For Exchange Students, Georgetown Elicits Culture Shock
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 02:03
Despite his preconceived notions of American culture, Max Campbell did not expect to personally experience the Second Amendment in action when he arrived at International Pre-Orientation in August.
"I got a gun pointed at my face when I was knocking door to door [for the Obama campaign]," Campbell said. "Coming from a country where guns aren’t legal, I was not expecting a real person with a gun, let alone a gun pointed at my face."
This encounter was one of many cultural shocks Campbell has faced during his time as an exchange student from the University of Edinburgh.
"I expected the workload to be tougher and the level of professionalism within each school to be a lot higher than the British schools," Campbell said.
He was surprised, however, by how different reality was from his expectations.
"I had this idea of coming to an Ivy [League school] or prestigious East Coast college and seeing all these students who were almost like intelligentsia, but no, not everyone was like that," Campbell said. "I guess what I always thought was a stereotype."
A World of Opportunities
Exchange students often cite Georgetown’s academic prestige and Washington, D.C.’s, professional and political opportunities as reasons to spend a semester on the Hilltop.
"Georgetown appealed to me because of its quality teaching in my areas of interest … and, of course, it is in D.C," Trinity College Dublin exchange student Catalina de la Sota said.
Universidad San Francisco de Quito exchange student Maria Aguirre agreed, saying that of all of the options her university provided for exchange programs, Georgetown was the most reputable.
"I’ve learned that the professors here are very successful and this is a very high-achievement university. Only the best people study here, so I wanted to be near them," Aguirre said.
To attend Georgetown, exchange students must submit a transcript, personal statement, resume and letters of recommendation to a competitive applicant pool in a similar process to the one regular applicants undergo.
Home universities often have their own internal applications prior to the Georgetown application process. For those coming from countries where English is not the official language, students also need to send Test of English as a Foreign Language results.
After acceptance, however, come more barriers to Georgetown enrollment: the student visa process often takes two to three months.
"If I hadn’t had the Georgetown International Office sending us emails with step-by-step instructions of what to do, I probably never would have made it here," University College Dublin exchange student Laura O’Philbin said.
Upon arriving at Georgetown, exchange students are often startled by the vast cultural differences.
"I was really surprised at the amount of shops dedicated to cupcakes, doughnuts and other stuff like that," O’Philbin said.
Campbell said the largest difference is the American drinking age.
"Americans have a weird relationship with alcohol. A lot of people put alcohol on a pedestal here, which they don’t do back home," Campbell said. "Just the scarcity of alcohol and the difficulty to get ahold of it … definitely drives students here to do some pretty unnecessary things."
According to Campbell, who had his first experience with the Department of Public Safety on his 21st birthday, Edinburgh does not have campus police.
"We had a barbecue in the backyard with a bit of beer going around — something like a family gathering, really — when suddenly there’s 10 DPS officers," Campbell said. "It was really shocking getting dragged into a disciplinary hearing over a barbecue."
After the initial culture shock, exchange students have found the university environment, both socially and academically, to be vastly different from their home experiences.
"It’s just different in the way you live," Universidad San Francisco de Quita exchange student Paola Carrera, who lives at home in Quito, said. "Me and my friends — we live at home, so you’re at school, then you go home, and you’re away from the constant pressure of school. Here, though, you don’t have the same luxury."
"There are some good things, such as not having to walk a mile to get to class," Campbell said. "[At Edinburgh], after first year, nobody lives in dorms; everybody lives out in the city, so everyone’s very much independent."
Campbell said that despite the convenience of living on or near campus, he preferred living off campus, adding that he would not have enjoyed living at Georgetown for four years.
"Life as a freshman seems miserable — a rubbish existence — walking around the streets looking for parties," Campbell said. "It’s after you move off campus that life gets better."
Campbell added eating in a dining hall for four years seemed unsavory.
"I can’t imagine eating Leo’s for four years," Campbell said. "I think the dining hall is grimy and horrible. ... If I was a real third-year, I’d think that would be the most depressing thing, eating at Leo’s."
Exchange students said that Georgetown students are more involved on campus and more academically motivated than their international counterparts, attributing their universities’ lack of residential life programs to disinterest in campus clubs and societies.
"At home, the majority lives off campus and thus is less involved," former Trinity College Dublin exchange student James Crampton said.
The students’ home universities’ focus on independence is also reflected in the universities’ academic policies. According to Hassan, Georgetown’s mid-semester assessments, as opposed to foreign schools’ reliance on final exams, add more stress to student life.