Love America one minute? Hate it the next? For students concerned about the normality of their reaction to American life, there is an answer...
Sociologist Gregory Trifonovitch has studied the experiences of students transplanted to another culture and outlined the four stages of cultural adjustment. Below is the kind of experience you may encounter during your first few months in America.
1) The Honeymoon Stage: Upon arrival everything is wonderful. The Americans are so friendly, everyone loves your accent, and the price of jeans in GAP is half that at home. You love your adopted country and it seems to love you. Until…
2) The Hostility Stage: Suddenly everything is a little too strange. Where are your friends? Why is there no pub? What on earth are people talking about?
This is the stage at which Trifonovitch believes most international students experience frustration and depression, mostly due to the difficulties of settling into a new environment.
The tendency is to lash out at the new surroundings: think long phone calls home moaning about the stranger habits of bloody Americans.
This is the point at which you must make sure you are meeting lots of new people, developing those initial connections into real friendships and talking to friends or counsellors about any problems you are having.
3) The Humour Stage: Suddenly, one day you wake up and you know how to deal with being a Brit in America. Mistakes are no longer irritating. They are funny. Suddenly you like being the outsider.
4) The Home Stage: Eventually, you are a veteran. Despite your misgivings, you start defending American foreign policy to your English friends, in much the same way you defend the British Empire to your American ones. You have become culturally ambidextrous – a true transatlantic traveller.
A shared history?
Everyone considering applying to a US university should understand that the experience will have its ups and its downs. There will be good friends who open your eyes to a whole new cultural awareness. And, yes, there will be bad times when you feel like banging your head against the wall and screaming, ‘Get me out of here!’
Always, there will be constant reminders that you are, in essence, different from these people.
It may be the evening when everyone gets drunk and decides to sing the theme tunes from their favourite childhood television shows. When you start to sing Neighbours or Robot Wars, they’ll suddenly go blank and you’ll shudderingly realize these English (or Australian) classics never quite made it across the pond. Or it may be the time you try and remind everyone about that great single that Ash released and the time you tried to sing it on a pub table after your GCSE results.
Again, although there may be a few indulgent smiles, the vast majority of Americans will be sitting there thinking "Poor crazy English kid".
The sad truth is that, no matter how assimilated you become, the trends, jokes and cultural history of your childhood and adolescence will always be a mystery to Americans.
On the other hand, how much of your time at college do you really want to spend discussing that romance in Hollyoaks or the names of all four teletubbies?
At the majority of US universities you will discover a significant number of international undergraduates. In those first baffled days as you grapple with registration, visa snags and the mysteries of the American language, it is all too easy to fall in with those you most closely identify with – your fellow countrymen.
After all, they share a common background, a similar accent and, given the minute scale of England, mutual geographical and social history. AND chances are they're just as bemused by Americans as you are.
These people can become your extended siblings - friends with whom to make sense of an alien environment and who can help you to assimilate. Just because you have decided to make the move out of England does not mean you should slam the door on all its exports. To have a truly international university experience, you need to maintain your links with the past at the same time as embracing the future.
Yet it is also important not to isolate yourself from the American community. If you are surrounded solely by Brits or Europeans from day one, it can be difficult to make contact with actual Americans – an integral part (unsurprisingly) of the American educational experience. Remember: the natives of your new country do not all share the same background, and chances are many of them will feel as lost as you.
Getting to know roommates and classmates who come from places you would never be able to pinpoint on a map is one of the most rewarding things you can do.
Of course, there will always be Brits available as an emergency support system, but there are too few of them to provide a full social circle, even if you wanted them to. Americans are the people who will come to form the major body of your friends, and whatever your angst about accent or cultural background, you must turn to them from the beginning.