Foreign Correspondence: “Why Iowa?”

Written by Matt Solomons|

“Why Iowa?” is without a doubt the number one question I’ve been asked during my year abroad at Iowa State University in the USA.

Answering this question has been a lot like explaining that I study at the University of Exeter, but not in Exeter and actually one-hundred miles away in Cornwall (something which I’m sure nearly all ‘Streatham Rejects’ have encountered over the years). 

It’s always been a pain having to explain this during small talk with the extended family, people at networking events and the same barber every time I get a haircut! Sometimes I don’t even bother with the details, which more often than not leads to the next question: “So what’s living in Exeter like? Any good bars?” At this point, I either pretend I’m well acquainted with the City of Exeter’s nightlife (never a good idea) or end up coming clean that there is in fact a hidden higher education institution on the South West coast that for some reason bears the University of Exeter name!

The point is that getting asked “Where do you study and why?” has never been a simple one for me, and the story of how I ended up in the flat, freezing and cornfield-filled Midwestern state of Iowa is arguably even less straightforward.

I applied for the study abroad programme literally at the last minute. I remember being halfway to the French Alps with the Falmouth and Exeter ski club when I asked my friend to log in to my empty application and put down the eight universities I was interested in. I had always been hesitant to apply since I only just qualified for eligibility after some not-so-great exams left me at just over 60% at the end of first year, and with the most popular universities going to those with the highest grades, it was unlikely I would get my top choices.

“I remember being halfway to the French Alps with the Falmouth and Exeter Ski club when I asked my friend to log in to my empty application and put down the eight universities I was interested in.”

It turned out I was right about that. I got no offers from that first batch, leaving me with two choices from the reserve list of American universities that weren’t available options before.

The two choices were Colorado State University and Iowa State University. One being set in a beautiful mountainous landscape with some of the world’s best ski resorts just a short drive away, and the other, like I said, incredibly flat, blisteringly cold and overly abundant with corn. It was an easy choice for me placing Colorado above Iowa – I mean who wouldn’t – but once again I lost out on my preferred choice and had the decision made for me. It was Iowa State or nothing now.

It was like Results Day 2016 all over again. Receiving the ‘Alternative Offer’ email from Exeter that day felt like a punch in the face at the time, and this study abroad news was equally as frustrating at first. 

It took me a few days to realise that actually this situation wasn’t the same. I may not have intended to end up at the Penryn Campus, like many others, but without being sent two more hours down the A38 I would never have met the people I call friends today, been able to live in such a beautiful place as Cornwall, nor would I have had the opportunity to become the Editor-in-Chief of a student newspaper (the one you’re reading now!) at the end of my first-year. This time, two years later, I knew that, despite not getting what I wanted again, there was a good chance that it could work out having already experienced this similar scenario before.

Plus, I knew for a fact that if I didn’t accept my offer to study at Iowa State, I would spend the whole of third-year rocked by the thoughts of “What if?”, not to mention whilst trying to complete a dissertation!   

So the truth is, I didn’t intend to go to Iowa State, much like I didn’t plan to end up at the Penryn Campus, both just kind of… happened.

But the important thing is that that’s okay! If anything, my experiences have taught me that at first, things may seem like they haven’t gone your way or have been decided for you, but it’s about making the best of these situations and in most cases, they turn out great!

Fast forward eight months later and I’m in a much better position to answer the dreaded question of “Why Iowa?” I say I’ve being able to experience life as an Iowa State Cyclone and immerse myself in American college culture with its 60,000-seater American football stadium and fraternity mansions peppered across the vast university campus. I say I’ve been able to travel across the Midwest, to the capital Washington DC over Thanksgiving Break and have trips to Miami and New York City coming up soon. I say I’ve been able to ski competitively for the first time and met some great people in the process. And I say every day here is a new experience and it’s still not even over yet!

Ultimately this is what drove me to take the chance to live in one of America’s least known states for a year and I would encourage anyone else to take the leap and do the same.