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.

Culture Shock

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.”

Campbell agreed.

“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.”

Academic Pressures

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.

“You only have exams at the end of the year for everything,” Hassan said. “There are few assessments in the middle of the semester, so people slack a lot more in the middle.”

Perhaps due to this constant assessment, exchange students said that the academic environment at Georgetown is more driven than at their home universities.

For example, Campbell said that his university did not give assignments. Rather, students were graded based on one or two papers and a final exam, often contributing to a “slacker attitude.”

“Probably more than half of the time students spend in Lau here is spent in a pub in Dublin,” de la Sota agreed.

But Aguirre added that the attitude exemplified at Georgetown is contagious.

“I feel that here academics are more of big deal,” Aguirre said. “People spend a lot more time studying, so that’s challenging because you feel more pressure, and it’s infectious — you feel like you have to keep up with everything.”

Campbell also said that with fewer excuses to visit professors, student-professor relationships are less common at Edinburgh.

“Georgetown professors are a lot more approachable — on the whole, it gets a lot less personal [back home],” Campbell said.

De la Sota said she was surprised that Georgetown students could manage to find time to participate in so many activities.

“Being able to fit so much in was invented by Georgetown students who take six classes, have an internship, a job, are on a sports team, in three student associations and who still have friends to go out with,” de la Sota said.

But de la Sota said that such an intense lifestyle is not without its repercussions.

“Sometimes when you run into someone you know on campus, that person would barely say hi because saying so would be delaying their tight daily schedule of class-gym-Lau,” de la Sota said.

A Home Away From Home

Because exchange students are only at Georgetown for a semester or a year, it falls on them to get involved and active in university culture.

“There was a lot of information available about joining various organizations,” Aguirre, who is a member of four organizations on campus, said. “Everyone was very welcoming.”

Crampton agreed and said the best way to meet fellow students was to join organizations.

“I played hockey and had a radio show, so that got me mixing with a lot of Americans,” Crampton said.

Campbell said it was easy to make close interpersonal connections quickly, citing his 21st birthday as an example.

“I’d always been worried about coming over here and celebrating my 21st birthday with people I would’ve known for two or three weeks,” Campbell said. “But when it came around, people were so cool about it — it was 24 magical hours.”

Campbell attributed this to the roommate system present in American university housing, in contrast to that in the United Kingdom, where roommates are uncommon for college student.

“It’s completely unheard of to have a roommate; it’s a very American thing,” Campbell said. “I was surprised how good it was.”

Programs such as the International Ambassadors program and the Global Living and Learning Community are instrumental in helping exchange students make connections on campus. Aguirre said that Exchange Students Advisor Lisa Gordinier was especially helpful.

“She was like our mom,” Aguirre said. “Any time we have problems, we could go to her. I took advantage of it, and she was helpful in every way. At no point did I feel like I was alone — I always felt supported.”

GLLC Advisor Amy Dorsey agreed and said that her LLC provides a community of peers.

“I think the GLLC provides a community of peers through which not only is it easier to get to know other students but also students who are willing to provide additional support,” Dorsey said.

But O’Philbin said that it was sometimes difficult to make friends outside of student ambassadors or fellow international students.

“It can be hard to make friends with Georgetown students, particularly because we are juniors, so most students already have well established groups of friends,” O’Philbin said.

Lasting Impressions

Though exchange students only stay at Georgetown for a short time, they bring their Hilltop memories back home.

“The classes are amazing, the people here are amazing … just everything. I’m going to all the events I can — I can’t go to all of them — but I’m trying,” Carerra said.

Aguirre said she would encourage others to spend a semester at Georgetown.

“I will recommend anyone to come here because it gives you the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective,” Aguirre said. “Not only that, but to share that with people of other cultures and to get to know yourself better. When you come from a place where you’ve lived all of your life and then come to a new place where you don’t know anyone, you get to know yourself and what you look for in life.”

And despite her excitement to reunite with family and friends, O’Philbin said that some elements of Georgetown would always remain with her.

“I love Midnight Mug,” O’Philbin said. “In Dublin you are only allowed to have water in the library, and if you’re caught with anything else, you get fined 20 euros.”

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