Two Sides of a Coin: Living in America as a European.
Updated: Aug 2, 2020
I had the fortune of being accepted for an exchange semester in America for the Fall of 2018. Going to America as a German feels somewhat strange. The US is known in Europe for being the country with endless possibilities but also as a first world country, where some of what Europeans deem essential such as public healthcare and good affordable education, is not guaranteed.
On my first day in America, I could already experience the first side of the coin, which is the country of endless possibilities. I arrived by ship in Port Angeles in Washington State. I was picked up by one of my American friends from my first exchange program in Norway and we drove on a sunny day through Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. The start of my exchange could not have been better. My two favorite things concerning the US were already combined on my first day. The nature and the people. I cannot think of a country other than maybe Peru where the landscape can be so versatile and at the same time so beautiful. From a European perspective, the people I met everywhere in the US, (there is normally already self-selection to who is willing to speak to a complete stranger from another country) were open-minded, outgoing, and were interested in my opinions. They turned every conversation into a possibility to learn about each other's country and culture. I believe it is important to meet local citizens wherever you're traveling to because these are the best ways to learn about the country and the biggest reason to return, especially in the US.
Fast forward to my first weeks at my university in Greensboro, I experienced the other side of the coin; the head scratching anomalies of everyday American life. Walking in Europe is quite common and rather easy as most of the cities were created long before cars were invented. America does not seem like a country where walking is normal. Every time I had to cross a street I had to wait and make eye contact with the approaching driver to feel safe crossing the street, even if the traffic light was green. It seems that for a large part of American drivers, pedestrians are not expected to exist on American streets. Another head-scratching behavior from a European perspective, was experienced at the university cafeteria. The cafeteria is mostly a self-service restaurant. To this day, I cannot understand why someone would regularly take more food than they can eat and then throw half the plate away. In a self-service restaurant, everybody should be able to select the food they want to eat and finish the same amount of food they put on their plate.
I experienced more of these small irritating behaviors of everyday American life from the perspective of a European: adding extra sugar in milk, tap water with an unusual amount of chloride, and the fact that Americans seem to be drinking everything with ice. Through this article, I want to shed some light on these peculiarities. With this being said, I wouldn't let these experiences come in the way of enjoying the US, the nature, and the people.
What takeaway/final message do you have for others who may study in the US or any place away from home?
To everyone going to study abroad, be wary of a “culture shock” and that y’all need time to adjust to the new environment. Engaging with local people was the best way for me to feel comfortable. Enjoy your stay and spend y’alls money :)
"Two Sides of a Coin" "Yosemite National Park"