Stars, Stripes, Socks and Sandals
If you thought announcing to my 8th generation farming family, that I wanted to move to York St John University to study Film and Media would have been an interesting conversation, you wouldn’t believe the convincing I had to do for them to let me study in America for 4 months. As you can imagine, by letting me move to a ‘big city’, they would let me enjoy my youth in the comfort of a safe 30-mile radius of our family farm. However, even though I did love growing up covered in sheep and cow muck, travel has always been one of the main ambitions of mine. So, after much emotional guilt, and many lessons I had to give my family on how to use Skype, I was finally given permission to go.
Now you would think America is a fairly normal place to travel, but for me I felt such uncertainty of how I would survive and cope in another culture, even if we do share similar Western values and engage in the same language (which is not as similar as you might think). Unfortunately for you people reading this, don’t expect some amazing stories of how I had these crazy experiences on study abroad. In fact, this article is quite the opposite. The most interesting thing for me, and even now after two years, is the small, and at the time, unimportant things that stick in my memories. For example, I had never been on a long haul flight before, and let’s be honest, they are amazing. Who would have known having a free blanket, a pillow and unlimited snacks would make a girl so happy? The answer is me. Yes, me. Living as a student for the past three years has allowed me to appreciate the smaller things in life, especially the free stuff. Thus, after filling myself with free airport crackers, my journey of study abroad began.
I had heard lots of things, and seen many representations of how American universities looked from films and television. Little did I know one of the repeated stereotypes of sororities and fraternities would become a huge involvement in my American campus experience. Yes, to my very jet-lagged surprise, I found out I was living on a sorority floor. Now as you can imagine, having travelled for 25 hours (due to being a cheap student, so taking 4 flights as my cheapest option to get to Ohio), I was taken onto the most florescent pink hallway you could think of. Covered in Greek letters, inspirational quotes and the loud noise of screams and giggles welcomed me into my new university home. It was my idea of hell. Just to top off my unconventional welcome, I was informed I would have a roommate. All I could think was how can a small island like England be able to give their students a bedroom each, yet America, which is one of the biggest countries in the world, insist on sharing a room. She was weird; and yes, we only had the pleasure of each other’s company for three weeks before she left to join a new sorority. So that’s pretty much the end of my incredibly awful roommate experience.
So as my new American university life began, with much pestering off my farmer family now they knew how to work Skype, I tried to embrace the ‘land of opportunity’. Apart from the 7am classes (yes 7am, I don’t know why either), the rigorous attendance rules and the strict banning of alcohol, I did enjoy embracing the American way. By now you probably think all I did was complain about my time in America, but it’s quite the opposite. The difference in attitudes and the ways American students did things, compared to the British ones I had experienced back at home, became a regular occurrence and almost a new game in my day-to-day life in Cleveland, Ohio. The best way to do this was to meet and speak to as many of my new fellow American students as I could, and what they couldn’t get over was the different ways we dressed. Now before I go any further, you need to understand I am no fashion connoisseur. As I explained before, I grew up on a working farm in the Yorkshire dales, I am not what you would call Victoria Beckham in the world of fashion. However, the one thing, even to this day I cannot get over is the socks and sandals thing. WHO has ever thought socks and sandals are an approved fashion statement to make in the morning when you are getting dressed? NOBODY. EVER. You do not see the Kardashians, Paris Hilton or Stella McCartney walking around or bringing out a fashion line of long P.E socks and brown sandals. It’s not a thing young, American students. Do yourself a favour and stop!
Enough of our fashion differences though, one thing I can say that changed my mind forever was Chipotle. I still remember that beautiful, life-changing event when I tasted that Mexican Grill fast food place. Unfortunately, it had taken me over two months to get to the fast food chain, because I had been trying to stay healthy while I was over there, (trust me, it’s harder than you think), but to this day I still miss my traditional burrito bowl. Chipotle is like our Toby Carvery or our Fish and Chip shops, you know what you like and you have a specific order you always eat. Chipotle for Americans is no different so, as you can guess, an out-of-place English farmer trying to order from this complicated menu brought me quite a lot of attention in the restaurant. Thankfully I survived, and after lots of help from some lovely American boys I finally had my first ever burrito, and I cannot stress how life changing it is. Furthermore, to top off my crazy, yet insignificant memory for many people reading this, my strong Yorkshire accent got me a further two free meals just because I was from what they described ‘the Mother Land’. And before I change the subject of food, America knows how to make the perfect milkshake, that’s all I want to point out. The ratio of ‘candy’ and ice cream, against the milk is a solid 70:30, allowing my healthy eating scheme to run away into the abyss and never return for the rest of my time studying abroad.
Honestly though, this article is not just me being a very English, inexperienced traveller who hates anything new. My time in America was one of the most memorable and rich experiences of my life that I will never forget. The friendliness, emphasis on ‘bigger the better’, with literally everything, and the spirit of the American dream is constantly in your day to day life over there. The idea of free refills on not only drinks, but fries too (yes unlimited fries is a thing!) is so small and yet will stick with me. I didn’t just wander around in my little bubble on campus, I travelled to over eight cities including Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. But what I wanted people to take away from reading this was not another inspirational article on how amazing the famous cities and places to go are amazing, because we already know that. I just wanted to share the little things a Brit should know when living in a normal town, in a normal state while living in America. It is truly life changing, and I would not change a single thing for the world, except maybe the socks and sandals trend.
An inexperienced student, who wanted a taste of life across the pond.