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Skyscrapers, the Museum of Modern Art and shopping Fifth Avenue in NYC trip

Pre-degree students explored the city of New York in a recent trip, immersing themselves in different cultures and experiences to return with a whole heap of inspiration. Lecturer Billy Abbott reports back on the visit...

Students from across our pre-degree courses recently made the trip to New York for a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore iconic locations, cultures, art galleries, museums and the general hustle and bustle of The Big Apple.

With educational visits playing a large part in the teaching of many of our pre-degree and undergraduate programmes, alongside visits from industry professionals and working to live briefs, students can use these trips as a unique chance to gather inspiration for their practice and projects.

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Travelling with the 42 students was Billy Abbott, Lecturer on our Extended Diploma in Art & Design (Film, Animation & Media Production) course, who reports back on the trip...

Our itinerary was built around culturally iconic sites and areas such as the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Natural History Museum, 9/11 Memorial, Central Park, Times Square and much, much more! Students were given plenty of time to cater the trip to their wants and needs, and had free reign in terms of where to eat, shop and see outside of the sight visits.

We arrived, and were greeted by Betty. What a star. She was our guide on the coach from Newark airport to Manhattan, and after five hours of travelling, her fabulous insights and humour earned her a round of applause (and the undying love of Maddy Blyth, Foundation Diploma Course Leader and the trip organiser!)

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Arriving at Hotel Pennsylvania around 9pm, we booked everyone in and headed off to Times Square. The top part of the skyscrapers disappeared into a dense fog, and despite the blackness of night, it really did feel like daylight underneath the swathes of bright billboards.

We were keen to take in as much of the NYC atmosphere as possible, and the vibrant nature of the city certainly rubbed off on the 42 students present. New York City's subway system holds the title of busiest in the United States with over 1.7 billion riders annually, and it was truly an experience tackling it during rush hour crowds; but armed with metrocards, phone apps and plenty of staff, we were well prepared.

Four weeks before the trip I distinctly remember warning the students about how cold it was going to be (forecasts of -4 degrees), therefore it came as a welcome surprise when a week before flying out, the forecast shot up to 20C. So luck would have it, we were wandering around New York City bathed in 20-23 degree sunshine and enjoying the hottest day ever recorded in February in NYC!

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Our first day-in-the-sun started foggy, and as dramatic as it was seeing NYC's skyline masked by mist on our ferry trip over to the Statue of Liberty, seeing Lady Liberty lit by warmth made my camera, and all of us, happy. This was a packed day, including Ellis Island, the High Line, Chelsea Market, Little Italy and the Empire State Building.

Day two continued at breakneck pace. The students were presented the option of either visiting the Top of the Rock Observation Deck or the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), a really tough choice to make. I must admit, the 20 degree sun atop the Rockefeller centre whilst taking in views over the city was pretty great.

Successfully reunited, a short(ish) walk to Central Park provided our main meeting point for the day, and everyone utilised their phone maps and given directions to spend their time the way they wished.

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson presented to our staff group (not in the flesh, unfortunately) a mind-blowing curved-screen cinema experience called 'Dark Universe' included in our CityPASS admission at the Museum of Natural History. We then followed this up with a waltz through Central Park, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, then a hair-raising taxi ride back to the meeting point before an evening of shopping on Fifth Avenue.

The 9/11 memorial provided an emotional and hard-hitting experience on the morning of our final day. Of course, the impact this event had on our world cannot be understated, and it was heartening to see that all of our students - despite some of them barely being born when 9/11 happened - had such insight into the event and its subsequent tremors on society.

Stepcounter wise, mine clocked in at 80,037 steps, or 38 miles. Considering that we were there from 9pm Monday to 3pm Thursday, that's pretty incredible! Those strides probably went about halfway towards burning off the stack of pancakes (with bacon and maple syrup, if you were curious) I consumed on two of those mornings.

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If I were pressed to choose a highlight... I'm a sucker for a good view. The Top of the Rock Observation deck showcased NYC's never-ending series of skyscrapers and grandeur, and the Empire State Building, which we visited at night, romanticised the skyline. But, overall, the atmosphere and presence of NYC - that 'feeling' of being there - comes out as a clear winner. There's just something about the place.

Exploring places with a large group of students alongside you is a very unique experience, and I think everyone gained a lot from it. The breaking down of that traditional 'chalk and talk' approach to teaching is something we have always pursued at Plymouth College of Art, and educational visits like this really build and nurture the style we're aiming for.

Personally speaking, it's refreshing, and challenging, to juggle roles as a teacher and creative practitioner on a trip like this, and although making sure everyone has a fantastic time takes full priority, getting out the camera and grabbing a few shots when possible symbolises our approach to education. As a teacher, AND a filmmaker, these two roles should be symbiotic.

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