I was sitting in a taxi on my way to Wellesley, a handful of American monopoly money in my back pocket. I had no real idea what I was getting myself into. I had come from the University of Manchester to study at Wellesley College for a semester, cross registering at MIT. Boston and Wellesley would be my home for the next five months, before heading back to Manchester for my final year. Both extremely exhausted and simultaneously extremely enthusiastic (an unnerving mix of feelings), I arrived in a snow covered Wellesley. As I was to discover, my expectation and the reality can be two very different things.
I’d decided to come over the pond for my semester abroad because I liked the idea of being able to get the most out of two unis (colleges/schools to you guys), something only studying at Wellesley allowed me to do, with its opportunity to cross register at MIT. I envisaged making two great groups of friends, being able to go to all the best academic talks and events each had to offer, and generally flitting around in a dreamy and fulfilling academic bliss. Little did I know that while I would ultimately end up having a good time here, the reality was less Oxford in the 1800s and more ‘eat or get eaten’ — with any hour of the day being an acceptable time to be in the library, more cold coffee consumed than healthy, and a competitiveness between students that must be far beyond what is considered normal. This is true of both schools. On my first day in my Wellesley politics class, before I even knew the syllabus was out, one girl announced she had read three weeks ahead of the required readings. Compare this to a first class in Manchester, where although students are motivated and want to achieve, there is always an attitude of ‘they’ll just be going over the course, it won’t be that crucial a class, will it?’.
After ten days of being in the Wellesley bubble, I couldn’t wait to break free into MIT, whose comparatively large size meant, to me at least, an escape from Wellesley’s social and academic claustrophobia. After only two days there, I had mutual friends with every new person I met. I had gotten to know some lovely people in Wellesley, but I wanted to meet as many people as possible. And yes, I would’ve loved to meet some guys! Coming from renting a house with all my guy and girl best friends cooking and cleaning together into an all-girls catered dorm had been quite a shock. For one, I couldn’t get used to constantly having a spotless bathroom — it really shouldn’t feel like such a luxury!
I had high hopes for 14.05, Intermediate Applied Macroeconomics. Has it lived up to my expectations? Although I am learning economics at a pace faster than what I would’ve thought was humanly possible, as of yet nobody has spoken to me. A cruel combination of difficulty understanding my lecturer, the speed at which he moves through concepts, and his very MIT habit of adding in extra math, left no room for idle chit-chat. In Manchester, there is at least enough rustling of papers to ask your neighbor what page we’re supposed to be looking at — in both Wellesley and MIT, you can’t even cough without receiving a disapproving look!
Arriving from Manchester and its two hundred thousand student population to Wellesley with around 1% of that, I had prepared myself for a change in the social scene. What I hadn’t fully prepared myself for was the Harvard Asian Brotherhood charity fundraiser, which was of the few parties that I heard about. Naïve and enthusiastic as I was, I couldn’t wait to go — it would be my first night out on the town! I went along with some of my equally naïve exchange student friends. Out of the six of us, only one was Asian, and only one was over 21. We hadn’t quite planned for alcohol, and suddenly realized on the bus that not only did we not have any but we didn’t even know where to get some. After walking up and down Mass Ave for half an hour, we found a sad looking liquor store where the ‘legal’ one of the group bought a rather disgusting looking bottle of rum. The only place open was McDonald’s, so after some deliberation that was where we ended up — heels and all. The whole thing was ridiculous nonsense to me; after (legally) drinking in the UK for nearly 3 years I was now pouring rum under the table into my coke in Mackie D’s — my friends back home would be in hysterics if they knew! The party itself was average at best — everyone was either far too drunk, horny, or both.
So far, the USA has been great — not at all what I expected, but nonetheless an excellent mix of the surreal, stressful and surprising. I’m writing this on my spring break, which I’ve decided to fully embrace and go to Florida for. I’ve seen too many movies with the theme of “WOO SPRING BREAK!” to do otherwise. I’ll let you know how I get on.