For two countries that appear quite similar on the surface, the tertiary education systems in Australia and the US often feel like complete opposites. This post is based purely on my personal experiences – studying for four years at the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia and studying a semester on exchange at the University of South Carolina (USC) in the US (you can read my reasoning for choosing USC here). And yes, this post includes a lot of generalisations. I also totally understand that people may have very different experiences at other universities/colleges in these same countries – or heck, even at these same institutions.
But honestly, I am just writing this post in good fun and do not mean to offend anyone.
Okay? Excellent. Here are my main observations.
This is the huge difference. In Australia, it is basically social suicide to wear any university merchandise on campus. Well, that is except for maybe in winter. When all of your other options have been exhausted, it may be passable to wear your university hoodie. And frankly, no one cares about any of the university’s sporting teams. The only time there is any school pride is possibly in arguments with/about a rival university.
However, school pride is serious business in the US. People live and breathe their college’s colours – long after their graduation, too! I swear I have never seen such a diverse range of merchandise than for the USC Gamecocks (and I am sure this is true for many other big colleges throughout the US) – all types of clothing, shoes, jewellery, homewares, luggage, pet accessories, garden gnomes, office supplies, licence plates, letterbox covers – the list goes on. Some college stadiums are bigger than most professional stadiums in Australia. The coaches get paid millions per year. It is crazy, but so awesome. We definitely get ripped off in Australia in this department.
Okay, this is one area where I much prefer UQ over USC. I know that this is very subjective and is probably just a matter of preferring what I am used to, but honestly, the girls here at USC are the some of the most poorly dressed people I have ever encountered in my life. In Australia, there is a huge social stigma against wearing leggings as pants. However, at USC, this is the fashion choice of almost every girl in winter. And now that the weather is warming up, the leggings have been replaced by running shorts. Everywhere. The trend seems to be to dress as if you are going to the gym at all times, regardless of whether this is actually the case. And even this “gym wear” is more casual than in Australia. It is so hard for me and many of the other exchange students to comprehend. Back home, even on the days where I put the least amount of effort into how I dress for a day at university, I am still more presentable than what I see on campus here.
Dressing for a night out here is interesting too. In the main nightlife area, Five Points, dressing casual is still key. College students can basically get away with anything. Heck, people wear sweatpants out. Cue the looks of horror from my Australian friends reading this. One of the oddest trends is that guys wear caps out to bars – yes, at nighttime! And camouflage hunting jackets, too. My boyfriend is in the army, so I will always have a soft spot for camo – but honey, it has no place on a night out. If people in Australia dressed the way they do here, they would seriously not be allowed entry into many, if not most, bars and nightclubs back home.
This has probably been the biggest adjustment. Back in Australia, I am used to having two or three pieces of assessment per course each semester. Here in the US, I have assessment due nearly everyday. It is insane. But the expectations are much, much lower. I have not had to do any research for a single piece yet. And another massive difference is that class attendance is compulsory. Compulsory! The professors actually take a roll. As someone who rarely attends classes back home (because they are all recorded online anyway), that concept is almost impossible for me to compute. It feels like we are constantly being babied here. Several of us Aussie exchange students agree that college in the US is just like an extension of high school – whereas, in Australia, there is a much greater step up in independence, expectations and maturity between high school and university. Maybe that is why college is so much more fun (or maybe it is just the fact that alcohol is like a quarter of the price here)!
This continues on from school pride. There is always something going on here at USC – whether it be one of the many sporting events, theatre productions, student association nights or markets. And the best part is that most of them are free! Another incredible free thing on campus is the gym. It looks like a resort. And it has a rock-climbing wall and gorgeous outdoor pool. And did I mention that it is free?! Not only is the gym at UQ nowhere near as luxurious, but you also have to pay to use it. Ugh.
There is also greek life. Sororities and fraternities are simply nonexistent in Australia – much to the horror and disbelief of many of my American friends. Here, they have their own village. It is literally a village filled with mansions owned by sororities and fraternities, where some of their members live. Everything about greek life seems exactly like it is portrayed in the movies. And honestly, sororities and fraternities just look like cults to me, which people join in order to gain some sort of social standing. I am still trying to understand it…
Then there is also the difference that the overwhelming majority of students live on or very close to campus. I love living on campus here. Firstly, all of the awesome things that I mentioned above are very accessible. Secondly, all of my friends are basically within walking distance. And thirdly, it means I can wake up fifteen minutes before class and still make it on time. Back in Australia, I am used to commuting for an hour to get to campus. I think I will struggle to adjust back into this upon my return!
So, there are my main observations in the differences between my experience at UQ in Australia and USC in the US. In case you cannot tell, I am absolutely loving being on exchange and would recommend it to anyone. Each system has its own positives and negatives, so it has been such a privilege to be able to experience both.