I woke up excitedly at 2:45am and made my way to school, getting there at a lovely and early 4am and ready for the long day ahead. We got on the coach, which would take us 2 hours on the first part of our journey to London Heathrow. I waved bye to my parents and off we went; just after leaving school, we were given some green jumpers, which we were to wear for the journey to the USA. I fell asleep on the way to the airport and woke up 20 minutes away from it. After arriving, we made our way to the check-in area and checked in for our flight. We then went through security before having a bit of time in duty free before our gate was called and we boarded our flight to the USA. After many movies, games, food and drinks, and I mean many, we arrived in the US after what felt like decades. We finally disembarked the metal tube we were locked in for 10 hours and there we were, in the USA!
After we all made it through the grilling of the USA border protection officers, we were in the country and all sleep deprived, but because of the time difference we still had most of the day ahead of us (even though it was 10pm back in the UK). We collected our bags and set off in a coach to our hotel, where we were greeted by Mr Stewart and Mrs McMahon. They greeted us with goodie bags, our IDs for school and a big banner. We took the first of many group photos and went to our rooms to unpack, had a shower and we got changed out the clothes we had been in for 18 hours at that point. We were then summoned back downstairs to go out and get something to eat, we went to Arby’s. I was not very hungry, so I thought I would get a small curly fries; however, this turned out to be just as big as the large portion back in the UK. After this, Mr Thaper and Mr Sanders had something else for us to do, go to Target! We went around Target and got some supplies for the week ahead (Prime included) and after over 25 hours awake, we finally went back to the hotel and went to sleep, for a well-deserved rest.
We woke up at 9am for again what was another long day ahead of us. We were going to the Brazoria County Fair! We had some breakfast and boarded the coach, which would take us on the 50-minute ride to the fair. We got there slightly early, but still managed to see some amazing things like pig weighing, cowboy hat making, and all the classic things at a county fair. It was very hot, over 35 degrees, in contrast to the 12 degrees at home. After a small time to explore, we went to the rodeo! As we arrived there, we were just in time to see the sheep-back riding, where 3, 4 or 5 year olds rode on the back of sheep around the ring to see who could stay on the for the longest! It was fantastic, and very funny! Then it was time to see the main rodeo, after our first of many doses of classic Texas patriotism, with them honouring their troops, the rodeo and the country, before holding a 2-minute silence and the national anthem being sung… by someone who could not sing. We then watched as men on horses got thrown around the ring on the back of horses, them lassoing a bull’s horns and tying its feet, then racing to lasso and RKO the bull; it was brutal, but very entertaining! Once that had finished, we went back into the main fair to make some purchases and go on some rides. After 6 hours at the fair, we then set off back to the hotel, changing and having some time to chill, before venturing out to Torchy’s Tacos for a classic Mexican taco to end a lovely day!
At 5:30am my alarm went off for a day at school! Got myself into school uniform, albeit tired, and made my way down to breakfast. Then at 6:30am, we were greeted by a great sight – a classic American school bus! We were all excited to get on as it was something you see in all the American films. We met Major Hawn, who was our bus driver for the remainder of the week, who drove us 15 minutes to the school, where we once again met Mrs McMahon and Mr Stewart. Before stepping into the American high school, we were greeted by our 2nd dose of Texas patriotism with the huge Texan and American flags hanging from the ceiling. We then were taken into the library for the introduction by Mr Stewart, where we learnt about the history and background of the school. Then, it was the fun part with putting names to the faces we had seen on the video calls for the past year. I was partnered with AJ, who I would be following for the next 3 days, and we then got to know the dynamic in American schools and how it is world’s apart from the dynamic of a British school. It was so eye-opening to see how the pupils behaved such as being on their phones while the teacher is talking or no-one stopping talking in class. It was really surprising; this being said, the people there were lovely, very welcoming and loved my accent!
After meeting teachers and participating in lessons, it was time for lunch! I had been warned about it by the students, I went for a burger and chips, which I would give a 5/10 – tasted very fake. We then continued with 2 more lessons. After a tiring and long school day, we took the bus back to our hotel, where we had 10 minutes to get undressed, change, quick wash and get back downstairs ready with money, to go to Main Event Entertainment. We arrived at Main Event Entertainment, which is similar to Star City. We did laser tag first, where unfortunately Mr Thaper had a little issue with his glow in the dark sun cream, but we move past that! I came 9th, which I think was quite good. We then went into the arcades and did the ropes course, which was amazing. We then had a sharing pizza between two of us, which was the size that would feed a small family back at home, which was really shocking. After this, we left and went back to the hotel after another long day.
Day 4 started the same way as Day 3, more following AJ (my partner) and participating in a full day of lessons, lunch was nachos, which I would give a solid 7/10 – not too bad for American food. Then during our last lesson, we all attended an FFA (Future Farmers of America) class, which was flower arranging! Yes… people can actually take that as a class option in the USA. We made Halloween-themed flowerpots, which were fun to do, even though mine did not look very good in the end. After this, we attended a live performance and matinee performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was great as even though it was performed in old English, it was still a very fun watch and I was very glad we got to see it.
After our day at school, we took the yellow school bus back to the hotel for yet another tight 10-minute turn around, this time to leave and go to the mall! When we arrived, we split up into smaller groups to go and explore. We first went to the classic Chick-Fil-A, which was the best food I had on the trip and tasted even better after experiencing high-school food. Then, we went around some of the shops they had there and I managed to get myself a new top and some gifts for my family. We spent the rest of our time going around the technology shops and looking at how cheap some of the things were. Finally, we all met back up and made the walk back to the hotel, rounding off yet another great day!
On Day 5, we finally got a bit of a lie in and after 2 intense days at school, I think it was very well deserved. We got up 8:45am for my favourite day of the entire trip – the NASA Johnson Space Centre! We went downstairs and had breakfast, where we waited for Major Hawn to come and take us to the Space Centre. We got on the bus and drove to the high school, to pick up the American students we had been following to accompany us at the Space Centre. We then made the 45-minute journey to NASA and again, it was a very warm day. When we arrived, I was surprised by how big the complex was. As we drove in, we went past a number of rockets and replicas. We went through the gates and split up to explore the different exhibitions the museum had to offer.
We learnt about different space programmes such as the Apollo programme to the Moon and the International Space Station. We then walked through the NASA hall of fame, which was an exhibition about astronauts that had done something to stand out in human spaceflight. We walked through a memorial that commemorated those who lost their lives doing their jobs at NASA, which was very eye opening. We also saw replicas of the Apollo mission control console, a sample of a real Moon rock, more rocket parts and pieces and then, best of all, a real full-sized space shuttle! This space shuttle was on top of a real plane that was used to carry it from the shuttle’s landing site to the launch site, ready for its next mission. As we stepped onboard, we saw many artefacts and exhibitions commemorating the space shuttle programme and how it had changed the future of space flight. After this, we returned to the main building for a tram tour of the private NASA buildings. Along with a tour guide, we were taken around the NASA grounds to our first stop, the astronaut training complex, which is where real astronauts train for their missions to space. We saw a mockup of the International Space Station and as we moved along, we saw the engineers working on different things and it felt very official! Following this, we re-boarded our tram and took it to our second stop, the Apollo building. This is where we once again had a photo in front of the on-brand British flag, and then explored. We went inside this huge building that housed a real rocket! A full-sized Apollo rocket called Saturn V, that should have been launched before funding ran out for the project. It was massive! We then learnt that this was only 1 of 3 in the world, which really made it special. We all then went back to the main buildings, and I went straight to the gift shop, where I spent an embarrassing $70 on a variety of things. It was then unfortunately time to leave. So, we re-boarded our school bus and made our way to a Texan favourite, Buc-ees!
Buc-ees is a huge petrol station that sells everything, from drinks, to clothes to fresh cakes, you name it, Buc-ees sells it. While we were there, I bought myself a huge teddy bear, a T-shirt, some cookie dough balls and a huge 1.5 litre cup of Dr Pepper! We then made our way back to the hotel, where we all decided to head to the pool for a swim and played a few water games – a very enjoyable way to end the afternoon. Afterwards, we headed back to the room to have a quick shower and get changed before making our way out to an Italian restaurant, which was lovely but very expensive. After this, we headed to Target (arriving 2 minutes before it closed) to stock up on supplies before heading back to the hotel to wrap up another amazing day.
On Thursday, we were back at school! I woke up struggling to believe that it was Thursday already, but soon got over it and made my way downstairs for some breakfast. We then boarded the school bus for a very different day at school as we had a football game! I was not playing but it was still very fun to watch, from singing the national anthem (which was a test in itself) to cheering on the team. We played two, thirty minute halves, which we lost unfortunately but it was still very fun, and I also think the referee was quite biased towards his team. After the football players got changed, most of us went back to lessons for the remainder of our half day, but myself and three others decided to stay and join Mr Sanders, Mr Thaper and Miss Morgan with their lessons to the American students and give them a real taste of the life of a British school student. They were so shocked to find out that you cannot have phones out, you cannot sleep, you cannot eat, drink etc. in our classes. We then talked them through the UK as a country, which they learnt a lot from. It was then time to leave the school for the last time, as this was our last day. A lot to take away from the school and I would encourage anyone who gets the chance to experience a school abroad to go and do it!
At midday, we left to go downtown and to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Major Hawn dropped us first off at the museum, where we again split up and learnt a lot about paleontology, Ancient Egypt, animals and machinery – all of the exhibits were so interesting to read about and were very interactive too. After we left the museum, we made our way to the tram station to head deep into downtown Houston. When we got off, we made the walk through the city to the Discovery Centre, where there was a park, some swings and where we got some ice cream. Afterwards, we made the return walk to the tram stop and caught the bus back to the hotel. We had a bit of downtime before heading back out to get some tacos and nachos to round off another amazing day.
It was the last full day! We woke up at around 9am to go to the Lone Star Flight Museum. We boarded the bus and picked up our American friends, before making our way on the one hour journey to the museum. When we arrived, we were split into 3 groups to do a variety of activities! We firstly did some basics of flight trainings, where my partner and I learnt about navigation and what is needed to navigate; we also learnt what is the optimum speed for a plane to fly at and what angle is the safest. We then moved on to learning how to perform an exterior check of an aircraft, checking to make sure no bolts are missing, no parts are blocked and that everything is free and correct. We also stepped inside the flight deck of a plane and checked that out before moving on to my favourite part, the flight simulator! We performed a forty five minute flight around the Houston area and towards the coast on a simulator and it was very immersive. Afterwards, we had a tour of the different aircraft the museum had before heading to a different room to perform some aerodynamic games, all of which were very educational and taught you a lot about physics. Then, our time at the Lone Star Flight Museum was over (or so we thought) as we boarded the bus again and were taken to a US military base. Our driver for the week, Major Hawn, was in the US military and therefore had access to the base, providing the teachers could get approved. They all did and so, we had an explore of what a live US military base had to offer in case the USA was attacked. We then explored the shop at the military base, which had everything on offer – the classics of food and drink all the way to cases to keep your grenades in…
After getting some shopping, we went to a small retail park to pick up some final gifts from Walmart and explore. Walmart is huge! I got myself some gifts for my family and before we knew it, our time was up and we headed back to the school to see a volleyball game. We watched Dulles High School vs another local school, before we continued to a classic American Football game! We watched two high school teams play and the atmosphere was amazing. After some US Army troops performed a ritual, the national anthem was sung, and the cheerleaders started, the band started to play and then the game started. It was very hard to follow but I kind of got my head around it in the end. During half time, when in the UK, people would be bored doing nothing, instead they had a full choreographed half time performance, which consisted of hundreds of people performing on the pitch, all while the teams took a break (this was only a high school game). After the game, we said a final goodbye to our American friends, Major Hawn and Mrs McMahon after thanking them for a lovely week. We then went back to the hotel before heading back out on our final night to get a McDonalds before going back to the hotel to pack and sleep.
Time to go home! We woke up nice and early to finish packing, sorted out some final things, weighed our bags and left the room after checking everything we had. It was quite a sad day to be leaving after such a fantastic trip. We had some breakfast; the teachers checked the rooms and we set off on the one hour journey back to the airport. We checked-in, cleared US security and had some time to relax after the airport. We once again boarded the plane to take us back to London Heathrow and departed right on time. We then had a nine hour flight home to enjoy. Drinks, food and a flying related nose bleed later, I was ready to sleep to try and get myself accustomed to the British time zone….
As we crossed midnight, I was trying to fall asleep. I tried everything: music, no music, blanket, no blanket, everything. It was not happening, until we were ten minutes away from Heathrow when I finally fell asleep, just to be woken up with us being at the gate. Sods law. We then had to get a bus from the plane to customs before re-entering the UK. We got our bags and boarded our bus back to Birmingham. After being awake for twenty four hours, apart from ten minutes, I was ready to sleep… if it was not for the teachers playing music and singing on the bus speakers for the two hour journey back home. None of us slept. Before we knew it (after only feeling like it had been two minutes since I left Birmingham), I had arrived back home. Tired, dirty and sleep deprived, but still loving life.
While it might not seem a lot on paper, this trip was one to remember for a number of reasons. The people, the teachers, the students in America and my friends were all great to be around for the week! We had a laugh while enjoying every moment, despite the long travel days and the long bus trips. Every single day of the trip was 100% worth it and I loved every minute of being there.
So, a big thank you to the teachers in the UK and the USA who organized the trip (Mr Thaper, Mr Sanders and Mrs McMahon). My final takeaways from this trip are that it makes me want to travel so much more, and learn how different parts of the world operate and how their culture differs from ours. It was an amazing trip, and despite it taking me four days to catch up on sleep, would I do it all again? Absolutely 100%!
Ben Yarnell – 10 Galahad