This is my first blog post since the start of my year abroad. I’ve been in the USA exactly three weeks now so I thought it was about the right time to get this blog-party started. For those of you who can’t be bothered to read the entirety of this post, I’ll summarise my thoughts on Temple University and Philadelphia in four short words…
So far, so good.
I’ve had a pretty smooth transition into East-Coast American life for the most part. However there have been some noticeable differences between the UK university bubble I’m familiar with and the big bad (not really) city of Philadelphia.
- Everyone my age wears sportswear, all. the. time. I mean, I have gym clothes! Enough to cover me for… going to the gym. But they live and breathe it over here. If you aren’t hitting the bars or going to a wedding then you’re either in Nike, Adidas or Under Armour. When I asked an American friend who had studied in London for a semester about the hype on casual sportswear he replied “Yeah everyone kind of looks homeless unless they’re going out-out”. Although I have to say, I appreciate the casual vibe – it’s much less stressful not having to compete with the trendy, urban students of South East England all the time.
- Students love their university (or ‘college’ as they call it)*. School spirit is everywhere! I attended my first American football game (Temple Vs. Villanova) and I was amazed and horrified by how many chants/songs/dances there were (amazed to see everyone supporting their team, horrified by the realisation I had to memorise all these different school cheers). They have not one, but !three! stores that sell Temple merchandise. I’ve bought a jumper (sweatshirt) and a top (shirt). Here is me wearing said shirt at the game: (Notice the overly enthusiastic alumnus in the background – see what I mean about school spirit??)
- I also quickly found out that tailgating in the States does not mean to follow annoyingly close behind someone’s car causing x-amount of road rage. To tailgate is to have a wild pre-game party in the car park! Everyone is invited, everyone gets drunk**, and I can bet most people are having a good time.
- Something I knew previously, but still didn’t register immediately was that the driver sits on the other side of the car here. I quickly learned this the hard way when my Uber driver was shook when I tried to open his door to get in the passenger side. I apologised about a hundred times and tried to make small talk, but after that as you can imagine he was a bit unresponsive. Side note: they also get a bit offended here if you ask where the toilet is, it’s either restroom or bathroom. The first few times I asked for the toilet I think they thought I expected to find a singular toilet planted somewhere in the middle of the shop.
- I’m in a big city, and there are pros and cons to that. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to London more times than I can count and Southampton isn’t exactly a small town – but when a place is unfamiliar, it’s 10x more daunting (as you will discover in my next post about NYC). The saving grace of Philadelphia is that all the roads and public transport work on a grid system, and a lot of the streets are numbered. I’ve only come across one diagonal road and that’s the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that goes through Center City (it’s easy to identify by all the international flags that line it.) So it’s super easy to travel around. The only pitfall is the threat of crime, particularly if you journey too far north. The university however have their own police force: Temple Police, and you can see them patrolling around campus and local areas – they’re all friendly and here to help so that’s made me feel way more comfortable getting from place to place.
- THE FOOD! I thought I would leave this till last because as expected, it’s bigger and better. I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find anything healthy at all and would descend slowly into a sugary, fast-food abyss, but this definitely isn’t the case. If you go out to eat, expect big portions and no holding on the cheese sauce or chocolate caramel peanut butter filling etc. etc. Buying food at the supermarket (grocery store) is pretty similar to the UK though. I’m able to get near enough the same produce I would back home, but the key difference is the variety of options I have. Take hummus for example, you might get a couple of fancy flavoured hummus pots in Waitrose if you really wanted to spice up your life, but here the hummus pot is, firstly, twice the size – secondly there are at least 7 different types. To name a few: Avocado hummus, garlic and herb, !blueberry!, and an ‘Everything Hummus’… ?? And that’s just the hummus.
Anyway, back to the important stuff… I’ve made some good friends. My halls (dorm) is split equally between international and American students as it’s a ‘Global Living Learning Community’, which has been great because I can empathise with all the foreign newbies whilst branching out and meeting ‘the locals’. FYI a lot of American students travel from different states to go to university, so I guess Philly is only as local to them as Southampton would be to me.
So that’s it for ‘settling in’! I’ve had a few wobbles; tearfully hanging photos up of friends and family on my wall, having a crisis in NYC, and feeling like an outsider in some ways. But all in all, so far, so good.
*Some American lingo I’ve picked up on is next to the English equivalent in brackets – I thought this would be easier than the big long list I originally planned to write at the end of the year.
** If they’re over 21 of course…