The Mole Diaries: Miami

The Mole Diaries: Miami Downtown Miami by Carlos Granier-Phelps

This article was written by Taran Bassi, published on 13th November 2012 and has been read 4219 times.

Taran is a recent graduate who studied English and American Studies at Leicester University and spent her third year abroad at the University of Miami, Florida, in the USA. Here is her guide to studying abroad in Miami: packing, arrival, the university, the beach and the nightlife, and her top survival tips to help you make the most of your time in Miami.
Wow. If I could choose a word to sum up my year abroad experience, that is the one that comes closest. I siezed the opportunity to spend one year of my undergraduate career at the University of Miami, Florida, which was an amazing experience.

University of Miami

Despite spending many months planning my year abroad and countless boring lectures in which I would merely Google image the campus for its grandness and beauty, nothing could actually prepare me for what I would encounter. With its huge lake, dining halls, luxury gym and Olympic-sized swimming pool, the campus itself resembles an exotic holiday resort. With this as a background it was easy to forget that I was there to study and not just for leisure. The University itself is a private institution so tuition fees for paying students is in the region of $55,000, a far cry from the £3,000 I was paying at my home institution. However as this study abroad was arranged through my home university I only paid £1,500 in fees, and my local education council paid for the rest.

Life at university is very different for American students, notably due to the strict drinking laws, which require an individual to be 21 in order to buy and consume alcohol. As a result I found that there was more focus on ‘frat’ parties (yes these do exist outside the realm of American Pie movies) and private parties as opposed to specialist student nights out as we have here in England.

In terms of accommodation I had arranged to live on campus in the dorms in order to gain the full American student life experience, roommate and shared bathroom experience all included. However if you're searching for suitable accommodation in the Miami area, there are a range of excellent agents which can be found on Google who will be more than happy to reach an agreement through email.

Packing, and what to do when you arrive

Upon arriving in Miami the most important thing is to secure a phone, as without one you will be lost and baffled. Retailers such as Radio Shack, T-Mobile and Best Buy typically operate the best deals and also provide ‘SIM only’ plans operating on a pay monthly basis. In order to adapt to the heat which is consistent all year round, I strongly recommend taking a summer wardrobe as well as a lot of sun cream, and in the first few days drink plenty of water in order to avoid getting dehydrated. The city itself runs on a Metro system which charges $2 for a one way ticket and a $5 ticket for unlimited Metro and bus travel, so when arriving I highly recommend that you obtain a Metro map and familiarise yourself with nearest station otherwise you will be reliant upon taxis which can become expensive.

Miami Beach and Miami Dade County: What’s the difference?

The difference is one is a glamorous tourist destination, whilst the other resembles a standard American city, with an exotic twist. Miami Dade is where I resided for my study abroad placement, in the affluent neighbourhood of Coral Gables. Although Coral Gables does not have much to offer but expensive cars, and even more expensive houses, neighbouring Coconut Grove is a student haven. With many bars and clubs aimed at students, ‘Grove Thursdays’ was a must do for any University of Miami student, or anyone else wanting a cheap and alternative night out. ‘Little Havana’ is another must visit location in Miami Dade which is easily accessible by public transport. A focal point of Cuban immigration, this area beautifully demonstrates the melting pot culture of America, not to mention its very strong Cuban coffee!

Downtown Miami also provides an urban backdrop for those wanting to explore the urban aspect of this city and viewing the skyline at night is a must. With the juxtaposition of questionable shops situated next to big brand superstores, downtown feels like many decades fused together. Another highlight of Downtown is the buzzing area of Bayside which was one my favourite places to grab a drink and people watch. Situated on the water there are plenty of shops, restaurants, attractions and even deck chairs where you can soak up the sun and watch the boats pulling into the port.

Miami Beach and Nightlife

So this is where I spent most of my weekends and nights during my year abroad. Miami Beach offers gorgeous golden sands, clear blue waters and a nightlife experience only to be rivalled by Las Vegas. The beach and surrounding community is very vibrant, full of bars and busy restaurants where it’s not uncommon to spot a celebrity enjoying a crazy trip there.

The nightlife, for all those who love dance, rave and hip hop is a haven. With many of the clubs often having regular celebrity performers and DJ’s and festivals such as ULTRA being held annually it is easy to see why Miami is such a great location of party animals. For those who are interested in the quieter aspect of Miami Beach, there are many museums and places of interest, ranging from the Art Deco centre, to the Jewish Memorial and even an Erotic Art Museum, proving that there is plenty to do!

Survival Tips

1. Budget accordingly
Being a student in Miami was difficult at times. There are hardly any student discounts and at times cost of living can get quite expensive. Always budget in advance, and ensure that you have a back up just in case you find yourself in financial trouble.

2. If it looks dodgy, it will be dodgy

Despite all the glamour and decadence, like any other American city there are inevitably areas which are not very friendly. If something or someone looks suspicious then 90% of the time it will be. Always ensure that you have a mobile phone on you and that somebody knows where you are in case you decide to venture out exploring on your own.

3. Be prepared to tip for a good service

Unlike England, tipping is the custom in area! A 17.5% tip is suggested; however most places in Miami Beach will add the tip to your bill, so if a meal seems cheap always remember the 7% state tax which is added, as well as tip.

4. Have plenty of fluids and sun cream
It can be a bit of an adjustment from moving from a relatively cold location to a hot tropical one, so plenty of sunscreen and water is recommended at all times.

5. Establish friends within the club promotions industry
Clubbing in Miami can become expensive in Miami, but not if you use your British accent. If approached by a club promoter, don’t be afraid to haggle for tickets, you will be surprised at the discount you can get.

6. Haggle in Miami Beach bars for their drinks offers
The same applies for drink offers around the Oceans Drive area.

7. Learn basic Spanish, such as Hello, Thank you etc.
Due to the large number of Cuban migrants it is essential to learn a few basic words of Spanish in order to understand many local Miami residents around you. 

8. Get decent medical insurance
Americans, unlike us British, are not fortunate to have free healthcare provided for them, and an injury in America without health insurance can end up costing a small fortune. Always take out a good medical insurance; otherwise you will come to regret it. 

9. Set up an American bank account
If you are fortunate to have the opportunity to stay in America for a long time, getting an American bank account is a must. This will enable you to transfer money from British accounts into your American one. As well as acquiring a debit card, you also have another proof of i.d.

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