During an average week at my home university in England, I spend around £30 ($48) on alcohol and nights out. I’ll go on two nights out, one with my housemates and the other with my course friends and sports teams. We go to pre-drinks, or we ‘pre-game’ as it’s called in the states, at around 9pm, drink for a few hours then pile into taxis that take us to our favourite club.
Leeds University Union has a 1000 capacity nightclub scene in the basement and two restaurants serving alcohol on site too. After my last second-year exam I met the History Society at Terrace and relished the opportunity to let off steam over a glass of wine. Social events usually incorporate drinking, from nights out, to pub quizzes, to Otley Runs. The Otley Run is one of the country’s most famous pub-crawls that challenges its valiant participants to purchase a drink in every pub along the way. Spanning 16 pubs in just over 2 miles, it’s not for the faint hearted. So it’s safe to say that ever since I became a university student in 2011, drinking has always part of the social experience.
Since becoming an honorary Gamecock at USC, I’ve had to find other ways to meet people, make friends and have fun. First of all, we must not forget that alcohol is harmful, however, even if we talk about social life, we must be prepared that you can meet a person who will not drink alcohol, and we must support the conversation in another way, and how to communicate and choose topics for dialogue, read in essays writers. The legal drinking age in South Carolina is 21, meaning the prospect of venturing to Five Points for casual drinks is filled with the fear of getting arrested and charged $250. It’s not just an empty threat either, as ‘Residence Mentors’ are employed in university accommodations to patrol the corridors and catch out underage drinkers. I’ve heard stories about students jumping from first floor balconies at flat parties to escape the police who were banging on the front door and of students who got caught and had to spend the night in a prison cell.
In October, shockwaves rippled through the Carolinian community after USC student Martha Childress was shot in Five Points and paralyzed from the waist down. It was a massive wake-up call to everyone about the reality of gang violence occurring just a few miles away from campus. So attempting to get involved with the limited nightlife scene in Columbia feels like constantly looking over your shoulder in fear of those on both sides of the law. It’s not an enjoyable experience and is something I ruled out pretty quickly following my arrival here.
But despite the occasional pangs of jealousy I get hearing about all the crazy nights I’m missing out on back home, living a sober student life has opened my eyes to a new way of life at university.
All the money I’ve saved from buying pre-drinks, club entrance tickets, taxi fares and drinks at the bar has gone straight towards weekend trips. It’s very easy to cushion the blow of losing nightlife entertainment when America is on my doorstep. I’ve visited Charleston and Alabama and I’m currently in my 27th-floor hotel room in New York. I came to South Carolina wondering what I’d do about drinking, worrying that it would define my study abroad experience and impact on my ability to meet people. In reality, it has defined my university experience, but it’s expanded my horizons, forced me to meet more people and get out and about in the states.
The nature of social events is also very different at USC. My first week here consisted of ‘Pizza meet ‘n’ greets’, ‘ice-cream socials’ and ‘sports day bonanzas’, compared to my first week in Leeds that I hardly remember because I was perpetually hungover, exhausted and drunk. But if it wasn’t for the drinking restrictions here, I probably would have been spending my time in bars rather than attending all the weird and wonderful events the university has hosted. I’ve watched live volleyball, American football, the Homecoming Showcase, the Step Show and live acoustic nights. I’ve also attended the 22nd Annual I Believe Anita Hill Party, Columbia’s Greek Festival, a gospel choir performance and had an enlightening evening watching a film about first wave feminism at my tutor’s house. I’ve completed my first colour-run, canoed on the Congaree River, learned how to rock-climb, and learned how to play volleyball. I’d rather be going home with these unique memories than a hazy blur of alcohol-induced images in my mind that I can’t quite piece together.
At a simpler level, being sober has been fantastic for my health. My weight is constant and I’ve had no need for guilt-induced gym sessions. I don’t miss hangovers and get a lot more work done in the time usually spent shriveling up in bed the next morning. But my favourite benefit of sober student life is that I’ve actually become a morning person, waking up naturally at 7.30am every morning. My head is clearer, my bank account is healthier, and I feel more in control of my life than I have for years.
I’m going home for Christmas and I may well eat my words. The temptation of white wine, mulled wine and cocktails might just pull me back into that crazy unpredictable drinking lifestyle. But I hope that at least some of the lessons I’ve learned about sober student life will remain. I’ve loved that the best memories I’ve had here haven’t depended on anything but new experiences, insightful conversations and great company.