Visiting City Hall
Photo credit: Jess Blissitt

By Jess Blissitt

So, you might be thinking about doing your semester abroad at Temple University. Good for you! You may have even booked your flight ticket, researched the weather over in chilly Philadelphia, and packed everything you could possibly need, but you’re still filled with the niggling dread of what it will actually be like when you first set foot on campus. Sound accurate? I thought so.

See, I felt the same way. How could I possibly prepare when I had never even been across the pond? I’d never even MET an American, let alone been surrounded by Americans at college. Well, this is my accurate guide of what to expect, as I just finished my first week of in-person classes. I can’t say my experience is universal, I am studying at the College of Liberal Arts and that will probably be entirely different to the science majors or the business classes! Still, I can promise I won’t sugar coat it, this is not an advert for TU’s Global Programs, this is just some of the culture shocks I, a 19 year old Brit, experienced in 2022.

Classes are a lot more discursive and engaging. At home, if a professor dares to ask a question, they are usually met with awkward silence as everyone avoids eye contact. Here, I’ve found that people are more than willing to give their opinion in class, which usually results in actual discussions! I think today I learnt loads about American high school, the difference between rural Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, all sorts of things. Also, classes are a lot more regular than they were in the UK. I would usually have 2hrs a week for each class, making up 6hrs of classroom time. Yet, Temple’s classes can meet up 3 or 4 times a week for one subject. I definitely prefer this regular timetable, as it gives you more time to get to know your fellow classmates.

It is colder than you can imagine. Now, it is January and probably the coldest it will be. Yet, despite what all my family members told me, I took quite a thin coat and no gloves. This was my first mistake! Perhaps it wouldn’t be that cold, if it wasn’t for the wind that makes your ears sting. This doesn’t seem to affect the other students, who you can see around campus drinking iced coffee when my teeth are chattering! To each their own, I guess. I guess the constant snow against the city skyline is worth it. My room in Temple Towers has a lovely view of the city skyline, which is most beautiful against the sunset. Yes, it’s cold but it’s also beautiful in a completely new way.

It will be lonely.  The first few weeks can be so unsettling. I know one of my biggest worries has been the pressure to have fun. You’re spending all of this money, time, and courage to study in America, which means there is definitely this pressure to constantly have fun, constantly be out, making each hour count. Well, I think you’ll be exhausted very easily. So, maybe see this first month as a practice run. Do you remember what your first month at university was like at home? If you can think back to that first month in September when you were a fresher. Now, I ask you this. As a fresher, were you really making friends left right and centre? Or did it feel pretty similar to this? If you’re anything like me, or my friends on the West Coast, we feel like we’ve become freshers all over again; adjusting, settling in, and awkward. Now compare that to what you were as a fresher before winter break? The fresher I was in September vs the girl who came home in December was very different; I was a lot happier. Things can change a lot in a few months, a few weeks even. Don’t lose hope.

Everyone is so SO friendly. This may be the British politeness talking, but we typically don’t talk to strangers. Today, I was complimented on my jacket, offered a coffee and told to have a nice day by at least 5 strangers. Total strangers! Yet each of them smiled at me and made me feel just a little bit better about myself. Earlier on in the week, when I was trying to find my classrooms, people would give me directions even before I had bucked up the courage to ask them! One thing I can promise at Temple, is that people will always be helpful and friendly. If you are nervous about going on such a long flight, I can tell you there will be many people on the other side that will help.