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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

A Brit in America

Have you been asking yourself what it’s like to study abroad?

I am currently studying at the UA on a one-year exchange program. I arrived, teeming with excitement, at this unbridled opportunity. I, a middle class boy from the suburbs of London, was being given a chance to visit the democratic leader of the world, a country admired for its spirit of individualism and its moral standing on the planet’s key issues. Hoping to broaden my social horizons, to learn a new way of life and a culture different from my own, I arrived in the Promised Land after almost being the English hermit who never left his shell. So, what has the experience of studying abroad at an American institution taught me?

Although a lot of Britons look up to America as a cultural sibling, there are far more differences than you’d realise. The way money works in the states is alien to me. Despite our favourable exchange rate, it’s generally a lot more expensive to live here. I have to pay $1,200 dollars over the year for healthcare, and then I’m expected to pay on top of that if I meet with your doctor! Needless to say, this choked me up as much as George W. Bush at a pretzel eating contest.

The people here are a lot nicer, although I’ve heard that people from New York walk around with a stick-up-the-ass the size of most Londoners. Anyone planning to study here will be pleased to know that eye contact is a possibility, a far cry from the suspicious streets of most English cities.

Of course, you have to take into account that Americans seem to have a wide-eyed fascination for accents. After speaking to a sorority girl here with a California drawl, I got a tremendous sense of déjà vu. Last time someone looked at me with genuine attentiveness, it was, well, neither female nor human: The only thing that affords me that kind of attention is my neighbour’s puppy, and that’s when I have a bone in hand. If only English girls thought a blundering English accent was half as interesting as Americans do.

In all seriousness, though, the academic side of studying here is not completely different to me, yet detached enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Without meaning to sound patronising, the level of education here is not what we are used to back in the U.K. I first realised this when I was handed a class quiz. We’d just watched a two-hour documentary about a man named Robert McNamara and his role in the Vietnam War. We were then handed a sheet of paper with the question, “”What is Robert McNamara’s job?”” My English friend Jamie and I shared looks in mutual disbelief. With a whisper he said, almost laughing, “”We get marks for this?!””

We are, however, given projects all the time. Work is sadly, tirelessly consistent. Whether you do it, though, is another matter entirely. One has to keep in mind that there are far better schools in the U.S.A. than the UA, although, if you were to ask this writer, I wouldn’t understand why you’d commit yourself too fully to work when the grading system is a simple pass/fail as an exchange student.

The United States is such a huge place that it’s almost impossible to define it in such a short space. But there is no doubting that it has the scope to offer the finest of everything in life. You want breathtaking beauty? Head to Sedona, Ariz., or to the Colorado Rockies. You want an incredible party atmosphere? My friends at the University of Miami haven’t been sober and off a boat in weeks. You want to dedicate yourself to a year of hard work and academic endeavour? Look no further than Berkeley or Reed College in Oregon. If you have the opportunity to study abroad next year, seize it with both hands. And for goodness’ sake, don’t be the reclusive English hermit.

— Jan Flisek-Boyle is an English exchange student.

He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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