College Abroad: Is It Really That Different?
So I made it through my first round of university exams, my first solo transatlantic flight, and my first time answering everyone’s questions about my college life in Scotland. And during the past month that I’ve been off from school, I’ve met up with relatives and gone to all of my favorite restaurants. I’ve visited my old elementary, middle, and high schools and said hi to all of my favorite teachers.
I’ve also made it on to a few other campuses. Some of my friends returned to their colleges soon after the New Year. They graciously let me crash on their floors during a quick jaunt to New England.
Since I’ve begun college abroad, many people have asked me what the big differences are between American and British universities. Since I have never attended an American college, I’m usually at a loss to answer this question. But now that I’ve spent some time at the cream of the crop of American liberal arts institutions, I feel a little better equipped.
Disclaimer, though: I spent no time in actual classes. Instead, I got informal tours of campus, dinners in the dining hall, nights in dorm rooms, and free entrance to house parties.
American College Life vs. College Abroad
My college life is very different than the American college life. While the University of St. Andrews is beautiful and historic, it lacks the extensive expansion plans and million-dollar donations so common at American schools. Where the schools I visited had stunning libraries and state-of-the-art student centers, St. Andrews only has enough housing for freshers and a library too small for the student population.
My friends eat most of their meals in university dining halls; I share a kitchen with my four flatmates, all of whom are not on the university meal plan like me. My friends deal with communal bathrooms and roommates’ visiting boyfriends, but I enjoy my own room, bathroom, and double bed.
However, each of my friends is lucky to have a close community of students intrinsic to their address. They are close with their RAs and fellow hall-mates. They eat their meals together, grab coffee, and create lists of movies to watch together. I know the four girls in my flat and few else in my building complex. My American friends count their dozen-plus living companions among their closest friends at college.
And while my friends use fakes or older students to procure cheap beer and hard liquor, I use my passport to order cosmopolitans at the bar. St. Andrews certainly has its fair share of house parties, but the university has no Greek system and relies more on local pubs and restaurants to keep students occupied at night. At American schools, frat row and off-campus housing fill this role.
Obviously, I missed the most important element of comparison: how American schools differ academically from college abroad. But I had a great time seeing my friends’ new college lives and spending at least a few days masquerading as an American college student.