Jalilah Byrd | London, England | Post 2
My rather preachy last post spent an unnecessary amount of words directed toward those back at Vassar who may be frightened, or at the very least daunted, by the concept of going JYA. With all that high and mighty posturing, what have you got to show for your efforts, Jalilah? O teach us, enlightened one–tell us of your rad adventures.
Well, hypothetical and overly-sarcastic reader, the outset of my journey was anything but rad. Burdened with unexaggeratedly the WORST sore throat I had EVER experienced (much thanks, boyfriend), it would seem that the first impression people would have of me would be of a hoarse, baggy-eyed, silent girl who never knew where she was going, and who came out of her room only to fill up a tiny Sprite bottle with water (after learning my lesson with the sink). That certainly put a damper on my social graces at first, seeing as my new hall mates probably wouldn’t appreciate immediately receiving a demonically-persistent head cold, notwithstanding it being a souvenir from another country.
So, pumped full of cold medication, I dragged my poor, unfortunate self to orientation. Orientation is a funny thing. They spend all this time and money trying to integrate you into British life and culture, yet seeing as everyone in an international students’ orientation is, well, international, and most full-term students haven’t yet returned from break, you really are still only surrounded by other students from the US, who I can only assume so greatly outnumber students from other countries because ‘Mericans don’t like learnin’ no new languages.
In terms of meeting people, it happened entirely by accident, as most acquaintances do. Leaving Ramsay Hall, my psych-ward of a dorm, I found a huge group of people heading towards central campus, without the posh British lilt I really hadn’t become accustomed to at all.
I asked if they were heading to orientation–obviously they were, but there’s the ice breaker–and I awkwardly joined the ragtag group from the colonies. They had already gotten to know each other by that time, as I eventually learned they’re all from the same hall, but I doggedly attempted to make friends. Though I quickly learned at Vassar that for some reason, asking “Where are you from, what’s your major?” is akin to asking someone their sign, it was a common echo throughout the streets and halls of UCL’s campus. It was like job seeking–sure, you’re probably not going to end up hanging out with even half of the people you meet during orientation, but getting your name out there helps, somehow.
I stuck with these guys for awhile, learning (still from an outsider’s perspective) the ins-and-outs of the alarmingly widespread drinking culture that pervades literally every part of English society. It’s amazing, the difference a three-year-earlier drinking age makes–no one in college is under the drinking age, so the culture of hiding your pre-drinking in your room is non-existent. Pubs are the go-to, though still expensive, way to start a night of drunken shenanigans. Which, also, seem to be every night.
That said, as the weeks passed, my third-year American friend group slowly dissolved into hanging out with the English freshmen on my hall. While both my illness and shyness seemed to have temporarily put them off, I was quickly integrated into the daily madcap shenanigans that so characterize any freshman year, no matter the country. Joke kidnappings, sneaking into people’s rooms to scare them, hallway food parties–all the amazing memories of freshman year, but replayed with legal access to alcohol and accents.
Needless to say, this has been an amazing month.
Stay tuned for a newbie rundown of academic differences between the UK and US. Hint: it’s weird here.
London Top Tips #4-5
4. It’s not alcoholism, it’s England…: The American precedent for drinking mostly on the weekends? Out the window. In this neighborhood, at least–as I believe it’s indicative of the cheapest club nights–the big drinking days are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and sometimes Thursday. Saturday, oddly enough, is often spent sober, for reasons I haven’t yet gleaned.
5. …because they have no class: Obviously British people are classier than we are, it’s genetics–that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m taking four classes, but I only have 8 hours of lectures a week! I don’t know if that’s odd only because I’m not doing work study (plan your visas properly!!) but it seems like they just don’t have any work to do. So they drink!