For international exchange student Alice Cook, Keene State College has been an entirely new experience that has only just begun. Cook flew into the United States just one week before classes started and was immediately immersed into the culture of Keene, New Hampshire.
Approximately 3,300 miles away in Henley-on-Thames, England, 19-year-old Cook made the decision to study abroad through her school, York St. John University.
Being an American Studies and History major, Cook had the option to study in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, but chose America instead.
“I thought Amsterdam or Copenhagen are places I could just go for the weekend because they’re not that far. Going to the States is kind of a ‘once in a lifetime’ thing,” she said.
“I picked my course [at York St. John] because it offered a semester abroad,” she said.
Along with Keene, Cook said she had the choice between a few schools spread across the United States. She had the option to attend school in Oregon, Pennsylvania and upstate New York, but chose Keene because “it looked like the nicest place.”
Cook said she did her research on Keene State before making her decision to study here and decided it would be her home away from home for the next four months.
“I saw that Boston was nearby and New York [City was] not too far, so I figured I would get the most out of my stay [in New Hampshire],” she said.
Surprisingly enough, Cook said, it didn’t take long for her to adjust to the five and a half hour time difference.
“It wasn’t actually as bad as people make it out to be,” she said.
Cook first stepped foot in the U.S last summer when she and her family visited San Diego and San Francisco, California, so she said she was prepared for what the time difference would feel like.
Studying on the opposite side of the country though, Cook said she didn’t have many expectations before arriving.
“This sounds weird but I honestly had no idea what to expect,” Cook said about her arrival to KSC. She said her friends and family would often ask her what she was expecting out of her time here.
“I think people have some kind of conception from television and films about colleges and I get it now,” Cook laughed.
She said she liked the campus feel KSC gave off rather than her University back at home that felt more “separated.”
“I kind of came in with an open mind and just thought if things are bad to begin with, I’m just going to try to get through it,” Cook said. She said she came in with a very positive attitude.
“The first few days here felt very surreal. I felt like I wasn’t actually in America,” she said. “I felt like I was on vacation. It wasn’t until classes started that I actually felt like I was adjusting.”
When first arriving in Keene, Cook and the other international exchange students explored the city and what it has to offer.
One of the things Cook said she noticed was the large portion sizes at restaurants.
“I ordered the full salad instead of a half and it was absolutely massive – I couldn’t believe it,” Cook laughed.
She said portions here in America are much larger than in England and the foods are filled with much more sugar.
Another difference she noticed was the dining commons here at KSC.
At her University in England, Cook said she and her four roommates had to share one kitchen and buy and make all of their meals themselves.
“I like [the DC]. I feel like it gives me more time,” she said. “Sometimes I wouldn’t get home until 7 p.m. and I would still have to cook a meal. It’s much more convenient here.”
Although the language barrier wasn’t a big problem for Cook, there are select words that she found strange during her first few weeks here. “There’s so many,” she said. “It’s not so much ‘slang’ words as it is objects.”
Cook explained that in England, they call a trash can a “bin” and they do not use the word “sidewalk.” Instead, they call it pavement.
While here, Cook is soaking in as much education as she can.
She is currently taking a women and gender studies class, along with American Civil war studies and a couple history classes.
At school in England, Cook said there is much more variety of schools. She said the school’s consist of either all boys, all girls or some co-ed.
In England, they have schools called “academies” which are the equivalent to vocational schools here in the States.
Along with academies, there are private and public schools. “It seems like England has a more diverse range of schools,” she said.
As for the future, Cook said she hopes to leave KSC with a new perspective of her academic studies. “I’ve found the classes here different [than home] and I have really enjoyed them,” she said.
Cook said she likes how classes at KSC are roughly 20 percent discussion based. “I feel like that is not a thing in England. You can sit and not speak up and I feel like [the discussions] are a good thing because when I go back, I will have more confidence to speak up in class,” she said.
While here in America, Cook has already signed up to volunteer at the NYC marathon and will be heading to Boston as well.
As for advice she has for students studying abroad, Cook encourages them to go with an open mind.
“Don’t have unrealistic expectations … and get involved,” she said.
“Join clubs, go on as many trips as you can. I think the more you throw yourself into it, the better experience you get from it.”
MacKenzie Clarke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org