A Brit strange

Diary of a Brit abroad and first impressions of American college


As I step off the plane in Washington into the wall of unexpected tropical heat, I swiftly remove seven cozy layers I wore to fend off the chill of a late English summer. (Note to self to check weather forecast next time I pack two semesters worth of jumpers and long trousers).

Next challenge: find something to put my Arctic (and instantly redundant) clothes in. It is widely believed that English and Americans speak the same language — I would beg to differ. Chest of drawers, bureau, comforter, duvet … the nail in the coffin comes when I purchase a king size bed which apparently takes a queen size mattress, on top of which fit a full-size duvet and a twin size sheet. Home(ware) sick, I feel a sudden nostalgia for EU standard sizing.

I swiftly work out that the Corner is the place to be. As I approach, I see this is where everyone in Charlottesville is — the queue for a salad bar. My dad and I wander past and see a nice-looking restaurant with an outside area. We sit down and order a beer. As the hour goes on, I slowly look around to see that aha, yes, I seem to be sitting with the only person aged over 20 (whoops, “21”). 

“Dad, I’m soooo jet-lagged and tired, I think we should leave.” With my head down, we leave Boylan and I pray no one has noticed the only 50-year-old Englishman in the bar (I live in hope).

Ah, relief. I get back to my flat (apartment, I know) and go to make a cup of tea. I look around for the kettle. I check every cupboard for the kettle, then re-check every cupboard for the kettle. With horror, I wonder where I have moved to … with a heavy heart, I start to boil water on the stove to make a cup of tea. I look in the fridge for milk and realise with an even heavier heart that I have, without realising, bought cream. I abandon making tea, and make my first (of many) trips to Starbucks.

The first weekend comes around and suddenly everyone starts speaking ancient Greek. After starting to distinguish the difference between ‘phi’ and ‘pi,’ I discern the words, “Let’s go to a frat party.”

Looking round in disbelief, I see red cups, beer pong, a low percentage beer and red cups (Did I already say that?). I reach for my phone and pretend to look around whilst secretly holding the record button on Snapchat. Caption: “GUYS, IT’S JUST LIKE ‘ONE TREE HILL!’” — first night snap story complete. (Note to self to delete quickly if by some miracle I meet a new friend and they add me on snap). 

It’s the first days of lessons, and I step out of my apartment. I’m feeling confident as I make my way towards the Lawn, having carefully memorized my route to class from Google Maps (room number written on my hand, of course). Quite soon though, I realize that something is very, very wrong. Nobody told me that there was a uniform, I think. I go over it in my head but no, I’m sure that no one told me that I had to wear shorts and a U.Va. t-shirt. So, in my carefully chosen outfit, I whip out my phone and Google “Nike shops near me.”

BRB, just off to buy some shorts. 

related stories