As we set foot into our home for the next four months at an American university, we were met with the depressing sight of sickly-green linoleum floor and cage-like bed frames. We had been placed opposite our resident advisor’s room to ensure no after-hours shenanigans.
I’m Anna, a geography student from Wales. I was the first to encounter the room. I opened the door to find two empty beds and clinical, plastic-covered mattresses. I was left wondering what I had got myself into. This wasn’t what dorms looked like in the movies. Was I in the right place?
It wasn’t until that evening that I met my roommate Clodagh, which after a long family deliberation in the car on the way up, I now realised was pronounced “clo-duh”.
I’m Clodagh, a 20-year-old English student from London. I remember lying in bed at 11pm on our first night, sober, bored and jetlagged, wondering if this was what they meant by the “American dream”. This was so far from my freshers experience in the UK: a week-long campus party centred around booze. On my first night in university in the UK, I had three friends to carry home, two to put to bed and one messy kitchen to clean.
Our visit to the US has enlightened us to many features of American life, from the colossal tuition fees, the big alcohol taboo, gun laws and the current political nightmare. Not that we’re entitled to compare politics judging by our current situation back at home.
Brits deem the cost of tuition in the US, quite frankly, preposterous. In the UK, undergraduate tuition is capped at $11,944 (£9,250) for all universities, which is the highest it’s ever been. Whereas in the US, tuition fees vary between universities, leaving it up to the respective board of trustees to decide.
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At the American university we are currently enrolled in, fees range from $16,392 (£12,491.20) to $41,280 (£31,456.60) for in and out-of-state residents respectively, according to the financial services department. On top of this, students pay on average, $13,200 (£10,058.80) for housing, meals, books and supplies. According to British student finance website, Save the Student, British students spend $12,611.96 (£9,684). Most textbooks in the UK are available online, can be bought second-hand or provided by the university at a much lower rate. Considering we all gain the same level of degree, it seems absurd that the cost differences are so vast.
For us, it wasn’t just the expenses that came as a shock – it was the social life. University in the UK is known for its thriving party culture. The US is very different.
We do understand that we’re studying in a small puritanical corner of New England; the US is a big place and the college experience varies wildly across different states. Here, we’ve found that alcohol is treated like a taboo.
We have monthly room inspections, where the “dorm-nanny” will scour the room to find any remaining signs of alcohol consumption. If they were to actually lift the covers, they would be disappointed to find a stash of pot noodles instead of cheap vodka bottles.
A friend in our building recently got fined $500 for the discovery of beer cans in his dorm. It’s moments like these where we feel like children again. The US seems to have a “nanny culture”, preventing adults from acting like adults until their mid-twenties. We can drive cars, get married and even buy guns, but alcohol? Oh, don’t be silly.
Let us give you an insight into the rules of American dorm life. Rule number one: quiet hours. At first we thought this was a joke. During weekdays, quiet hours start at 11pm, on weekends, 12pm. One Thursday evening, a group of us were getting ready for a night out at the bars. At precisely 11:01pm, we were told that we must all go back to our respective dorms as quiet hours had started.
Rule number two: no more than six people in a room at any time. In the UK students live in flats with living rooms and kitchens. When we want to socialise, we use these rooms. In the US, it’s common to not have any shared spaces in your dorms.
Where are we supposed to go when we want to hang out with anyone but our roommate? It’s ludicrous. Most of the time we are all just gathered together to drink hot chocolate and watch the Great British Bake Off, not to have a party. International students really aren’t as crazy as you might think. Several reports have been taped to doors, complaining of our overpopulated rooms and “loud use of multimedia sources, such as Gameboy”.
Studying abroad has given us a unique perspective on the current state of affairs in both the UK and the US. We are living in a time of political turbulence; in most of our classes our American friends ask for our opinion on Brexit and then compare it to President Trump. Little do our classmates know that we are just as confused and overwhelmed as they are, regardless of how many articles we read and speeches we watch.
But don’t let us fool you, really we’ve had a ball. Despite our criticisms on the social front, our experience in the classroom across the pond couldn’t have been more different. American teachers are extremely passionate about their classes, and it shows. We’ve gone from lectures with 200 students, to intimate class discussions with an average of 20 students.
Our classes haven’t been limited to essays and group presentations, but op-eds, research projects, debates and news quizzes. It’s safe to say we’re leaving the US more rounded and intellectually challenged, and no longer afraid to speak in class. At times, we’ve definitely felt like children, we’ve drank a lot less, but we’ve learned a lot more.
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