Tag Archives: USC

A letter to my fresher self

4 Feb

Dear my fresher self,

Congratulations for choosing to study English and History, I know that careful decision took a long time. You’ve been accepted at Leeds and secured the accommodation you wanted at Clarence Dock. It must feel like you have everything worked out. That’s nice. Four years later you’ll have an arts degree under your belt yet still no grand life plan. Whatever people tell you, not knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life at 21 really is OK.


Packing for the big move…


My first year student halls

Despite choosing a Northern university you will spend most of your degree socialising with Southerners who talk about how great London is. In your final year, you will meet employers at networking events who will tell you about the benefits of moving to London and about how great London is. Be prepared to defend the North, love.

Don’t rush out to buy any of the set texts- especially not from the almighty rip-off that is Blackwells- find the books in the library or get them cheap on amazon.

There was really no need to email your tutor about missing the welcome lecture. Nobody takes attendance there, just a heads up.

Students can be…how should I put it…ruthless individuals. If you are late removing your laundry from the washing machine by even a minute you will find your freshly washed clothes gathering dust on the floor. 310607_10150832245100113_2023834161_n

Carnage is the most overpriced, overhyped and despicable sequence of events that could possibly be strung together in exchange for your precious money. It won’t do your bank account, your waistline, your self-esteem or your general well being any good. Please, just, don’t go.

Stop buying new fancy dress items for every fancy dress night out. That’s not what your student loan is for. Geek glasses and some face paint will suffice. 298520_10150899680830113_2003306070_n299800_10150918622820113_8638098_n

The Hidden Café is not a cutesy little coffee place you discovered by the miracle of getting lost in Freshers’ week. It is the most conspicuous place on campus to take your laptop, eat overpriced lunches and pretend that you are working.

There’s a corridor that connects the Edward Boyle library to the Roger Stevens Building- yes, really. Find it and use it- unless you in fact prefer climbing 10 flights of stairs and arriving at all of your English lectures sweating.

After your first year you’ll go on a life-changing trip to Costa Rica, during which staying in the jungle will make you feel as if you could conquer any living situation life will throw at you. But living in a below average student house with a broken boiler through the winter months in Leeds will make you drastically reconsider that statement. 199123_10152091047120113_1095390777_n

During your third year you’ll find yourself in South Carolina, enjoying a whirlwind year of cowboy boots and sweet tea, country music and American football, rock-climbing and travelling all over the US: basically having more fun and learning more life lessons than the rest of your university years combined. You’ll also hear about how great London is from Americans who went there once when they were 12. Savour that year, because time flies faster than a Gamecock when you’re studying abroad. 1148862_10153153567195113_790654073_n1267851_10153197620035113_1460927503_o

Returning to Leeds for a final year spent in the library will feel like the world’s biggest comedown. It is. The study abroad blues never go away, especially when you insist on putting peanut butter and jam on your porridge every morning. Make sure you stick to your hobbies and passions more tightly than ever before during fourth year, as you’ll need them in order to feel like a sane human being who is more than just a degree.

If I had to end with one piece of advice for your impending university experience, it would be to make it yours. Don’t get sucked in to what everyone else might be doing, because comparison kills joy. Don’t  compete with anybody but your former self: know your own values, priorities and goals and focus on exceeding those. Student life is your precious time to start figuring out who you’re going to be, so make it yours and get stuck in. 1229944_10153197588695113_295444563_n (1)

Top ten things international students must see and do at the University of South Carolina

20 Jun

Having recently returned from my year abroad at the University of South Carolina, I’ve been reflecting upon all the things that made it such a mind-blowing year. There are ten particular things I’m so grateful I did while I was in SC, and they are the experiences that are unique to South Carolina, to Columbia, and to having the unimaginable privilege of being a student at USC. Without further introduction…let’s go cocks. 1391996_10153385843110113_499614180_n

10) Scarowinds

When Halloween came around in October, I was pretty psyched for an all-American scare-fest. I assumed that I’d probably end up going to a stereotypical house party in a half-impressive fancy dress costume, just like the movies. Instead, I ventured out to ‘Carowinds’, the gargantuan amusement park on the border between North and South Carolina. Every Halloween, the park gets radically transformed into ‘Scarowinds’, complete with bone-chilling haunted houses and zombies crawling all over the grounds. It was the perfect way to get out of Columbia and do something different for Halloween while embracing the all-American passion for the 31st.

9) Go to a party in a pick-up truck

Unlike England, where pick-up trucks are as common as a Clemson fan in Russell House, in SC you can ride in the back of a pick-up truck as long as you’re 15 years old. The first time I did, I giggled so much I may as well have been 15. The wind was rushing through my hair, the stars were out and I remember thinking- ‘How have I got here?’ Having such a crazy, outlandish and quintessentially Southern experience made me realise how distant the cultural norms of England were from my new Appalachian adventure. Image

8) See some live music at the Red Door Tavern

Red Door Tavern is cosy bar and live music venue just across the river, a short drive away from campus. Many upcoming singers, songwriters, rappers, comedians and musicians play at the venue that you can enjoy for a small cover charge. It’s the perfect way to let off steam in the evening and a great alternative to another night in Five Points, if you’re just not feeling up to those $5 fishbowls.

7) Thrift shopping

The Summer that I packed for my study abroad year was the summer that Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ was blasting on radio stations everywhere. After hearing all about the $1 bargains awaiting my beady eyes across the ocean, I arrived and was far from disappointed. There are 2-3 Goodwill stores in Columbia, as well as a number of ‘His House’ stores for those of you that are willing to undergo a more challenging- and rewarding- hunt for those vintage steals.Image

6) Go to the South Carolina State Fair

The South Carolina State Fair rocks up to the grounds outside Williams-Brice stadium for ten days every October. It hosts a feast of local delights, from fairground rides and stalls to zoo animals and deep-fried cookie dough. Just one month into your study abroad experience, it’s the ideal way to get your new group of friends together and do something different. ImageImage

5) Sorority bid day

Sorority bid day, colloquially known as ‘the running of the pigs’, is the ceremonious occasion whereby female students at USC find out if they’ve been accepted to their chosen sorority. As sorority life is mostly particular to the states, and larger than life itself in the South, the grandiose events of bid day are a must-see for exchange students freshly exposed to the phenomenon. Image

Image4) Visit a plantation

Coming to South Carolina without seeing an old slave plantation would be like going to Washington DC without seeing the Whitehouse. Plantation grounds are an enormous part of the state’s dark history of confederacy, slavery and civil war. I went to Drayton Hall and learned much about the mansion’s egregious past, as well as spotting some turtles, herons, crabs, frogs and eagles in the luscious grounds. ImageImage

3) Outdoor Rec

Outdoor Recreation, affectionately known around USC as ‘ORec’, provides USC students with the opportunity to rent camping and sports equipment and go on adventure trips with qualified and experienced trip leaders. It’s a great way to see your host country and it’s dirt-cheap. I went on a five-day Outdoor Rec trip over Fall Break and it cost me $100 (£58)- everything included. It’s thanks to ORec that I canoed down the Congaree river, learned how to rock-climb in Alabama, bouldered my way across South Carolina’s stunning rock faces, petted wild ponies in Virginia’s Grayson Highlands and tried my first helping of s’mores under the Georgia stars. 1236936_10153741684220113_1446741469_n10175018_10154024952715113_6196283812416330653_n

2) Visit Charleston

If you ever need a weekend away from campus, go to Charleston. A mix between Hellenic architecture, swing-seat Southern antiquity and golden sunshine, Charleston makes for the perfect sightseeing blend. It is packed full of museums and historic houses, battleground sights, quaint restaurants and cafes, luscious beaches, palm trees, horse-drawn carriages, ghost tours, market stalls, fresh seafood, a fantastic choice of shops and more vintage bikes than you’ve ever seen before. With so much to see and do, you’ll be planning your next trip out there before you’ve even left. 1277923_10151755043913897_425280298_o

1) Watch the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice stadium

American football. It occupies a huge space in the hearts of many Americans. But in the hearts of Southern Americans? That’s a different kind of love altogether. Watching the Gamecocks play at Williams-Brice, a stadium boasting a seating capacity of 80,250, blew my mind time and time again. The entire spectacle is a grandiose expression of American team spirit and South Carolinian pride, through cheerleading displays, brass band performances, crowd chants, video montages and firework displays after every touchdown. Whatever you make of American football, the extravagant nature of the entire event renders a visit to the Gamecock’s nest truly unmissable. 1267851_10153197620035113_1460927503_o


The top ten things I’ll miss about studying abroad at USC

5 May

As I slumped down onto my hotel bed at midnight on the 13th August last year, I felt overwhelmed, alone and terrified. The first sights I’d seen of America had been the anonymous insides of Washington Dulles airport and a couple of fast food outlets along the motorway.

That week, I wrote a blog post called, ‘My top ten culture shocks from moving to South Carolina.’ As I discovered America’s social, cultural and political treasures one by one, I narrowed down the ten most outlandish shocks I’d encountered during my first week in Columbia.

Now I have three days left at USC and I’m reflecting on what an incredible year it’s been. Some of the things I’ll miss the most about America are completely unexpected. Some of those initial shocks have come to seem ordinary, and even homely. Some of the things I love the most about America are exactly the things that I disliked at the beginning of my journey, and some of the things I’ll miss the most I knew I’d love from the start. So in the name of circularity, here’s my top ten things that I’ll miss the most about studying abroad at USC.
10) The weather

Unlike England, rain showers in Columbia last a matter of hours at most, rather than a matter of days- or even weeks. The summers are long and hot and the winters are short and mild, and we were even spoiled with four novelty days of snow this year- and four days off ‘school’ to match. I’m going to miss stepping outside of my dorm into the blazing sunshine rather than putting on every layer of clothing I own before climbing the treacherous hill that is Leeds’s Royal Park Road.

 9) Free stuff

Free t-shirts. Free beer cozies. Free water bottles. Free sunglasses. Free bags. Free copies of the New York Times. Free vouchers. Free tickets. Free food. USC, you sure know how to win the hearts of us students. Image

8) Prices

If I’m not already happy enough accumulating all the free stuff I didn’t know I needed, I’m saving even more money by enjoying the sterling to dollar exchange rate. Bottles of beer are a dollar (60p), Margaritas at Tios are $2 (£1.20) thrift shop purchases are a dollar, and I bought all the bedding, kitchenware and supplies I needed for the entire year at Wal Mart for $80 (£50). America has completely ruined my perception of value and I’m probably going to return to the UK and complain about how much cheaper everything is in dollars. (sorrynotsorry)

7) Strom

Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, affectionately known as ‘strom’ by USC students is our gym at university. Not only do I live a minute’s walk away from this beastly fitness complex, but it boasts an outdoor pool, a running track, a climbing wall, a sauna, sand volleyball courts- and it’s FREE. Image

6) Easy education

When I first arrived at USC I was perplexed by the fact that everyone called it ‘school’. Now that I’ve been here for a year, I’ve realised that the term is pretty appropriate. I have seminars in my tutor’s house with popcorn and soda. We pick our own essay topics and we have exams twice a semester to lighten the load. Exam questions are multiple choice and sometimes require only one word answers. Final exams are held during class time and teachers are often flexible and negotiable about dishing out our grades. Not to dumb down all the hard work I’ve put in while laying by the pool all year- but American university life has been a light, cool breeze.

 5) Travel opportunities

When I first discovered that I’d been accepted at USC I was slightly concerned that my destination wasn’t very…cosmopolitan. But it’s actually been an incredible base for travelling elsewhere. Namely, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New York, Washington DC and very soon I’ll be in Tennessee. Although weekend trips to the Lake District, Brighton and London won’t be quite as crazy, travelling around America so often has given me a new-found desire to explore my own country some more once I return home. Image

 4) Southern Hospitality

If it wasn’t for Southern Hospitality, I may not have recovered from culture shock so quickly. In sharp contrast to the mad, impersonal rush of big cities, Southerners are open, honest and welcoming. Passers-by say ‘Hey, how are you?’, shop staff frequently give discounts and people are always offering car rides. I’ll be sad to trade all of this in for British social stiffness.


3) American enthusiasm

Americans may be louder and more vocal than us Brits, but it’s for a good reason. I’ve never come across a nation of people who are, on the whole, so emphatic and enthusiastic. Some of their hyperbolic statements and cheesy phrases may get on my nerves sometimes, but when you’re in Alabama stuck halfway up a rock wall, having a team of Americans at the bottom screaming, “Girl you GOT it! Keep going! Don’t give up you’re doing super AWESOME!” is just what you need. Image2) Being an outsider

It may sound backwards, but being an outsider in a new community for a whole year is so much fun. I’ve been taking pictures of every little thing because it all seems so different and full of discovery, and there is ALWAYS something to do. The small things that seem insignificant to the majority of Americans here have been a huge deal to me- like screaming ‘GO COCKS!’ at the top of my voice at football games, playing cornhole, watching free movies in the student union cinema and choosing every single topping at Yoghut. Then there’s the big things which to me, have blown my mind- like taking a seat at Williams-Brice stadium and taking the elevator to the top floor of the Empire State Building.

 1) People

Meeting new people every day has enriched my life more than any other aspect of studying abroad. Chatting to someone is like going on a journey in itself, learning about where they’re from, what they believe and what their story is. Even my professors have been outstanding, mentoring me, looking out for me and helping me settle in way beyond their call of duty. Then there’s the people that I’ve met from the start, my rag-tag group of hilarious, ridiculous, carefree friends from all over the world. We’ve stuck together from the beginning and kept each other sane during the ups and downs of studying abroad. Not only have I got incredible friends from all over America, I’ve got a bunch of British friends who I’ll be seeing back home in England. It just so happens that if there was anything that I wished I could pack in my suitcase and bring back home with me- it would be them. As for the ones who’ll be staying in America- they’re the perfect excuse to come back to the states some time soon.


How women’s self-defense classes changed my life

17 Feb

Since moving to South Carolina I have had a feminist awakening. Taking a women’s history class and participating in a women’s rights seminar has opened my eyes to the realities of women’s issues and the importance of feminism in modern society. Living in the South has brought me face to face with real instances of sexism and discrimination, while the liberal and progressive atmosphere within USC has afforded me the opportunity to express my ideas and write about these experiences.

One thing I have learned a lot about is the dark reality of sexual assault and violence. On January 22nd 2014, President Obama signed a memorandum to establish the White House Task Force on Protecting Students from Sexual Assault, an effort to curb the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.  This came after a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls that stated the current sexual assault statistic for US college campuses is one in five.  The task force has 90 days to come up with ways for colleges and universities to establish procedures that will help decrease the bleak number of assaults currently occurring on campuses nationwide.

This semester, I am fortunate enough to have become involved in South Carolina’s longstanding effort to diminish this worrying statistic. Having enrolled for a Women’s Self Defense credit class over Christmas, I flew back to Columbia in January expecting an interesting and informative, but probably stereotypical self-defense experience.

Little did I know that spending 90 minutes in Blatt 308 every Thursday evening would change my life. Taking women’s self defense classes has been one of the most transformative experiences during my time spent studying abroad at USC. Image

Dr. Ed Carney and Professor Shannon Henry from SASS (Surviving Assault and Standing Strong) train thousands of women in Richland and Lexington counties, including policewomen, SLED and SWAT teams and State Troopers. They teach the women’s self-defense classes at USC, and are two of only three SASS Certified instructors in the entire USA. Thanks to their expertise and training in the area, the state of South Carolina now has the highest percentage of women prepared for attacks in the nation.

By the end of the semester I will be able to defend myself against abduction, sexual assault, rape, violence, stalking and harassment. I will be trained to defend against choking, grabbing, ground fighting, multiple assailants and weapons.

Given that I have shocking upper body strength, sloth-like reflexes and a tendency to freeze in alarming situations, I almost can’t believe it myself.

Not only have my self-defense classes been transforming my physical alertness, awareness and preparedness for an attack, but they have also changed the way I see myself within the world around me.

Growing up with an older brother, I used to bemoan the cautionary warnings I was given before going out that didn’t seem to apply to him. I used to hear, “If someone looks sketchy, call me,” or “Keep an eye on your handbag in busy areas,” and “Text me before I go to bed to let me know what time you’ll be coming home.”

Thankfully, I have never been in any of the frightening or dangerous situations my parents warned me about. But there have been many times that I’ve been walking home at night or out on a run when the streetlights started to flicker and the traffic got quieter. Worst-case scenarios would pop into my head along with the distressing admission that if I was to be attacked or abducted at that moment, I would have been completely defenseless.

Learning self-defense maneuvers that are tailored to the kinesiological structure of women has begun to eliminate this fear. From now on, when I’m walking alone at night I will recite counter-attack sequences in my mind and always seek out the nearest escape route.

Self-defense has given my feminist awakening a strong bite. My belief that women are equal to men has now been fortified with a toolkit to defend against the unfortunate fact that some men chose to use their physical strength against women.

Self-defense has not taught me to be afraid of the world or to go looking for trouble. Rather, it has armed me with a weapon of my own- should I ever need it- that makes the world around me a safer place.

What student life is like without social drinking

8 Nov

           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. 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.

A Brit’s-eye view of USC’s Halloween: A breath of fresh air

1 Nov

At the university of Leeds, fashion and individuality are held in high regard. From designer brands to vintage wear, faded denim to distressed tweed, metallic leggings to baggy jeans, tartan coats to leather jackets, beanie hats to snapbacks, flatforms to Doc Martens and band t-shirts to geek chic, nobody cares what you wear as long as it expresses character. The more you stand out, the better.

Having become accustomed to this sense of style for two years, coming to USC in August felt like I was drowning in a sea of sorority t-shirts and Ralph-Lauren polo players. Other than one Urban Outfitters shop valiantly shining a beacon of hope near the State House, the only clothes shops within walking distance of campus are Gamecock merchandise stores. Here you can expect to find sports wear, sports wear, and more sports wear in two colours only: garnet and black. This seems to me like the antithesis of Leeds. In Leeds I’ll be digging to the bottom of dusty cardboard boxes in vintage shops to find a unique bargain. In USC, students pick out the first item of clothing they see that screams, ‘I love the Gamecocks too!’ Fashion back home is an attempt to show individuality, where clothing in Columbia is an expression of group solidarity.

But walking around campus on the 31st October is a breath of fresh air. I was leaving the library yesterday afternoon and saw a guy dressed in a full banana suit. I immediately assumed he’d been put up to it by his friends in some sort of Halloween dare. I made my way to Russell House for lunch and saw that he’d met up with his friend who was dressed as a gorilla (top points for coordinated costumes, guys.) At that moment I realized that people actually dress up in the day for Halloween here, too. It’s not only the cashiers at your local Tesco Express that wear devil-horns and witches hats- but everyone makes an unrestricted effort to go all-out.
What felt like a novelty to me was standard protocol for everyone else. As I began documenting this phenomenon for my blog, I decided to ask a couple of questions,
‘So would you say you like Halloween more than Christmas then?’
‘Absolutely,’ came the swift, unhesitant reply. Every single person I asked yesterday said that they preferred Halloween to Christmas.
‘Are you literally just dressing up for Halloween, or is there an event going on somewhere?’ I asked, half astonished, half fascinated.
‘No, just for Halloween. It’s a great excuse to wear what I want, and look however I want. That’s why I love it so much.’

 My heart leapt. Finally, I thought. Finally I’ve found Americans who aren’t afraid to challenge the mind numbing sorority t-shirt fad. But my smile turned into a pensive stare as I realized that people at USC shouldn’t have to wait until Halloween comes around to be able to wear what they want and express themselves. Halloween at USC was a breath of fresh air because despite the fact that everyone was dressed as zombies and ghouls and vampires, campus actually felt more like Leeds than it had done in the last three months put together.

So you must be kidding if you think I’d choose an average day at USC over expressive, creative, happy Halloween- even if it meant being surrounded by ghosts and vampires. Here are my Halloween heroes: may their bravery and confidence outshine the string of pearls perching on sorority girls’ necks every other day of the year.

Woody/purple grape hybrid, just go with it

I found Woody’s girlfriend!

A+ for effort, F for colour choice and general Clemson sentiment

A reason to smile in Cool Beans (if their food isn’t enough)

How swarve indeed sir

Winning at life #anddeath

Sinister and sassy

Super casual

The best smile this side of the Atlantic

Nailed it

Girl you got them smeyes down, Tyra would be proud

Don’t come between a man and his food

…and finally, an autumnal shot from President Pastides’ front door.

A Brits-eye View of USC’s Homecoming Showcase

30 Oct

If ever I needed a reminder that I’m studying abroad in the deep South, last night it hit me loud and clear. Sitting in USC’s enormous old basketball stadium, the Carolina Coliseum, I watched the evening’s entertainment unfold. This week is Homecoming Week: a string of events hosted to foster a sense of school spirit and community on campus. The Homecoming theme this year is ‘The United States of Carolina’, a patriotic nod to the USA and Carolina. So all the acts took to the stage at the Homecoming Showcase with more national pride and Appalachian effervescence than ever.

The Showcase hosts the annual crowning of Homecoming King and Queen. Five male and female nominees must perform one talent, strut the stage in their formal wear and answer a question drawn from a hat. As one female contestant told the compere why her Mom is her biggest inspiration in life in a thick Southern accent, a renewed awareness of my surroundings washed over me. It occurred to me afterwards that there really isn’t anything remotely similar to this in British university life.

All of the acts in the talent round varied greatly. From singing and dancing to a satirical interpretation of synchronized swimming, the acts showed how much effort and devotion the nominees had poured into their dream of becoming the Homecoming monarchs of 2013.

I’m not completely sure what gaining the title of Homecoming King and Queen entails. I understand that the winners are students in their final years, who have contributed significantly- usually extraordinarily- to their colleges and communities. I know that the winners get to ride on the Homecoming Parade float and that they will receive BNOC status around the university. For all of my American readers, ‘BNOC’ is a term that Brits affectionately bestow upon ‘famous’ students- hence ‘Big Name On Campus’, pronounced phonetically as ‘Bee-Knock’.

As a temporary Gamecock with a Brits-eye view upon the unique flavour of Carolinian life, you might expect me to come out at slam the nature of the Homecoming Showcase because it’s so far from what I’m used to at home. Once candidates have survived the application process, it is effectively a pageant that judges nominees on their ability to entertain, look handsome and beautiful, and answer a cliché question on the spot. This doesn’t exactly resonate with stereotypical ‘British’ morals: a straight-talking, no-nonsense, stiff upper-lip with no time for gaining credentials based on a brief examination of outward appearances and loaded statements.

But I think that the American tradition of Homecoming King and Queen just needs a makeover, that’s all. Some of the candidates were aspiring doctors and pastors. Some of them had worked with sex-trafficking victims in South America and have internships alongside their degrees that may as well constitute a full-time job. I believe that highlighting the wealth of incredible achievements of our Homecoming candidates can only be a positive thing, and putting these students in the spotlight could potentially be a way to encourage other students to get involved with the world outside the student bubble.

But the format of the Homecoming Showcase doesn’t flatter these illuminating individuals enough. Over 30,000 students attend USC’s Columbia campus. Despite this, the arena was only 1/3 full and the audience was carved up into huge sections of various supporters cheering on their friend, sorority sister and classmate- but not many people had come to watch and cast an objective vote. The format of the showcase is, unfortunately, a popularity contest that focuses too much on empty admiration and breezes past the incredible accomplishments of its candidates.

I’m sure this year’s winners are fully deserving of their crowns. But I think that it would have been a closer, more earnest competition had the format of the showcase allowed candidates more time to focus on their fantastic talents and achievements that cannot be contained to a three-minute time-slot on stage. As long as the Homecoming Showcase continues to reward candidates for stage performances and catwalk struts, it will remain a competition that prides visual entertainment, popularity and style over intellect, charisma and sophistication.

← Older Entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,634 other followers

%d bloggers like this: