America and their universities (colleges) are exactly like they are in the films. Here at Penn State, the campus is huge and sprinkled with gardens, lavish building and even it’s own renowned ice cream parlour. The town of State Collage is the university and there’s not much else except a row of shops that all sell Penn State merchandise. The people here are very welcoming but as you’d expect are loud, brash and don’t understand high levels of sarcasm. All of the food here is bigger, there’s many more people on campus and the election coverage makes Frank Underwood’s campaign look understated.
Traveling to American takes a bit longer than your average trip to uni but 7/8 hours on a plane is nothing to Americans so you can’t complain. What a lot of people find difficult however is the packing. Not only do you have to pack all your essential items you need to live and the comforts you also need to remind you that there are people back in England that exist, you need to pack clothes for multiple seasons. In the space of two weeks in Pennsylvania, it has turned from being so hot that you’d need two showers a day to the equivalent of a brisk English day. (And it’s going to get colder) I’m here for about 5 months and it would be even harder to pack for a whole year.
Once here i moved into halls for a grand total of four days! This was the first time i’d experienced having a roommate and as pleasant as it was for four days I can see how problems would arise. One of the worst parts of my time here was moving out of the halls into the Best Western hotel. From here I had to coordinate the terribly infrequent bus times so i could get to class or any events on campus.
All international students take part in the student orientation a week before class starts. you’re put into groups and do mandatory document check ins and spend time getting to know your team. Unfortunately my team were not the best and from this introductory experience made no lasting friends. However, my I was extremely unlucky and i can vouch that most people easily met others that they clicked with.
In the first week there’s small events to meet other foreign student and the conglomerate of churches hold a number of really nice, well organised events that you don’t have to be a member of the church to attend. They also do trips later in the term to Niagara Falls and to an Amish village.
I’ve had the pleasure of making friends with some genuinely lovely people here and it’s always interesting to talk about differences between home and the US. One of the biggest and probably strangest differences that i noticed straight away and was something these Americans i met were aware of was to do with the people themselves. Frats and sororities here are like nothing back home and the buildings they live in (well the frats anyway as sororities are not allowed their own house in Pennsylvania as it’s considered a brothel. Not making that up!) are incredible! However, the people they attract are of a specific type and people genuinely try to fit in the the stereotype that they expected to. After coming from what i believe is a place where diversity is celebrated this is something particularly odd and something a lot of people steer very clear of.
One of the best things here are the societies! Penn State is a rich university. This is shown in the groundskeeping, in the buildings and defiantly in the societies. The are nearly a thousand to choose from, as you can imagine all the sports clubs and the then every other type of club you can imagine. From their version of the bun fight I signed up to as much as possible but have ended up sticking to the boxing club and the alternative music society. This music society is where i met my friends. The people there are different from the average people you meet here and they keep you inundated with new music to listen to and events to go to. With this society i’ve gone to house gigs where a band and a crowd will fit into someones tiny front room and the craziness will only be exemplified by the Americans inability to hold their alcohol.
One of the biggest and most notable changes to university is the homework. At home we might get one, two, maybe three course works every semester. Here there are constant homework for every module. And if there’s not a homework, there might be an in class quiz or some clicker questions. A clicker is this little remote they make you buy so that you can answer multiple choice questions in lecture. Mid-term exams are much more real as well. I think all modules have mid-term exams and in the case of some, they have two or three midterms spread evenly throughout the semester. Another strange thing is the grading. In England, we aim for 70% or higher to get the best grade. Here, to get a A, you need 90%. This sound staggering! However, the things are marked extremely nicely and a wrong answer might get you most of the marks.
That’s just some of my experiences and observations in my first month here at Penn State.