A journey from across the pond

The U.S. from an exchange student’s view

Ismail Hussain, Contributor

For those that do not know, I am an exchange student from the United Kingdom, and being British is my only discernible character trait. I experienced various culture shocks during my first experiences in San Antonio, Texas, the United States and various other places.

I arrived in Austin, Texas, between 10 p.m. and midnight on Aug. 13, and as we left the airport, I experienced the first of many shocks. Being from the U.K., conventional wisdom would dictate that it must be cold during the night. Evidently not; the extreme heat and humidity felt like I was stepping into hell.

After two days in Austin and a week in San Antonio with my dad, I was alone again in my apartment. While I initially found it hard to adjust, I eventually found my place. Toward the end of the semester, I can confidently say I have loved my time here and am grateful that I have another semester to go.

The main culture shock for me was the emphasis placed on the college experience. My university in the U.K. is quite small, but even to my friends at larger universities, an American college seems to have more activities to participate in, both academic and extracurricular. The importance placed on the mascot and school pride is something so foreign to me. The emphasis placed on sports games and other rivalries simply does not exist to the same extent. At most, I feel people in the U.K. might be happy with their university experience but would be mostly ambivalent otherwise.

I have also loved writing for The Paisano, especially with its editorial focus and functioning as a regular newspaper, more than just a student one, with strict deadlines, among other things. 

I have always admired the liberal arts style of education in America. I love that people can study a variety of subjects beyond their major. There is also tremendous flexibility when it comes to part-time education or changing one’s major; however, there is a negative side to this that I have experienced. I feel an unhealthy focus on multiple choice exams. As someone who studied history and political science, I feel that they do not really contribute to a critical understanding of a subject, particularly when they are the main part of the assessment for many political sciences and history courses here. A focus on just memorization and ticking boxes, while it might seem easier than writing essays for many, or even harder, does not really allow for a critical understanding that is needed in today’s world.

As a whole, I have found my experience as a student satisfying and, in some ways, better than my experience in the U.K. There is a level of formality here that is unknown to me. In the U.K., one can refer to their professor or lecturer on a first-name basis, in fact, many insist on it. As a result, emails are a little less formal too; however, American lectures seem more relaxed. People eat or drink whatever they want in some classes. In the U.K. water would be the limit for most unless otherwise permitted.

There were also the usual culture shocks and how I have adjusted to them. When referring to temperature, I refuse to use Fahrenheit. I loathe the imperial system — it does not really make sense. It is far too hot here, but I got used to that. I might miss it when I move back, but I already do, now that it has dropped below 10 degrees Celsius. There is also another thing that has already been discussed in articles in The Paisano and that is the complete lack of adequate public transport. It makes it difficult to go around San Antonio, since I do not drive and mostly use Uber and Lyft. 

Lastly, I honestly feel a tad bit annoyed by people’s politeness when one sneezes. No matter the situation, if someone sneezes, anyone who hears them would say, “Bless you.” This is not as much of a thing in the U.K. and would be much quieter in my experience.

I am lucky to have had this opportunity, and I would recommend studying or working abroad to anyone. It has opened my mind to many things and changed my mind about others, in both good and bad ways. I look forward to my second and final semester as an exchange student.