I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.
As of today I have been living in the United States for one week. I have had many well wishers giving me luck and kind words, I have had people tell me that I am about to embark on a great journey and how jealous they are of me, I have also had people telling me what a great opportunity this whole hopping across the pond to study will be. But is it really all that it’s made out to be in the conglomeration of teen movies that are pumped out of hollywood studios every week, or it is all superficial?
Ever since I first read the Roald Dahl classic ‘James & the Giant Peach’ I have always wanted to visit New York. Who wouldn’t want to swap the dreary mornings of a small town in Devon to the huge skyscrapers and bustling city life of Manhattan? It is the city that never sleeps, The Big Apple or as Alicia Keys described it a “concrete jungle where dreams are made.” The roaring twenties was a prosperous time for America and New York was the hub of it all – as the population increased so did the variety of people, cultures from all over the world came to Ellis Island with the same American dream – JFK Airport is now the modern port and is host to thousands of entrants to Manhattan just as Ellis island was over a century ago; but the dream remains the same.
Many people think that the United States is a similar culture to the United Kingdom, I can tell you however that although aesthetically it looks the same, when you actually take in all your surroundings you get a completely different feeling. The first major thing that you notice is the heat and then as soon as you get off the plane you are greeted by a queue, but not the kind of organised queue that you get in Britain, a swerving traffic of people merging into one another until the end where you have to make a dash for the shortest line. Absolute Chaos.
‘Cab Culture’ in New York is completely different to what I have been used to in Cardiff, you just give Dragon Cabs a call and they come get you as easy as that. In Manhattan if you want a cab, you have to practically launch yourself in front of one to get their attention, they just drive and drive and if you jaywalk they will not stop, they will hit you harder than a pint of vodka in the morning. As a non driver obviously I have a limited opinion on the road system in America, but what I can tell you is that I believe that driving on the right hand side of the road and having one way system in cities works much better than the shambles that is the rush hour of Central London. After talking to American students they told me that their way of driving is obviously better and more practical than the British System and it pains me to actually agree with them.
The main concept of Americans are how outgoing, forward and patriotic they are, I could not agree more with any of these notions of American culture. During one of my first classes of the semester my Journalism professor answered his phone as it interrupted him from talking about our college newspaper, the one sided conversation that the class heard is as follows “Hit me – You found my box?! – God Bless America” and then he hangs up and brushes the whole situation off with a small grin and then carries on, to my amazement, exactly where he left off. I have never in my life ended a phone call with the phrase “God save the Queen” so why do Americans feel the need to bless their own country every day? I think a sense of patriotism lies in the flag business – Annin is a flag company that has been running in the United states for well over 150 years and is still a very profitable company. America is built around their flag, they are grown up looking at it, it is hung above or in nearly every home, celebrities and sport stars drape themselves in the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ – the flag represents freedom and liberty which is what America is built upon and they love it. If a man walked through a street in England draped in full Union Jack attire he would be labelled as the village idiot or the town drunk and shunned. (Apart from during the Royal Wedding, the Diamond Jubilee and The 2012 Olympics where I guess some kind of Parliamentary act gave everyone permission to go crazy with flags and inevitably drape the whole British Isles in a sea of the British Red, White and Blue) But other than our recent moment of madness us Brits are nowhere near as devoted to our nation as the Americans are.
University or ‘college’ life in this part of the world is completely different to the experience I had living in my halls of residence in the United Kingdom. When I was living in Wales I felt that I had a certain level of responsibility, self reliability and most importantly a huge sense of independence, having said that, in America I feel that they have not developed enough in their educational system to be able to make the transition between ‘high school’ and ‘college’ as important as it was back in the UK. In Wales, the move in process and actually getting a room had it’s difficulties but in the end was a very easy process, I rang up after I got my results and within two days I had been assigned a room and I could search very easily online who I would be living with so that I could prepare myself for the upcoming year. The process for American University was completely the opposite, it was a prolonged & tedious operation which left me tearing my hair out for the most part. I don’t know what the main contributing factor to this stress was whether it had been my fault, the colleges fault or just for the simple fact that I was a foreigner attempting to get my education in the United States, but it took months.
I don’t want to put the blame on the college but I really think the whole country needs to have a major updates in big portions of American society. American students aren’t given the chance to be independent like British students, they aren’t trusted to live like they would in ‘real life’ situations for example, after having a year of freedom to do whatever I wanted in Britain living on campus or “dorming” as they call it over here is comparable to prison in some strange way. I enjoyed having the freedom of cooking my own food and being able to eat whenever I liked, you can’t do that on campus, you are given set meals at set times throughout the week which sounds like prison right? You have to either share your room with a group of people or pay through the nose to share with one other person or even more to live alone, the latter being the normal situation in every British Uni without the higher cost. Most universities in Britain now offer rooms that come with amenities including a toilet and a shower unit – almost all coming with a built in sink if they have none of the others. After having the luxury of my own private bathroom which had a power shower, sink and toilet, I now have to share a ‘locker room’ with 25 other guys. The locker room consists of 4 showers units, sinks and toilet cubicles. I guess you can see where this is going. I wouldn’t want to put any one off the idea of coming to university in the United States, I just suggest that you really look at the college and what they have to offer before you put yourself forward for such a massive commitment. That’s where I went wrong.
Finally I would also like to rant about another part of American society that I feel is falling behind, that is culture and fashion with the majority of male students. As a disclaimer this is just my opinion and I am living in the land of the free now so I can say whatever I like (insert witty pun about the war of independence here). I know that I am no fashion icon, if anything I follow the whatever was trendy a week ago and go and buy it then just to follow the crowd but in the states they love to mix and match literally anything. On my first day I saw at least five guys wears Nike sandals with Nike Socks. Tragic isn’t it?Sportswear is an integral part of American life and I can appreciate that you like to show support for the Dolphins, Broncos, Canaries or whatever animal it is you like to wear, but sporting a full replica kit to University makes you look like a fool, especially if you top if off with a lovely cap emblazoned with your animal of choice. But the biggest male fashion faux pas in my opinion is the ‘baggy pants’ look. I know that you may think it’s comfortable to walk around dragging you arms by your side and I know you Love to show off those brand new boxers to the world but I don’t see the point? I’m not saying go buy Ralph Lauren clothing but just look at yourself in the mirror and if you see an image that closely resembles the devolution of man then you may need a reality check.
So although Americans may come across as arrogant, senseless and slower than the rest of the world they have built a great country and I know I am very lucky to be able to have to opportunity to live here. 10 months down the line you can expect another blog about my time in the States and how it has effected me whether that be for the better or worse.
My prediction is that I won’t want to live here any more but I would love to come and visit annually. (as long as they sort out the damn fashion sense and get rid of the swag culture)
Swag is a stupid word anyway.