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American Experience: First Impressions of my Exchange in the US

Reading time: 5 minutes
Many say that films do not reflect reality, but I dare to say that when we’re talking about the American college experience, the glamour, alcohol and drama are not far from the truth. In the end, isn’t it America, the land of endless possibilities?
picture of a library building

I decided to challenge myself again, to go “more abroad” than before – I originally come from Romania, but I chose to start my bachelor’s degree in journalism in the United Kingdom; when I found out that my university in London had a partnership with the University of Missouri, which is the best university in my field and at the same time the oldest journalism school in the world, the only thing keeping me away were the months before my departure.


I may not have been here for more than six weeks, but I have already noticed some differences.  Here are six thoughts and pieces of advice for those who seek to live the American dream.


Trump is good, America is great, never discuss politics


Rule of thumb – people will let you do your thing for the first time because they know you’re an international student and you’re curious. But you know, curiosity did kill the cat. Once is enough. Trump is not bad. Of course, the situation could be better - we have entered into the #MeToo, #TimesUp era where protesting and advocacy have taken the lead, but essentially, American students do not care. Or do not want to get involved in politics. They are just fine living in their bubble. In classes, everything is about America – if Europe is mentioned, it is probably about a trip to one of the famous capitals – London, Paris, Rome.

women laughing
credit: Priscilla Du Preez

People are so friendly that you actually start wondering whether they want something from you


You know that saying, “it’s too good to be true”? This is what I have felt since the first day I arrived in Columbia. It took me almost a week to find my way around the campus and every time I looked confused trying to decipher the street names on a map, someone approached me and helped me. Yes, people do actually stop by and take the time to talk to you, smile and wish you a good day. You might think it is common sense, but this doesn’t happen often in Europe (or at least not in the parts of Europe I’ve been to). Not to mention that in my first class, some Americans got so excited that I was an international student that they fought (not literally though!) to be in the same group with me. Okay, that was too much.


Make friends with cars


While this may sound too much like “Friends With Benefits”, Americans take it seriously and this was the first piece of advice I got since I arrived here. While public transportation is vital, accessible and quite affordable in Europe, most Americans don’t rely on it and have their own car. Of course, this doesn’t apply to big cities or metropoles, but in a city like Columbia, not having a car can be tough, especially when the nearest Walmart is miles away. They don’t even bother to calculate the distance in miles or kilometres – a trip to New Orleans? 12 h drive. This is also because flights tend to be expensive. Now I really miss Ryanair deals and ESNcard discounts.

woman on car
credit: Averie Woodard

The weather – stick around because it’ll change


Or at least this is what the Missourians say. I thought that after London, nothing could surprise me anymore. Can someone tell me how it is possible to have a difference of more than 20 degrees within a day? The worst part is that I can’t even complain about it because they only use Fahrenheit, which makes it even scarier if there are negative temperatures. Layered clothing. Layered clothing is the key – the more, the merrier.


Do you like sweets? Perfect, because you’ll find even water sweet


Americans are famous for their unhealthy lifestyle, but now seriously - who adds salsa sauce to scrambled eggs? Or pasta on bread? Even the salad can be compared to a kebab without lettuce. No wonder they say freshmen gain up to 15 pounds extra weight by the end of their first year. And nope, students who live in the halls don’t cook – they have meal plans included in their accommodation price. Short-term might be convenient, yet you’d better plan how much you’re willing to pay for a gym membership.

a donut
credit: Thomas Kelley

Small cities can be as fun as big cities


I have to admit, I am a big city girl. I like the rush, the vibes, and the energy that a big city life offers. Don’t be discouraged if your dream university is in a small city. In the end, this is where “the real” Americans are. Plus, everything is about the university – it’s like a brand for the entire city. No matter if you’re a student, proud alumnus or simply a citizen in Columbia. Everyone is wearing merchandising products with the University of Missouri or Truman, the tiger – the Mizzou mascot. When you log into your student account, you don’t need a student ID; you need to insert your tiger paw. There is even a free taxi that works during the night to bring the students back safely to the campus – it’s called “Stripes”. The street where I’m living – Tiger Avenue. You get the point.


The article simply represents the author’s perspective and as such, it is not meant to represent the ESNblog as a whole.