One of the first questions I’m always asked when people find out I’m an exchange student is; “What’s different here compared to home?” Coming from Australian student life to the American college experience has been a bigger change then I expected. Here’s why…
I chose The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) because of its close proximity to New York City, one of my favourite cities in the world. A lot of the characteristics have been very similar to what I expected, but there have been some major differences I have noticed having lived the college life in both Australia and America.
Campus organizations are a major part of college in the US, whether it be an academic group, sporting club, fundraising group etc. Greek life is huge and it seems the further down south you go, the bigger they are, with mansions for sorority houses and the full Legally Blonde experience. It seems that anything goes with organizations and the activities fair each year showcase that. Just like the movies, organizations set up their booths and try to reel in new members. At TCNJ I saw a crazy variety of everything, from Harry Potter clubs to circus clubs and to a group that volunteer at animal shelters. Getting involved in clubs on campus is vital to the American college culture. Australia are yet to really encourage the social aspect of university. Whilst there are some small clubs aimed at improving campuses or fundraising/raising awareness for certain causes, it is not very social. I really enjoy the atmosphere on campus at TCNJ, with all that is going on thanks to different organizations.
The setting for sports in American colleges is a lot different to home. There are sporting fields all over campus and whilst my university in Oz did have a football field and a few other small sporting fields, the majority of students wouldn’t even know it existed (it’s a little off campus). There can be small sporting groups but, again barely anyone knows about them. In America, sports are huge. Students watch and cheer on their teams and partake in tailgating, which is where people set up marquees and drink in the car parks before and during the game. TCNJ has an average football team and being a smaller school, the games aren’t a big deal and there was only a tailgate for homecoming weekend (when past students return to campus). Bigger schools, however, have stadiums the size of NFL stadiums, thousands of people attend and tailgating happens every weekend.
American colleges have a huge on campus living presence. Australian universities differ, but at most people generally commute to school. Students who lived on campus tended to be students who are from rural towns. Some students may also choose to go straight into renting their own house. In the US, even students who lived 15 minutes from TCNJ would live on campus, despite its expensive price tag.
Generally, dorm style living involves sharing a room in U S colleges, whereas most dorm style accommodation on campuses across Australia are single rooms. The food options are also outstanding compared to Australia. Living on campus there, you are provided kitchens or have a very average meal plan that involves a dining hall with limited options. At TCNJ, we were given unlimited access to a huge food-court-like hall with endless options. Students also got points to use at all the other cafe’s and convenience stores across campus. Expensive housing, yes, but very convenient. Australian universities tend to have more independent businesses to eat at such as cafe’s, bakeries or chains like Subway.
Apart from the obvious reason that the legal age in Australia is 18 versus America’s 21, the way students drink could not be more different. Australian students tend to pre-drink (pre-game) in big groups for hours before they head out and sometimes it’s more fun than going out itself. We play games, chat whilst drinking etc and it was the complete opposite for American students. Groups tend to be smaller, and half an hour before they head out they will down some shots and leave. This may be because they have to be more sneaky.
Then there’s the parties themselves. Frat parties, or just general house parties are the way to go for most American college students. This involves the house (usually a fraternity house) organizing beer and jungle juice (a mix of spirits and juice) and students paying a $5 entry fee or sometimes buying tickets before the event. Unless it’s a mixer, which is where a fraternity and sorority or sporting group will have a exclusive party ‘mixing’ together. They organize drivers, which is a great way to get everyone to and from the party safely. But the major issue is the discretion and we were always trapped inside by people guarding the door to avoid noise outside. And in summer, or when the house was crowded, it was HOT! In Australia, clubs and bars are where students tend to go, and usually there is one on campus. Big parties will also be organized for the students living on campus, where drinking is allowed because everyone is generally over 18. Both are extremely fun, but I would say Australian colleges party more and much harder. Sometimes I would drink every night of the week without a night off in Melbourne.
The work load & grading
A main difference I have noticed is the way students work. Classes in Australia tend to work like this: – One lecture a week (which is recorded and posted online to catch up on later) – And one tutorial/seminar/lab a week. This is a general rule, some courses may be different. Generally students will just need to attend that one class a week because attendance isn’t taken at lectures.
In the US (and this is just my personal experience) there is nothing online, and we had two classes per week where attendance was taken. A lot of reading and homework was assigned per class, meaning I am already doing double what I would do in Australia. Also, readings assigned by Australian lecturers/professors are posted online (this will differ between courses), but at TCNJ, I spent almost $500 on books. They also assign a lot of small bits of homework that don’t even go towards our final grade. Grading surprised me here. Whilst they assign more homework, they are more lenient on the marks they give. Australian students tend to get harder assignment tasks, but not as many and they are graded very hard whereas in the US, they give a lot more homework, but it is more lightly graded. So there you have it. My exact thoughts on the difference in cultures at university and I have to say, I have loved every minute of both! I would highly recommend anyone thinking about a study abroad program to get on board. It’s an amazing experience! I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any interesting stories you have related to studying abroad. Happy travels! Caitlyn xo