More than 1,000 students and staff of De Montfort University graced the streets of New York City in early January as part of their biggest ever DMUglobal visit.

Spending over £600,000, De Montfort University subsidised the trip for undergraduates from fashion, music technology, engineering, architecture, film studies and other courses. During the five-day trip, students took part in course-specific events to help develop their global employability. I was one of them; and we were all a part of something truly magical.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Dominic Shellard said: “This was the university’s largest ever #DMUGlobal visit, with more than 1,000 students from 46 different nations travelling with us and demonstrating that we are all citizens of the world.

“This trip helped to enhance our students’ global outlook, develop skills valued by employers and enrich their academic studies.”

As a third year Film Studies and Journalism undergraduate, I feel suitably enriched – I was lucky enough to be a part of this opportunity and for just £250, found myself on a plane to New York alongside a group of my peers.

Arriving in the Big Apple

Landing in JFK after a day filled with travelling, the magic of the city more than compensated for the exhaustion.

As I looked out of the coach window on the way into Manhattan, my surroundings felt alien yet perfectly comfortable. While I had never visited America before, New York is a place that we have all grown up watching in films and on television. This familiarity makes it feel like a home away from home. As we peered out of the window at Macy’s and caught a first glimpse of the Empire State building, there was a sense that, although this was a city that was brand new to us, we could belong here too.

We were staying in central Manhattan, just a five-minute walk from Times Square, and there we spent our first evening, walking the brightly lit streets and taking in the magic of New York City. This first walk was a blur – there was just so much to take in – although perhaps the jet lag was to blame for some of my foggy brain.

The sheer size of the buildings amazed us – straining our necks became a regular occurrence just to see what was happening above. My first impressions, although hazy, were also that the cliches are true – this is truly a city that never sleeps; a city where anything can happen.

Tailored to us

The #DMUGlobal initiative is something that De Montfort University established back in 2015 and has since seen students from various courses and backgrounds fly around the world to sample unique experiences..

Travelling with a group of students from film studies, media studies and journalism, there were various events organised throughout our time in New York that specifically linked to these courses – from a visit to the world renowned Paley centre for media to an afternoon at the New York Times printing presses in Queens.

A highlight was definitely taking a walking tour through Central Park to visit the filming locations from various movies and television shows over the years. Despite the freezing cold weather, we wandered the most of the park immersed in New York’s celluloid history. We walked through the bandshell from Breakfast at Tiffany’s; sat by the Bethesda Fountain from Law & Order: SVU and found ourselves face-to-face with the Boathouse Café from When Harry Met Sally. It all felt truly surreal.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was another place in which we got pleasingly, overwhelmingly, happily lost. The Met Fifth Avenue presents more than 5,000 years of art, spanning all cultures and time periods. Since opening in its current location alongside Central Park in 1880, the museum has expanded to cover more than two million square feet. From Egyptian artefacts and modern European art to a beautiful Japanese peace garden, the museum’s galleries and exhibitions reveal both new ideas and unexpected connections between time and cultures around the world.

Over 1,000 staff and students

To celebrate the achievement of bringing more than 1,000 staff and students across the Atlantic, De Montfort University’s Vice Chancellor Prof Dominic Shellard arranged for personal friend and best selling author Lee Child to come and meet students for a screening of his new feature film Jack Reacher; Never Go Back. Following the screening, a specially organised Q&A took place whereby students were given the chance to ask the author questions about how he became a bestselling author, and how he felt seeing his film become a feature-length blockbuster, starring Tom Cruise.

Prof Shellard also spoke at this event, using the opportunity to talk about just how much of an achievement it was to have us all out there and how we, the students, had become a part of something really special. He also stressed the importance of De Montfort University’s constant push to become a truly international place to study.

“We want De Montfort University to be a place where our students know we are all citizens of the world. The opportunities we can offer you, and the experience you can gain, is so powerful.”

9/11 – the day that changed Manhattan

Later in the week we took a trip to Ground Zero – the location of the former World Trade Center and where in 2001, the 9/11 terrorist attack killed 2,996 people and shook the world.

Standing on the spot where the towers stood, the eerie atmosphere is undeniable. The One World Trade (or ‘Freedom Tower’) building stands right next door and is now the tallest building in New York. As your eyes are drawn upwards, the understanding of just how tall the original twin towers were becomes apparent.

The 9/11 museum is located inside the 9/11 memorial. As we walked in and through security, I found myself met with over 23,000 images of that day and the surrounding events. The horrifying reality of what happened hits home.

Listening to some of the 2,000 oral histories of the dead – recordings and phone calls provided by friends and loved ones – left my stomach feeling empty and the rest of me emotionally wrung out.

The quote engraved on the wall within the museum is the only thing that comes close to summing up the feeling within the memorial: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time” – Virgil.It might not have been the most cheerful of my New York adventures, but it was the most important. And it’s one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

Opportunities of a lifetime

Above all, the chance to be in New York for five days was an unforgettable experience. As University fees rise, the opportunity to study and travel in this way can sometimes feel as though it’s out of reach..

For De Montfort University to offer its students opportunities like DMU global, this kind of travel becomes possible. As a result I have unforgettable memories of being in a magical place with some of my closest friends, and have experiences that I know I will take further into whatever I do following graduation. Thanks, New York – it was a blast.

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Alice is a 21 year old film and journalism student from Leicester. Interests include film, trashy 00s TV and drinking buckets of coffee.

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