An Englishwoman in Montana: studying at an American university

 

Having always felt the call of the USA, I jumped at the chance to go and study there for part of my university course. Descending upon Montana State University in the small town of Bozeman in Montana I have observed a few differences to university life in the UK.

American culture (USA USA USA!)

Do not be surprised if at any event you attend you hear the chant “USA USA USA!” The Americans love their nation and are proud of showing it. A common weekend activity is to go to American Football games.

Whilst for me personally the game may feel a little slow, the whole experience is electric, with the whole town turning out to watch games. There are cheerleaders to entertain you, a dance squad, a marching band, a man shooting t-shirts into the crowd and at the homecoming game there was even a plane flyover! The Americans really throw themselves into audience participation, starting with their national anthem, to the chant of “GO CATS GO” complete with actions (for the Montana State University team The Bobcats).

Other events include Homecoming, where university alumni return for the weekend. It is a strange ritual: I returned to my dorm perplexed to find it decorated as the jungle as part of the Homecoming celebrations. There was also a parade in the centre of town with floats carrying different groups and the Homecoming King and Queen.

Additionally, if you live in the American countryside, do not be surprised to hear your friends casually talking about going shooting at the weekends.

So much food

If you live in American halls, gone are the days of living off of a diet of Pot Noodles because you've realised you have only £4.23 to last the next two weeks.

American catered halls provide a heavenly amount of food. My meal plan includes unlimited meals and soft drinks, coffee, tea, milk shakes, ice cream, fruit, cake and gummy bears from 7am to 10pm. Despite the fact that it may not be so good for the  waistline the access to adequate nutrition can only benefit the students.

The older students who live off-campus continue to complain of their ramen noodle diet.

Parties! Wait, I’m underage...

The main difference between going out in the UK and going out the USA is the 21-year alcohol age limit. This means new freshmen will not be able to drink alcohol or go out to most of the clubs.

Do not be disheartened; this inability to go out clubbing does not stop Americans from having a good time. Of the more wholesome evenings I have been to, the popular pastime is to go swing dancing. This is pretty much what one would imagine to happen in stereotypical America. Everybody goes to the barn, in which country songs play and cowboys ask you to dance.

Naturally, if the barn becomes overcrowded, the next suitable place to dance will be the car park, with music playing from a gigantic truck. The wilder side of things occurs at the house parties, which are far more eventful than the parties you see in films, in which people do nothing wilder than slowly bob around with red cups.

The red cups are still present, at least.

The best part is when a change of venue occurs. To move to the next house party everybody will get into pickup trucks with their fellow partygoers and drive to another house. Said house will be easy to spot due to the people dancing on the roof.

Lots of studying

If you go to America, expect to work. As a British student, the content may seem easier to you, but the load is so much more! I do not deny that we work hard for our degree - in the UK I work exceedingly hard for short periods of time, particularly before an essay is due.

However here you must be on continually on top of your workload. There is a constant stream of homework, reading, projects and exams.

The worst thing part is the ’pop quiz’. This horrific invention allows a professor to give you a surprise test in class, at any moment, forcing you to pay attention all the time, so no cheeky naps in class.

They do have an astonishing range of classes to choose from. I look with great envy to my fellow students who study subjects ranging from astronomy to bowling to skiing.

Facilities: they have everything!

An American university provides a more complete way of life. The campus here has almost everything you need. It has a cinema, a free gym which includes a swimming pool, gym equipment, tennis courts, and a climbing wall.

There is also a theatre, a football stadium, a bowling alley and a wide range of fast food places including a sweetshop, should the unlimited food plan not be enough food for you.

Cars

In America you will want a car. While the town of Bozeman has a wonderful free bus service, (that's right: free for everyone in town to use) the distances between shops, buildings and towns are so great that having a car is almost necessary.

I often hear my fellow students remark that they 'only' drove for 13 hours to get to university. These kinds of journeys are not unusual for Americans because the distances between states are so large. If you hope to travel from city to city in the USA you will need a car, because the train network is not as good as the one in the UK. Still, you can always fly to cities which are further away.

If you wish to be more environmentally friendly you can acquire a bike, which is a good way of getting around, although you won't be able to leave town unless you desire to cycle for weeks on end.

University in the USA is a brilliant experience I would recommend to anyone. The difference in the American culture in comparison to that of the UK is enormous, despite both countries sharing the same language. It is such a learning curve and you will have an 'awesome' time.

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