British Invastion: Exchange students talk of America

Published September 28, 2011, in MSUM’s, The Advocate

For five students at MSUM, everything is different. Something as simple as a sidewalk block of concrete bares a stark distinction in comparison to what they’re accustomed to seeing.


For Christopher Jones, Amy Pearson and Jake Coffey, along with two other students from Lincoln University in Lincoln, England, their time here has been a life-changing experience. All five of them are studying media production at Lincoln and are in their sophomore year of college.

The arrival

On Aug. 14, they arrived full of excitement, greeted by MSUM faculty and a friend they’d met during his own exchange to England last year.

The air was thick and muggy when they walked outside the airport, something they were not used to encountering back home.

Pearson, who had never been to America before, reveled in the change of climate.

“When we first got here, I went outside the airport and it was really hot and it was so humid and it was so, like different,” Pearson said. “I was struggling to breathe. The air was so thick. We aren’t used to such high humidity back home.”

After first noticing the extreme climate change, the five Brits loaded their belongings and were ready to begin seeing their first glimpses of their new home, Moorhead.

During the first week of their arrival, they were invited to go tubing on Big Cormorant Lake and relaxed when they weren’t making new discoveries.

“The first week was cool. We just chilled and experienced a lot of stuff,” Coffey said.

Reasons for the exchange

The five friends all shared similar reasons as to why they decided to do an exchange, but they all varied in their backgrounds of American traveling.

For Pearson, originally from Watford, London, this was especially different.

“I’ve never been to America before, so when the opportunity came up, I wanted to come here and study here so I could travel and experience college in America,” Pearson said.

Jones, a native of Nottingham, has vacationed in America before.

“I’ve been to America before, but the tourist places, so like, busy cities. I wanted to see something like, real America. Not what they put on a show to make money for sales,” Jones said.

To many Moorhead residents, the idea of living in England sounds idyllic, a place full of history and intrigue. The thought of any Englanders wanting to experience the Fargo-Moorhead area is almost amusing. Larger cities seem to be more of a staple for world travelers.

However, for students at Lincoln University, Moorhead was the only option.

“This was the only university that has the exchange,” Jones said, “so as soon as we found out about it, there was about 40 people initially interested in it. Then, we had another meeting and a few less people showed up because they realized how long we wanted to stay. And, then about 12 people went for interviews and the five of us were selected to go to Moorhead.”

For Coffey, the image of a substantial resume was one of his main reasons for crossing the proverbial pond.

“It’s cool. It’s really cool,” Coffey said, “mostly because it would look really good for a job in the future that I did an exchange, and kind of just to prove to myself that I could do it because a lot of people applied for it and the five of us got it.”

Major differences

The transition of living in various parts of England to living in Minnesota has proven to be extremely different. Some of the expectations they carried with them have been proven wrong, while others still hold true.

With Hollywood promoting a stereotypical image of America to the world, the Brits were excited to taste a slice of real American pie — to delve deeper into the lives of real Americans and our everyday routines.

“It’s a lot different than I thought it would be though,” Pearson said. “I thought it was going to be like, something you see on a movie, sort of thing.  It’s a lot different — smaller. I thought it was going to be a lot bigger.”

“We were warned it’s going to be different culturally,” Jones said. “We would get a culture shock. And I think we’re over it, we’re a couple weeks into it now. But it’s still just different. Different politics. Just a different way of life.”

School also plays a major role in cultural differentiation.

“I’d say one of the most different sort of things from a students’ perspective is the classes,” Jones said. “Like, we’re assessed here almost every week. Whereas back home, there’s one big assignment for the semester, and you’re working towards that the entire semester, so there’s not anything to really keep you focused,” Jones said. “You could literally in the last two weeks just blast out all the work and still get a really good grade, whereas here you have to be consistently working to get that good grade. It’s different.”

Pearson then elaborated on what Jones was saying. “Here we have tests. Back home we have no exams. We don’t have to buy any textbooks,” Pearson said.

At Lincoln, they have three lectures a week for the entire year. Seminars, which include about 12 people per group, are taught by a tutor and are more like a discussion. Then, they have workshops – the more practical, hands-on portion of their schooling.

“It’s like putting what you’ve learned in theory into practice,” Jones said.

The structure of the classes surprised them, but another aspect of college in America was more anticipated. Unlike their own university in Lincoln, the campus here is continually strewn with students throughout the school year.

“It is a little bit like I expected — the whole social side of it during the day,” Jones said. “Like, our campus back home is, like, dead during the day. People will literally go to classes and go home, whereas here there’s so many events on campus, and it’s so busy. I was expecting that busy side of things.”

The variations in living are, for many parts, welcome in their eyes. “I prefer it. I’d rather be here than in the UK. Everything’s completely different,” Coffey said. “Like, even when you’re walking on the sidewalk, like even the slabs of concrete are different to us.”

Culture shock

Whether sporting a fake British accent or getting up at 5 a.m. to watch the Royal Wedding, one thing is certain: Many Americans have an insatiable fascination with Britannia. But, what do actual Brits think of this obsession?

“It’s crazy,” Pearson and Jones said simultaneously.

“I think it does attract a lot more attention,” said Jones. “I think it’s mainly to do with films and royalty. There’s been a lot of questions about Harry Potter and about the queen.”

Another common query from fellow students is “Did you go to the royal wedding? Did you meet the queen?” Pearson said.

The answer: Of course they watched the royal wedding. Who didn’t?

“I was at work at the time, but I finished just as they were walking down the aisle,” Jones said. “I ran home to watch it because everyone watches it.”

Apart from films and royalty, accents play a huge part, if not the biggest part in the natural draw the British hold on the American public.

“I’d say everyone is a lot friendlier over here. I don’t know if it’s just ’cause of who I am because of my personality or because as soon as I speak everyone’s like, ‘He’s from Britain. We must be friends,’” Coffey said. “I kind of feel like everyone treats me different because I’m from the UK. It’s weird.”

In preparation for their journey, a few of their professors told them what to expect.

“Before we came here, we were told that everyone would treat us differently. ‘No one will really bother about where you come from — it’ll just be the Brit.’ Then he kind of looked at me and said, ‘Except for you. You live where the Beatles lived and stuff, so that way they’ll know where you’re from.’ I thought they’d get over it in a week,” said Coffey, a resident of Crosby, a town near Liverpool.

Fellow students have even stopped them, asking if they are in acting classes after hearing them speak and are astounded to discover they are actual residents of the United Kingdom.

However, Americans are not the only people fascinated by unordinary accents.

“It would be, like, a similar situation if an American came to England. They would be swamped just the same,” Jones said. “Definitely, like, the accent would be like, ‘Where you from?’ The majority are fascinated by it and just love it.”

Coffey presented a humorous hypothesis as to why Americans are so captivated by England, crumpets, tea time and all.

“I don’t know. Maybe because you beat us in the war and you got rid of us, and you kind of miss us a bit. So, maybe you’re just upset, a little upset that you don’t got us anymore.”

An experience to remember

If they could take anything back, their stay here would not be under consideration.

“Meeting new people” topped their list of reasons of why their stay has been so worthwhile and unforgettable.

“It’s definitely like the best experience of our lives, and we’re so glad we came. We’ll remember it the rest of our lives,” Jones said. “Definitely the best decision we made to have come here.”

The students are trying to prolong their stay as long as possible. Though they originally planned on staying but a semester here, they are attempting to extend their visit for the following spring semester as well.

Plans for permanent residency are even a future possibility for one of them.

“As soon as I finish university, I want to try to like, move out here,” Coffey said. “I actually really like it here. I like the way it’s so quiet around here. It’s just that chill. If I was back in the UK, I’d be so jealous of anyone who’d come over here and was doing this. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

If Lincoln University allows them to stay, plans will be in order to enjoy — or get through — a Minnesota winter.

Pearson plans on snowboarding while Jones is determined to ski while being pulled from a car.

“Yeah, we brought coats, didn’t we?” Pearson asked Jones.



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