By Rosalie Wain
One of the biggest things that international students have to experience while on an international exchange program is the stark differences that exist between your newfound home and the one in which you grew up.
Who knew toilets flush on the opposite side in America? How come cheese seems to accompany everything edible? And since
when are squirrels practically tame?
In my university town of York, the houses lean in on themselves in a worryingly Jenga-like fashion and the churches are all gothic to an extreme.
People don’t tip unless the service was remarkable, in which case 50 pence might be begrudgingly parted with.
Sarcasm and a dry sense of humour is a way of life, and if you don’t like tea then you really must be very odd.
The biggest difference that I’ve dealt with is the issue of formality. The British, as a collective whole, do not hug. If someone asks how you are, it’s an invitation to sit down and talk to them about your life’s woes, not a polite way of making small-talk in a checkout line. All of these aspects are rather hard to get used to.
The fact that I’m finding it difficult to adjust to one of the biggest and most commercialized cultures in the world makes me wonder what else is out there to adventure to, and whether it’s
possible to ever completely understand a culture that is not your own.
While being here, I’ve been privileged with the opportunity to speak to other exchange students from countries all around the world.
Camille Goustiaux, a TA from France, told me that the biggest difference for her was that no one lives on campus at her home university. “We very much have lives outside of college. We don’t have events or even sports teams. University is literally just about going to class.”
This is somewhat applicable to most of Europe’s view on the higher education, in that we don’t seem nearly as invested in college life. It also costs much less for us to go to college as things like housing and food aren’t included in what we pay.
Honza Malý from the Czech Republic said the most notable difference for him is that everything is cold in America. “The drinks are constantly refrigerated. Also, the air-conditioning is always turned on, even if it’s actually cold outside.”
Similarly, I’ve also noticed that no expense is spared to offer
the most amount of comfort here.
The library chairs are possibly the comfiest things I’ve ever
sat in, and there’s definitely no shortage of them. The staff go out of their way to be able to know you by name. Even the ladies who work in the cafeteria know my face and never fail to ask me how my day is going.
Also, the fact that every Minerva has its own television is
baffling to me, especially since they’re all about seven times the size of any you’d find within a student’s budget in York.
It’s interesting to be able to contemplate the differences that have emerged just by talking to
other international students and comparing American life to my own.
I’m more than glad I made the decision to come to Union as it’s allowed me to attempt to understand a different culture, while also allowing me to contemplate my own.