Letters from America - Sarah Butcher reports from Worcester, Massachusetts

Some readers of JABA may know that Sarah hails from Park Street.

"I have been on an exchange from Worcester University England, to Worcester State College in the beautiful state of Massachusetts, USA since 1 September this year, and I wanted to share some of my experiences, (mostly light hearted) with you. The following is an assortment of what I’ve seen and done while I’ve been here. I hope you find it entertaining. To all those that know me, Merry Christmas from Sarah Butcher, and to those that don’t, Merry Christmas anyway!

Once settled into college over here the biggest bombshell I encountered was the price of the books in this country. Academic books must be subsidised in the UK or something as books that would cost £15-20 there are around £50-80 here. My Spanish books were nearly $200!! That's about £130. Shocker! Read more ...

I spent around $400 on books by the end of the second week and they were all for my classes. The bookshop has a buy back option at the end of the semester so at least you get a bit of money back but even so it is horrendous.

I never realised how much cheaper it is to go to college (University) in the UK, no wonder everyone does. Here there is no state funding so it costs around $50,000 to put a child through college and that's not including extras like books, societies etc, that's just fees and accommodation.

A lot of people start a college fund as soon as their child is born (if they can afford it). If they can't then the child usually puts itself through school by working a few years first and saving like mad or by holding down several jobs while studying.

The sad fact is though that many people, especially from poor backgrounds just never get the chance to further their education unless they are gifted in a particular area and get a scholarship. Of course, the rules on funding are changing next year in the UK and I imagine it will affect a lot of people who may have otherwise wanted to attend University at home too.

Anyway, enough of the social studies lesson for all of you, I’m sure you want to know more of what studying as a foreigner in America is actually like. Here follows a light hearted article on stereotypes and what you encounter on a typical day at an average American college.

Just to clear up the idea of stereotypes I want to introduce an occasional series about what the typical person from the US says and does and whether it fits the stereotyped image that we all have come to know through movies, TV etc. Well, mostly, yes they do as all those of you who have been to the 'States already know.

For instance: when you say thank you to someone they always say 'you're welcome' and 'have a good day' when you're done which I personally think is really nice although it does lose it's appeal slightly when the person has a right face on and clearly doesn't care what sort of day you have or not. These though are fairly rare thankfully, and I for one have come across mostly truly genuine, nice people so far who can't help you enough.

Stereotype 2, that the Americans can't get enough of the British accent. Mostly yes, also true. I had a guy yesterday who offered to pay me $10 just to stay in his shop with him for an hour and say anything, and I mean literally anything! He also filled us in on what he would do to his girlfriend if she spoke to him in a British accent for a while. Let's just say he liked it. End of. This could end up being a nice little earner.

They also use their cell phones incessantly, wear their caps backwards, and say 'sup when they answer the phone. In fact one guy in my class this morning answered his phone (before class started I should add) and actually said "Yo, 'sup?" as his greeting. Well needless to say I barely followed the rest of his conversation. I guess that there are plenty of teens in the UK though who emulate that style of talking so I guess that's pretty universal nowadays.

The 'cool' girls also say "eeew" & "whatever" and stuff like that all the time too (this is only 1 step up from high school in the US remember) so just think "Clueless" (the movie) with a little less money or any of the other teen chick flicks (Legally Blonde, Bring it on, etc, etc) and you're basically there.

Legal disclaimer: I would just like to point out that the above is in no way meant to be racist, zenophobic or offensive to anyone and is an occasional series dedicated to fun only, and no litigation will be necessary against the perpetrator (ie. me). So there.

The week after that I found myself riding in an old cadillac with red leather seats, listening to Billy Joel's 'Uptown Girl' on the radio while on the way to my friend's church. I did wonder what the day would turn out like to be honest, but they were a nice bunch and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon with them all by a gorgeous New England lake with clear warm water and a couple of wooden clapboard houses perched on the banks, surrounded by trees.

As boats skimmed the water I thought to myself 'this is how I imagined New England to be before I got here.' It was lovely. 
However, when we eventually got home I had been bitten to b****r by flying things, as well as spending half the afternoon dodging pine cones thrown with great force by red squirrels up very tall trees (that's gonna hurt if it hits you believe me). However it was still lovely, and I also saw loads of chipmunks, which I've never seen before. So that was alright then.

The rest of the week was taken up like most others are by doing loads of written work (mainly my Spanish-yes at it every day) and researching my other papers. I also ventured into Worcester itself and caught a bus down-town en route to the local shopping mall. 

My friend & I ventured into Boston that weekend and had a great time! We really exhausted the tourist side of the city so that next time we go we can concentrate on shopping!! You name it, we saw it and ended Saturday off by going to the top of the Prudential tower (50th floor) and watching the sun set over the city which was beautiful.

The whole city is easy to traverse, almost everything is in walking distance from the centre and it's a beautiful & fascinating city. We did the obligatory tour first so that we got a feel for the city and then we went specifically where we wanted to go. 

We stayed at the YWCA which was fine, fairly comfortable & clean although I guess the city houses a lot of people with social problems there as we saw some characters. However, they gave us no hassle, so no problem at all and the place was fairly cheap & extremely central in the theater district. Well worth a visit, anyone who's into city breaks!!

In two weeks time I am visiting New York which I am very much looking forward to as it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. The semester is flying by here and I know it’ll seem like no time at all before I’m back in the UK which is why I am making the most of my time here. Best Wishes to everyone who knows me and I will see you all after Christmas. Enjoy the festive season!"

Posted: Sun - November 27, 2005 at 01:11 PM