Abroad in America
Hello, my name is Harry Allen, I’m a British Fulbright Alistair Cooke Scholar here at American University. In the spirit of Alistair Cooke, I hope to discuss some of the many similarities and differences between our two countries, as I continue my studies here.
While AU students get into the swing of the Fall semester and freshmen find their feet on campus, their British counterparts are only just turning their thoughts to a new life at university. That’s right, Freshers Weeks are kicking off all over the United Kingdom as I write, from London to Leeds and Edinburgh to Exeter. Thousands of 18 year olds are learning some harsh lessons of life right now in the UK.
It’s not just differing term dates that make an interesting comparison between the two student experiences in the UK and the US though.
First things first, money talks. Parents in England have been up in arms about so called “Top-Up” fees. British universities can now charge more than the national base-rate for education, but when you compare them to school fees here, it seems insignificant. Prepare yourselves…Tuition fees in Britain are now MORE than £1,250 per year. Not much more though, universities now have the option of charging up to £3,225 per year (approx $5,000). Sounds cheap hey? But what do students get for their money?
Well, firstly General Education doesn’t exist for the Brits. These kids most likely specialised aged 16 and went down either an arts, sciences or humanities route. By the time they reach university, that route has usually been narrowed to one or two subjects. This means when an English child is 17, they must already decide what their major is going to be. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? On the plus-side, students get the chance to specialise and leave university with three solid years (yes, just three, unless you’re in Scotland) of focused study under their belts. But if they chose to study history, the chances are they won’t know anything about economics, algebra or biology. But do British students go round whistling Sam Cooke tunes and contemplating a doomed future? Maybe it’s better to specialise early, rather than take a whole host of multiple choice tests on subjects that usually occcupy space in your brain until the moment you leave the exam hall.
But what about doctors? Is it really true that a British medical student starts full med school aged 18 and is finished by the time they are 23? Yes, totally true. Is that impressive? Or just frightening?
What else? Students in the UK don’t have anything close to the support network that exists on campus here at American, or elsewhere. Public Safety, Campus Police, the Wellness Center…All these things must leave U.S. parents satisfied that their pride and joy will be safe when they fly the nest. Some might say that 18 year-olds should be given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes now they’ve left home. Or are all these measures just a safety net in case things do go wrong? This leads us on, naturally, to alcohol. Now, there’s a national issue at stake here — the drinking age is 18 in Britain. Freshers Week in the UK is a notoriously messy time, and alcohol consumption is positively encouraged in most institutions through a host of events for new students. As an undergraduate in London, my Hall of Residence provided us with free wine on our first night on campus and had a fully stocked bar in the basement all year round. But interestingly that bar was almost always empty — proving that readily available alcohol doesn’t lead to inevitable carnage. I think the jury is out regarding alcohol laws…
While there are so many differences to behold while studying at a U.S. institution, and I hope to get round to talking about most of them, I think that students in London were broadly similar to those here at American. Except not as politically active, God forbid.
Until next time, farewell. But before I go, congratulations to my beloved AU Rugby, who smashed Georgetown at the weekend…Get behind AU rugby!
Posted in Brit Bit