Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Studying abroad in America

I just recently returned from a 5-month exchange trip to GA, here are some small pieces I wrote while I was out there (I've put them into one entry to save from spamming the blog)


On the differences between American-English (dubbed 'anglish' by my roomie) and English-English

Before coming to America we had been warned that there would be some language barriers between us and the American students. Staying in the International Dorm (i.e. the dormitory where students on exchange/study abroad programmes lived) and being part of the International Club meant that the first few weeks were spent getting used to accents I’d never heard before, and trying to both understand others and be understood. Amusingly, it was actually easier to understand someone from South Africa than someone from the U.S. at times – for example, when people greeted me with “s’up” I was just as stumped as to how I should answer as they were when I greeted them with “y’alright?”

The differences in spoken English were great sources of amusement throughout the five months I spent in Georgia. A week after we’d arrived, I was asked the question, “how do y’all say ‘goodbye’ in England? ‘Tally ho’?” My roommate and friends also found the way I pronounced words like “what” and “later” very entertaining – meaning that every time we parted and I said “see you later”, a chorus of “see you lat-ah!” followed.

As well as that, J.K. Rowling has a lot to answer for. It never occurred to me that Americans would think that every Brit is practically a character from Harry Potter. Being asked to say things like “we’re on the magic train to Hogwarts!” was funny, yes, but probably one of the strangest things about differing accents and how people felt about them.



“Er… we’ve got to go down to the basement.”

These words, and the explanation that followed, were not something I ever expected to hear. As I followed my roommate down the two flights of stairs, both of us clutching a pillow and our stuffed animals, all I could think about was “Twister”. The film had always interested me, but now that I was possibly about to experience my own tornado, I realised that it was actually a lot scarier than I first thought.

Opening the door to the basement, we found that most of the other dormitory residents were already down there. The mood wasn’t what I expected. Students lined the two walls, leaving a narrow pathway between their feet for others to pick their way down. They were talking, laughing, doing homework, surfing Facebook. The strong winds and heavy rain couldn’t even be heard. I pasted on a smile and tried to ignore the faint feeling of panic as we found a space to sit. Most people here had experienced tornado warnings like this before, but I had to explain several times that tornados are not really that common in the UK like they are here in Georgia.

As it turned out, I needn’t have been so scared. The tornado passed several miles North of us, headed West, so our area survived unscathed. And by the end of the semester, this evening basement visit had become such a common occurrence that eventually I reacted no differently to anyone else.


Spring Break

Within these glossy pages is the piercing ring of an alarm
set to sound at 5am but snoozed for another ten minutes.
There are yawns and half-closed eyes, feet stumbling towards
the bobcat grinning from the side of a bus.
A pot-hole filled gravel road is inside, tyres spitting stones,
the crack of my forehead against the window
as we bounce in our seats.
The blinding lights of China Town gleam,
reds, yellows, oranges merging with the white of
the Second World War’s memorial:
a fountain, water dancing under the black veil.
Over five hundred feet of marble, granite, sandstone
rises from the centre of these pages,
towering over the Capitol Building, the Air and Space Museum, the Pentagon.


Thanks for reading :)

Sam Pavely, DMU/GCSU