In the final year of Sixth Form there were three main questions that dominated every common room mid-morning break.
Oxford or Cambridge?
LSE or UCL?
Leeds or Bristol?
LSE and UCL? Too London for a Londoner. Oxford and Cambridge? Far too intimidating. Leeds and Bristol? Too mainstream, too druggy. Durham? God just the weather put half of us off.
These university anxieties that grappled so many of us, dominated conversations between A- Level mocks, 18th Birthday parties and coffee dates. All of us wanted to know one thing- where would we end up?
A gap year and a sports scholarship later, I'm here at school at Duke University, North Carolina and cannot say I expected to end up here. After a year here, I've learnt the ropes of an American university experience, yet there are a number of differences that I wish I had been informed off before I arrived.
Forget social drinking, student unions and smoky gardens filled with kids wearing Fila, it's all about the pregame now. So before you incoming brits board your American Airlines, get ready to load up on some patriotic school apparel, learn some 2000s Greenday lyrics and take some real advice on how to get through your freshman year.
1 The Hierarchy
At home, you live in halls, you have a handful of close friends you can grab a pint with every Thursday and have an additional few people you get hammered with every couple of weeks. However, In America, Greek life dominates everything. Greek life you may ask, as I did the first week? What's Greek life?
Greek life ( sororities and fraternities to us Brits), controls the university, even taking priority over classes to an extent. What sorority or fraternity you're in, who's friends with who, and which date function to attend next week, reigns supreme over how your chem midterm went. D-sig, Pi-Phi, Delta Delta Delta- better learn the names fast before rush starts (note: research rushing- you'll need it).
2 The pregame
Oh for the days of a leisurely Corona or a cheap bottle of white whine from the corner shop. All that matters about the night is the pre-game. Beer pong is not a joke out here but an Olympic sport with rules, methods and consequences. American anthems fill the room, bottles of Aristocrat vodka, "crat" as the locals fondly call iit, are chugged straight from the bottle and everyone is wearing some form of fancy dress. Forget Vicars and Tars and get ready for some Candyland or Mardi Gras.
3) Athletes and Backpacks
Unless you're at Loughbough, the truth is no one cares what sport you play. As an international track athlete, I had a slight issue with this, wanting more credit for my 25 hours a week training then a couple of sporadic Instagram likes on my core routine.
However, in America, sports may even top Greek life. Kitted head to toe in the Nike apparel we are given throughout the year, strapped with kinesiology tape and ice packs and blue backpacks, people are sure to know we work out. With riveting conversations about the training room, the torturous ice baths and the new protein shakes in our weight lifting room, sport is more than just a pastime here. People camp out for six weeks to watch our men's basketball team, people buy men's soccer t-shirts to wear around campus and Instagram is filled with our PRs and results. Oh, we also call you all NARPS ( a non-athletic regular person) behind your back..
4) Linguistically Variations
Expect constant scrutiny. Fit does not mean attractive it means athletic. No one knows what peng means or who Stormzy is and never ever try explaining what "wavey garms" are because you're wasting your time. Words to integrate into your vocabulary include: hot, ratchet, make out and hook up ( warning: obscure term with undefinable terms).
5) Social Media
a) Get on groupme fast. I had never heard of the app before I got to America but it becomes the main form of group conversation. From discussing nights out to organising a track meet, it's the new Facebook group chat.
b) Instagram is an actual thing here where people actually like photos and comments. Expect a number of photos in front of American flags and captions with questionable attempts at puns.
c) Your "class of 2021" Facebook group intended to inform you on groups on campus, will also become a source of lost ID cards, lost wallets and lost dignity.
6) Major, Minor, Certificate- what happened to PPE?
The best thing about American University is the education system. In England you have one path and no alternatives. Human sciences was the broadest option I was offered but I still felt immensely confined. In the last semester, I have taken a number of different classes from evolutionary anthropology to international comparative studies to intermediate yoga. From experimenting, I have not only have met a vast number of fascinating people but have decided on my own that I will be double majoring in History and Political Science. However, this does not limit me in anyway and will still be continuing to study languages and random courses until the day I Graduate; I've got my eye on architectural castle building for my junior year.
7) Food Glorious Food:
We don't do food halls out here. No one knows what super-noodles are, special k bars or fish finger sandwiches. Late night Kebabs; a thing of the past.
Breakfast begins with either granola, fresh fruit and yoghurt or an omelette made to order. Lunch is normally a poke bowl or a mix of salads from the Vegan outlet and there are enough independent coffee stores on campus to ensure you're always on a high. However, be warned: pies, cakes and fried food are not foregone, although those who gained the freshman fifteen, myself included, wish they were.
8) The truth
American University is an incredible place. Greek life or no Greek life, friendships are intimidating but also wide reaching and I promise you will never have a day without meeting at least a handful of people you know. The parties and darties ( day parties) are unbelievably fun but so are the enormous amount of extra-curricular activities from taking your professor our for lunch with the university footing the bill to destressing with puppies in the gardens. The vast choice of classes and paths to a degree make education a truly pleasurable experience- I mean, who knew one could get a half credit in Yoga?
The life I have here is one I never want to give up and one that if given the opportunity, I wish every person could experience. America may be a huge cultural shock but it's been the best shock of my adolescent life.