Postcards from Abroad: South Carolina, USA

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Colette is a third year English and Sociology student currently doing a year abroad at the University of South Carolina, USA. A keen hockey player in Leeds, playing for LUUWHC 4’s team and former Head of News for Leeds Student TV, Colette is no stranger to getting stuck in and experiencing all that university life has to offer. Amongst her passions, she boats an avid and loyal devotion to Fruity Fridays, Jeremy Corbyn, Crispy’s Fish and Chip shop and Sainsbury’s in Hyde Park.

Before heading across the Atlantic I received a mixed bag of inquiries and compliments about my future travel plans; many circulated around “Why the hell do you want to go there?” to “You better get some shooting practice in”. Others headed warning; being a vocal lefty in the UK, my parents explicitly told me to “keep your head down and mouth shut”, but on reflection they decided I was safe since I’m not “black, gay or Muslim”. With this in mind I took my chances of survival in the Deep South to be relatively high, and if I’m honest I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I had done my pre-travel planning during my latest binge on True Blood, The U.S Office and Gossip Girl. Anyway, aren’t Rough Guide travel books so 90’s these days?

Oh, how far from the truth was I. Despite being our western allies, the land of ‘Stars and Stripes’ hosts a completely different breedof culture and people. No amount of re runs of The U.S Office could prepare me for what I was about to experience. Firstly and naively, I predicted that as a single country all Americans would be relatively similar, with some variations. Here, the South might as well be a different country. I have a U.S friend from Philadelphia who is regularly mistaken as a foreign exchange student as southerners can’t place her accent, any further north than Virginia and you could gain immigrant status. The food is what you imagine from Jamie Oliver’s U.S. school dinners, when I say southerners fry anything, I mean they fry everything. They fry anything from Oreos and cookie dough to vegetables such as Okra and pumpkin, but this isn’t like a stir fry, this is southern frying and you can imagine the difference.

Collette Armitage 2

They say the U.S.A likes to be the biggest and best in the world, but I think that cliché mostly applies to the size of southern cars. Walking around campus you are hard pushed to find a car smaller then a modest pickup truck, to start nearly all students have a car, as there is little public transport and to get to the local supermarket you have to drive. The most common cars are beastly looking SUV’s or 4×4 trucks, and it’s not unusual to see a petite women behind the wheel who can barely see over the dashboard. That’s the norm, but on the extreme side it’s not uncommon to see monster trucks parading through the city centre, imagine trying to find a parking spot in Hyde Park with one of those? I would also add that the American-English stereotypes are true; sometimes when I talk I could be speaking a foreign language, and on occasions when I have found myself hilarious, I’m met with blank and gormless faces,with the look of, “are all English people this weird?” Yes, British sarcasm is a real and unique thing.

On a darker side, active shooters and gun violence is a real threat here. There was an active shooter on my campus only last year; it wasn’t a mass student killing, but a single bullet shot by a jealous ex-wife at an unfortunate former husband. Nevertheless, everyone here feels the threat of gun violence. Since the gun laws are lax, it should come as no surprise that mace (pepper spray) is also legal here, for absolutely everyone. Instead of that cute fluffy keyring, expect an ominous small pink cylinder that holds the capacityto blind a man, in pretty much every girl’s handbag. In my opinion that’s a pretty sinister prospect. While violent weapons, such as knives and guns etc. are banned on campus,I’ve had to come to terms with the very real danger that anyone I pass down the street could be carrying a concealed gun. On nights out instead of the no smoking sign, bars are posted with a no gun warning and on Wednesdays instead of looking forward to my weekly haunt at Warehouse, I can shoot for free at the local driving range. While this threat is near yet distant, I come into very close proximity of a violent weapon every day in my own apartment building. My flatmate proudly revealed her Taser at the start of term, I’m sure she meant to reassure our safety, I just plan on not pissing her off.

My blog would be incomplete without the mention of the incredible weather that South Carolina offers. Arriving in August I was in the midst of summer, not a day would go by without the sky being a complete clear blue with crazy temperatures of plus 35 degrees Celsius. The university also boasts an incredible gym, it has a balcony like running track, full size climbing wall and an outdoor and indoor pool. With these balmy temperatures you were mad not to get to the pool whenever possible in the summer months. Instead of finding myself soggy and windswept from the daily commute through Hype Park, accompanied by a suspicious musk smell which signal the antics of a fun loving student the night before; I find myself lounging in glorious heat at the outdoor pool, before heading to class in attire suitable for any sun loving Brit on the Costa Del Sol.

Collette Armitage 1

And college football, I promise you there is no experience like it. It goes beyond and above anything you could ever imagine possible from a university. Everyone is a Gamecock (yeah, funny name, they don’t get the joke), from athletes and students to just local fans. Before the game you tailgate, where everyone (including parents and local people) bring their trucks to parking lots outside the stadium, then from afternoon till game time everyone gets extremely pissed and then heads to the game. Once inside the mega 80,000 capacity Williams Brice stadium, the festivities begin. It’s like a mini Superbowl half time show every game (minus Beyonce or Bruno Mars), national anthems, college band, giant American flags and a lot of chanting and shouting. The closest thing we have to it, which doesn’t even come close, is varsity. As much as I love it, Headingley’s Carnegie Stadium is like the council house, while Williams Brice is the Shard.

Till next time… Go Gamecocks!

Colette Armitage

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