Brits in America: Ordering ‘chips’ is a very different thing here

This month Raphaëlle recounts her first two weeks at Harvard University – from taking new classes, regular late night pizza and seeing those iconic red cups

September 4 2017
Brits in America: Harvard freshman Convocation

I arrived in Harvard Square, my red hair frizzy from the flight, face flushed from the heat and in a state of panic. In that moment, I questioned why I had decided to put myself through the ordeal of moving to a foreign nation. Then I turned around and two friendly Boston residents offered to carry my bags. I was reminded that I was not alone and that in Cambridge, help was quite literally on every corner. 

In the past two incredible weeks since I’ve been here, I’ve managed to visit Boston twice, participate in a huge water fight, go to socials that always offer free cookie dough ice-cream and meet hundreds of international and domestic students.

It hasn’t been perfect by any means. On my first day on campus, my suitcases were almost run over after they tumbled into the road. Later that week I managed to get trapped in a construction tower block and had to call the HUPD (Harvard’s own police force) and to add to the embarrassment, I proceeded to walk into a pole (they are everywhere in Boston) and acquired a lovely bruise. But this is what makes the college experience so special. The adrenaline is running high and everywhere I look I see opportunity and promise.

Brits in America: From Dundee to New York

This whirlwind of emotions has ultimately culminated in the typical Harvard student momentum of juggling multiple classes and assignments, alongside a thriving social life. I am taking two introductory classes in economics and government, a seminar called Conservatism and its Critics and a compulsory expository writing course. I have also managed to audit (sitting informally in a class) a Harvard Kennedy School graduate class to learn something just for the fun of it (I know, typical nerd!). I have only just started my Harvard education and I can already feel my thought process changing. I am far more analytical, open, and connected with my peers and my learning abilities.  

There have been a number of culture shocks. I have received many a puzzled look when I used the word “queue” or tried to order “chips”, and then there’s my accent which has been called everything from “posh” to “cute”. Late night pizza is normal and parties have those red cups you always see on American TV shows. Then there’s Malia Obama who just casually strolls around campus, much to the excitement of the American students. I am having fun discovering the details that define American culture and in turn finding out where I fit in this community.

Cambridge is a beautiful, diverse and highly cultured place. I feel safe here, accepted as I am, when previously I felt the need to downplay my interests and characteristics. There are no limits here; no ambitions that are not possible. I’d like to say I’m thriving, but I’m only two weeks in. It is the uncertainty of what is to come that is so stimulating.

Raphaëlle Soffe will be blogging her journey through Harvard University every month for Times Higher Education. 

Read Raphaëlle's first blog about her journey to Harvard University

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