I am currently a 20 year old student, born and raised in Essex and residing in Upstate New York, where I am 2 years through a 4 year degree in Communications. While some of my family and friends were surprised by this huge move, I was excited by the challenge of living in a different country and tasting independence for the first time.
Some may be quick to comment on the lack of culture shock that must exist by moving from one western, capitalistic society to the next; compared to what the millions of immigrants that land in the west must experience after leaving or fleeing their homes in the Middle East / Africa etc. However, don’t be surprised to find that many social tendencies evident in Essex do not translate across the pond.
The first encounter I had with cultural differences in the US, unsurprisingly, was the way in which we greet people when meeting them. I was introduced to this one girl, and not thinking any differently, I said ‘you alright?’ in typical Essex boy fashion. Amused, she at first seemed shocked that someone she’d only just met had a concern with her wellbeing, before going on to attempt to answer my question. Since this encounter, forward I’ve tried my hardest to stick to generic greeting like ‘Hey’ or ‘Hi’ when in the US, although every once in a while I’ll let a ‘you alright’ slip and hope for the best.
“Loosely defined, culture is ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’ and with moving from one location to another, comes the added struggle of the shift in culture”.
Alongside the differences in greeting people, one of the more deeply embedded cultural differences between our two countries is the difference in humour. Being part of a 25-man swim team, where locker room talk/banter is prevalent, this was one of the tougher cultural shocks that I experienced early on in my adventure.
Although the explosion of social media has definitely helped bridge this social gap, as both populations are exposed to the same viral posts and videos that come with having a social media account, there are still evident dissimilarities between us. For instance, don’t be surprised if the witty, sarcastic humour us Brits live for isn’t well received across the pond. It’s hard to pick out a definitive example of this, but let’s just say I’ve been on the wrong end of a couple awkward silences over the years.
College vs University
Like many people my age, I became aware of the differences between college and university through watching countless US TV shows, such as How I met Your Mother and Friends. The way in which the education system runs in the US compared to at home in the UK is very different, with many fundamental differences in testing, teaching style and so on. However, in my experience I have found many of these differences to be easier than when I was studying in the UK. The first thing to mention is that they hold final exams at the end of every term, not school year. Although this may mean more tests overall, it also means you have less material to study. One other difference is that our class schedule changes twice a year, meaning that I get to take on a lot of different classes which I find exciting. There is no external testing/grading at university in America, as opposed to GCSE/A-Level exams, meaning your teachers are writing and marking them internally, allowing for more leniencies with your final grade.
"While some of my family and friends were surprised by this huge move, I was excited by the challenge of living in a different country and tasting independence for the first time"
Advice I would give myself
If I were to go back and give 18 year-old me some advice before starting school in America, there are many things I’d say. Firstly I’d remind him of the drinking age in order to avoid any potential drama with campus safety, but ultimately, I’d tell myself not to cling on too hard to the person I was. I would tell him to allow his personality to grow and evolve, to open his mind to new ideas and beliefs and to not be afraid to explore new things.
In a few months I will be returning to America to start my third year. While a lot has changed, and I have grown a lot as a person, some things will never change, and I know I’ll always have my friends and family to remind me of that. To anyone reading this blog, just remember that when a wave is heading your way, don’t plant your feet. Hop on and ride it to wherever it takes you.