This blog has also been featured on The Guardian’s Blogging Students website, and can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/education/mortarboard/2014/jul/17/10-american-habits-studying-abroad-students
As university friends studying business, finance and law started gaining seriously impressive internships and ‘year in industry’ placements in September 2012, I decided that, as an English and History student, there had to be some way to boost my CV and become more employable.
I shopped around, scanning the university website for opportunities to fit the bill. Four months later I’d completed my application to study abroad in the states, and it turned out to be the best decision of my life.
So for the past year I’ve abandoned my familiar Leeds student lifestyle for an exchange year at the University of South Carolina. I swapped nightclubs for frat parties, my small student house for American dorms, Yorkshire Tea for sweet tea, fish and chips for Southern fried chicken and afternoons at the pub for afternoons on a sun lounger at the outdoor pool.
Many of my study abroad friends who ventured to foreign language countries were sceptical about the degree to which social customs would be different in America. But from the moment I touched down in Columbia, South Carolina, I knew I had an eye-opening adventure ahead of me.
Here are ten lifestyle habits that I’ve picked up since being on exchange in the Appalachian South:
In the US, service staff members earn their keep largely through tips, so visiting a restaurant or bar without leaving a tip is considered hugely disrespectful. Thanks to this American social custom, I’ve returned to the UK much more willing to give away those extra few pounds at the end of my meal.
Using weekends to travel
With America’s endless travelling opportunities just waiting to be explored, I used the weekdays to study hard, and the weekends to pack my bags and tick some more states off my to-see list.
Being OK with driving insanely long hours
When I did pack my bags for the weekend, I had to mentally prepare myself for the long car journey ahead. As Americans don’t have the same level of public transport resources as British students do, they’re much more accustomed to driving long hours across the interstate to get to where they want to be.
Planning my social life around sports games
If ever I didn’t travel at the weekend, I’d be watching live sports. The university football team played in a stadium just short of Wembley’s capacity, and with free tickets for students, the weekly dose of American football was considered an unmissable social event.
Choosing comfort over style
The go-to daily attire in the intense South Carolinian heat and humidity was a nonchalant Nike Shorts (‘Norts’) and baggy t-shirt combination. It was also immediately apparent that checked shirts (or ‘flannel shirts’) are readily accepted at any social occasion. If in doubt, flannel out.
Embracing team spirit
When I first arrived in the US I felt a typical British reluctance towards American patriotism and team spirit. By the end of my year I’d become swept away in the fun, sporting team colours to classes and queuing for photos with the university mascot.
Expressing happiness with the word ‘blessed’
Perhaps it was because I studied in the Bible belt, or because Americans embrace upbeatisms more readily than we Brits do, but I heard locals express happiness with the word ‘blessed’ on a daily basis. I even saw a car license plate that read ‘Bless3d’. Since returning to England I’ve caught myself using the word on several occasions.
Solving any remotely difficult situation by grabbing frozen yoghurt
Forget grabbing a coffee or putting the kettle on as ways to unwind at the end of the day. The nearest frozen yoghurt café was a regular haunt for students looking for a midweek treat.
Speaking up in lectures
As class participation often counts for large percentages of final grades in American institutions, over the past year I’ve become a lot more vocal about my thoughts during classes. I’m looking forward to seeing how my renewed, Americanised verbal skills will fit back in to British lectures and seminars in my final year.
Going with the flow
This probably says more about the overall experience of being an international exchange student rather than American social customs, but since studying abroad in America I’ve become a pro at going with the flow. The study abroad experience can be pretty unpredictable at times, so rather than worrying about trying to have a plan for everything, my new favourite phrase is ‘Let’s play it by ear’.