey back I am loving being in Humboldt again and I can’t begin to imagine how I’m going to say goodbye to this place in a few short months! But that’s for the future, and I don’t have to start thinking about that quite yet.

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Exploring the Pacific Northwest

It’s been almost two months since my last post but it has been a busy few weeks! I travelled about 1500 miles in the space of a week, finished the semester with finals week and two concerts, and I’m now back in the UK! After a really busy month I’m finally back at home and getting to relax a bit and see friends and family over the Christmas holiday. I’ll make another blog post on the what it’s like to be home for Christmas soon, but for now I need to catch you up on my week long solo trip to Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, that I went on at the end of November. (I survived.)

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Before I left I was a little bit nervous as I had never travelled anywhere completely on my own, but I was also really looking forward to exploring new places and the confidence this trip would give me to travel to more places in the future. I also did quite a lot of research, watching YouTube videos and reading up about other people’s experiences and tips for travelling solo. I found that I quickly enjoyed the adventure in this experience and although I had moments of worry and fear, these moments didn’t last long.

Travelling such long distances in buses and small planes was really fun and quite different to anything I had experienced before. On the small bus I took between Crescent City, CA and Medford, OR (a 3 hour journey) I met quite an eclectic group of people. This included a woman who was travelling to pick up her car from a garage in the hopes that she would be able to drive home. She told me a lot of random facts about the area as she continued to talk to me for almost the entirety of the journey, which was a bit exhausting for me! I don’t know if her car worked and she made it back to feed her horses. I also met an artist who had spent 6 months travelling around America in remote areas and was on his way home to Colorado. It was strange to be travelling so far on such a small bus and have people from all sorts of different backgrounds there with me.

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^ The little bus that took me through the mountains to Medford

Once I got to Medford I checked in my bags and I was then told that I needed a visa to stay in Canada for 5 days, but very luckily for me I could apply for this on my phone in a few minutes and it only cost CA$7 (about £4). This was definitely a bit of a wake up call for me on what I need to do more research on before visiting a country…! From there, I spent 8 hours in Medford airport as my flight was delayed to the point where I had to change airlines to get a flight to Vancouver where I could make a connecting flight in Seattle. Luckily this all worked out fine, I learnt that there isn’t much to do at Medford airport, and I am very grateful for my friend picking me up from Vancouver in the middle of the night, 5 hours later than we originally arranged!

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^ Vancouver at night. This amazing view can be seen from the top of my friend’s block of flats!

After the day of travelling I arrived in Vancouver and I had a really great time staying with my friend and her family. It was so nice to catch up and explore the city, especially when I got to spend time with my friend and other people, hiking or having a meal together. I really missed this once I left to travel back down to Humboldt.

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^ Exploring the nearby hiking trails and Stanley park with my friend.

Travelling solo can get lonely, especially as I only stayed in Seattle and Portland for a couple of nights each, so I didn’t go out to make friends with the people I met, but it also means I was able to take as long as I wanted to explore the places that I was interested in. I also learnt that it’s okay to just sit in a coffee shop for a bit and that you don’t have to do everything a city has to offer. In the end I really enjoyed Seattle and Portland, even if I didn’t do all of the touristy things I really enjoyed walking around and exploring these places.

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^ Different sites in Seattle and Portland, some which were really far from the touristy areas – I did an awful lot of walking!

After all of this travelling and hours on buses and coaches I was very happy to get back to my dorm room in Arcata. As well as being a great adventure, it taught me a lot about what I enjoy doing, rather than what I ‘should’ enjoy doing, and it also made Humboldt feel more like home as it was a comforting relief to return to the towering redwoods.

Travelling within the year abroad was a great experience, and I would recommend anyone who is going on an exchange to try and travel and explore the country they are in!

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I made a short video of this trip which you can watch below:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRh3iQXwKQ0&feature=youtu.be

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Fall in Humboldt

It’s November and time for another year abroad update! Last time I talked a bit about the build up to Halloween so I’m starting this post where I left off.

First of all, I did not dress up for Halloween. I know, I’m disappointed with myself as well. But, I did go to a pumpkin patch and picked out the perfect pumpkin for my dorm, and afterwards I had pumpkin pie for the first time with a cup of warm apple cider. Autumn (or Fall, to use American terminology) has officially arrived! I ended up promoting the film festival on campus in the morning and got to spend Halloween watching everyone else walk past wearing their costumes to class, including the teachers… they definitely go all out here when it comes to Halloween!

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^ The moment I found the perfect pumpkin.

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Named ‘Humperdink the Pumperdink’ after we watched The Princess Bride as a dorm together, our pumpkin fits in with the other spooky themed things in the dorm!

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Although I did miss bonfire night and watching fireworks in the cold, I had interesting time explaining Guy Fawkes night to my American and some of my international friends. Why do we celebrate the capture of someone and then burn a replica of them on a bonfire? I didn’t really have a very good answer to that one and I had a moment of seeing just how weird some of our own traditions really are!

I’m still being kept quite busy with all of my class work here and I have played in a couple of concerts recently, including the first Humboldt Symphony concert of the semester, which went well, and a solo recital that I had to perform in to go along with my cello lessons. It was slightly terrifying but I’m really glad I got the opportunity to perform a solo piece, the first time I’ve done this in four years!

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Break for more mountain photos…

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I had a chance to go on a camp in the mountains a few weeks ago. To get there we drove through Redding again, where I tried to capture the amazing sunset behind the mountains we had just come from!

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^ In this picture you can really see the damage that the Carr fire has done to the landscape (The mountains should be filled with healthy green trees). All of these burnt trees are only a few minutes away from the city of Redding and are at the centre of where the Carr fire was burning in August.

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My uni life here does feel like is calming down a little bit now though as we’re finally getting some holiday time! This Monday is Veteran’s day, which is basically a bank holiday, and next week we have a whole week off for the fall break (with Thanksgiving coming up in the middle of it)! I am so excited for this week as I am lucky enough to be visiting my friend who lives in Vancouver, and then I’ll be travelling back down and spending time in Seattle and Portland! After quite a few weeks of ‘normal’ uni life and less exploring I can’t wait to go on this adventure and get the opportunity for some solo travel which will be a new experience for me. Stay tuned as my next blog post will hopefully be a big update on what I get up to over the week!

Trish

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Last week I went to watch Bohemian Rhapsody with a few friends in a really cool cinema in town called the Minor Theatre (which is meant to be one of the oldest cinemas in the US).  We had a great time watching a great film and it was good to experience a bit of English culture out here!

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It’s a Balancing Act

I’m about half way through my first semester here meaning I’m about a quarter of the way through my year abroad! It feels like I have so much more to do and not enough time to do it in! Although I try to be conscious of making the effort to do new things and visit new places, I’m learning that the balance isn’t always perfect and I won’t always be able to do all of the things I want to do.

But I think my current lull in travelling and exploring is to be expected at this point in the term. I am now 8 weeks into US college life and I still have 7 weeks to go until the Christmas break (as well as another week’s holiday for Thanksgiving). For the last couple of weeks the whole university has been going through midterm exams. And although I have still managed to avoid any exams so far in my university career, the work load and essays have increased a lot recently! I’m becoming more aware of the differences between my UK university experiences and here, working for so many weeks in a semester is very different to the 10 week semesters that I’m used to at Southampton (including the 2 reading weeks I usually get)! But I’m still staying on top of my work and I am enjoying campus life here by going to small events like an improv comedy night I went to with a couple of flatmates last week.

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At the moment I miss having more opportunities to explore the redwoods or go on road trips through mountains to towns like Redding (a 3 hour drive away). But I’m already planning more trips now that midterms are over!

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In the last few weeks I’ve also been realising more clearly what I miss about home, things like being able to pop to a supermarket that is only a 10 minute walk away rather than having to walk for half an hour both ways to a shop that doesn’t sell biscuits. But these are only small problems and they are definitely to be expected when moving halfway around the world! Other than these pangs of homesickness I am really enjoying life in California and I hope that I can explore more of the US in the Thanksgiving break that is coming up next month.

On another note, when it comes to expectations and stereotypes of American culture, there is one stereotype in particular that I’m starting to realise is true, as it is beginning to look a lot like Halloween…. As soon as October arrived I started noticing small Halloween decorations in dorm windows, but now that we’re a couple of weeks into October I’ve been getting emails about the day, people have been asking what I’m dressing up as, and shops are filled to the brim with random Halloween decorations. I knew that Halloween was a big deal in the US, but like most things so far, I never really understood how big they went with it! Now I’ll just have to wait and see what the actual day is like….

Trish

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Enjoy this picture of a sunset from the top of campus:

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Hello from Humboldt!

Hello from Humboldt State University, California! I’ve been living in the US for a few weeks now and have finally found a moment to stop and update my blog!

First, a quick overview of how I got to this point. I found the organisation and lead up period quite stressful. On top of getting through the second year of university, the lecturer strikes, and taking an active role in societies on campus, getting ready for my year abroad took a lot of work. Although I am so glad that I have gone through with this opportunity, those who may be considering a year abroad might want to consider how much needs to be done beforehand, and the (sometimes unexpected) expenses that come with it.

Soon, however, leaving day came around and after saying goodbye to my cats, family, and boyfriend, I was on a plane to Oakland. Having my cousins meet me at the airport helped me from getting too nervous, and I was able to really enjoy my first couple of days in San Francisco with family! (Thank you Paul and Dave!)

After a beautiful drive up from San Francisco to Arcata I was left alone in my dorm room for the first time. This is probably the first moment where I felt homesick and worried about the year. I suddenly realised how far away I was from home and my friends and family. But I soon felt a lot more relaxed and comfortable once a couple of my flatmates turned up at the flat. It was like the first year of uni again and I think we were all grateful for someone to talk to. Although I do still miss home and get pangs of homesickness, the realisation that I can make new friends anywhere in the world and the amount of exciting opportunities I’ve got here keeps me from missing home too much.

I’ve been taking every opportunity I can to explore the beaches and trails around the university and I’ve started playing in the orchestra. As well as lots of opportunities to hike (see photos) and play music, my classes have been keeping me busy! So far I’ve found the work load easier than in Southampton and the U.S. format, with more classes but less work for each one, really works well for me. I’ve jumped right in to my work and have been surprisingly productive, partly so that all my work is out of the way and I can enjoy exploring the area! Although the year abroad is about travelling and having a great time, I’d also really recommend choosing somewhere that has interesting modules so that the whole experience is enjoyable. I found my modules very interesting, especially the new perspective I’m getting on my subject (Film and English). All of the people in my classes have very different backgrounds to me and the American perspective, particularly in regards to American film and literature, is really fascinating.

I’m loving the atmosphere here and I’m really enjoying every aspect of my year abroad so far. I’m trying to say yes to as many new opportunities as possible and look forward to keeping you all up to date on what I’m up to!

Trish 😊

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About Me

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Hi, my name is Trish, I’m a second year Film and English student, and I’m going to be studying abroad at Humboldt State University in California for a year!

Although I’ve always wanted to travel, I didn’t think about doing a year abroad until my A level form tutor suggested it as I sent off my UCAS application – which came as a bit of a surprise to my parents when I got home and told them. Since then I’ve been preparing for the year. Although I didn’t set out with a plan of which country or even which part of the world I wanted to go to, after 3 different lists comparing all of the unis I could go to (I wanted to make sure I went to the best place for me…) Humboldt came out on top, much to the shock of my boyfriend who was hoping I would be a bit closer to home!

I chose Humboldt for lots of different reasons. The modules that I could do really interested me as they seemed to offer new and different things to the courses at Southampton, particularly the film courses where I may have the opportunity to do some practical filmmaking! Whilst I’m away I plan on focusing on modules that concentrate on American culture, meaning that I can explore the country both physically and in its literature in a way that I wouldn’t be able to do at Southampton.

I’m also very excited to be going to a uni that is not in a city! I can’t wait to explore all of the different landscapes that the north coast of California has, where the coast, redwood forests, and mountains surround the campus. As someone who loves the outdoors the location of Humboldt is definitely a plus.

As well as the courses and the location, I also plan on fencing and playing the cello in an orchestra – something that I already do in Southampton and would like to continue doing during my year abroad if I can.

On top of experiencing a different culture, meeting new people, and getting the chance to travel and explore, I’m hoping that my year abroad will teach me invaluable life skills. I hope that by experiencing a different culture and hearing new views that I will learn to appreciate how diverse the world really is and will teach me how to appreciate this diversity. When I leave I’ll also be starting a long-distance relationship which will be another new challenge and I’m interested to see how my idea of relationships with friends and family changes.

As everything is starting to fall into place now, my flight on the 11th August is coming up very quickly and I can’t wait for what I hope will be an amazing year!