This was going to be 'High School Musical 5', and I would be the new, shiny character from the United Kingdom.
Having already spent two years at the
University of Birmingham, I felt prepared for college life. Located in the
second largest city in the UK, the University of Birmingham is home to more
than 25,000 students, and it has become my home. To be uprooted from a place
where I had built a community and a stronger sense of self was nerve-wracking.
I kept this slight fear suppressed for a
while, but after some reassuring words from friends and family, I was excited
about where this new study abroad journey would take me.
As I stepped off the plane at LAX, words from
a wise woman rang in my ears. The optimism of Miley Cyrus’ ‘Party in the USA’
was apparent in that moment for me. Exiting the plane and heading to meet the
Pitzer College representatives turned all my anxiety into full blown excitement
— I was in the USA!
People told me before I came to the USA, people would be intrigued by me as a black woman with a British accent. The
vain side of me was delighted, because it meant that I would be interesting by
default. I expected mesmerized looks when I asked for directions from airport
staff, but I soon realized that my British accent elicited no reaction from
people who heard different accents every day.
After that humbling realisation, I held on to
the hope that once I got to Pitzer, my accent would be met with the intrigue
that I was promised. After a few weeks at the Claremont Colleges, I came to
accept that being black and British did not faze students at all – I was simply
one of them.
After accepting that my accent would not boost
my grades or make me friends, I embarked on a journey that deconstructed most
of my misconceptions about America. First, I learned Americans like to keep
conversations short and sweet. Aside from a few interactions with Uber drivers,
I soon came to realise that Americans don’t do small talk — they do teeny-weeny
Coming from the land of small talk, this was
surprising to me. Americans are often portrayed as being very preppy with a
whole lot to say. For Americans, a sweet smile from the distance and a quick
hello seems to be enough interaction.
Whether walking through campus with their
heads held high or speaking out in class, I have reveled in the beauty of what
I like to call the American confidence. I have found American students to be
confident, young people who are passionate about learning and committed to
Having spent two years surrounded by
intelligent students who save their intellect for their essays and prefer not
to talk much in class, being surrounded by students wanting to vocalise their
ideas and experiences has been refreshing. Questioning the professor, something
I initially found shocking, is now something I appreciate deeply, and I see the
value in having engaged students committed to producing new knowledge.
As I edge closer to my six-month mark in the
USA, I look back on everything with a smile. Over the past few months, I have
visited different parts of California, experienced Thanksgiving, enjoyed new
classes and started a podcast. My relationship with the USA has been an
interesting one, full of highs and lows, but it has been an adventure.
The UK’s national campaign to double the percentage of UK-domiciled students who study, work or volunteer abroad during their degrees.