By Alla Veselova
russian fulbrighter 2007-2008
in the field of applied linguistics
visiting researcher at EPI (English Programs for Internationals)
University of South Carolina, Columbia
Before going to USC (University of South Carolina) I spent several wonderful days in Miami where more than 80 Fulbrighters from different countries came to take part in Miami Dade College Orientation. We spent great time together communicating , participating in workshops, attending lectures, lying on the South Beach, clubbing, having fun. Organizators did their best for our stay in Miami to be carefree, enjoyable and unforgettable. Only there many of us did realize what it means to be a Fulbrighter, and what huge deal we are a part of. We were all a bit upset when the time came for us to get to our universities – we all felt like we were starting a new adult life, where nobody would provide us with housing, food and entertainment (unlike Miami), and now we could only rely on ourselves…
Fortunately USC provide foreign students with “pick-up service”, which means somebody meets you at the airport, gives you a lift to your apartment and you can even count on a brief excursion round the campus! This summer was unusually hot in South Carolina, that’s why I could hardly feel the difference between Columbia and Miami. Not only did the weather give me a hot welcome, the people I met in Columbia were, and ARE more than warm, helpful and welcoming to me. Before coming to the USA I had an impression that the Americans only seem to be nice to you and as a matter of fact they are not so interested in you. But I’ve changed my opinion completely. It’s a normal thing here to say “Good morning” to the strangers, and even homeless people would wish you good night. I guess this behavior is not typical of ALL the Americans, but at least it is for those living in the South.
The first days of my stay in Columbia were a little confusing. I had to learn too many things: how to use a telephone card, where to buy food, how to apply for my SSN (social security number – very big deal in the USA!), how to get my stipend and many other things. But there is a way out of ANY problem once you ask somebody for help or direction, that’s why you should not be shy and go ahead, ask for help!
Buying proper food is quite an issue here, as well as in the other parts of the US. It’s not a problem at all, if you can satisfy yourself with fastfood, chips and Cola (but I wouldn’t recommend you to do so). If you need REAL food – you should either have a car or a friend with transportation as all the big markets are located NOT within walking distance from campus. By some happy chance I did make several good friends who can help me with transportation as well as another stuff. I met them at one meeting I was not interested in, and I didn’t feel like going there, but at the last moment I changed my mind and now I thank God for that. The conclusion is: the more meetings or social events you attend, the more opportunities are there to meet good and interesting people who can change your life! Every weekend there’s something happening here: international students meeting, postgraduate students meeting, Russian community meeting, linguists meeting and what not! The list could have been really long and it would have also included the two babyshowers I’ve been invited to). There are lots of communities you can join on campus (I guess it’s pretty much the same in all the universities). And besides, there are wonderful opportunities for doing every sports imaginable – for instance I can attend Gym and swimming pool whenever I like, and the more so it’s free for me, as well as for all the students and stuff in USC.
Speaking about communities and social events I would say a few words about the church. You shouldn’t be afraid of this word, there’s normally nothing sectic about the church in here. But you will never understand the American culture without seeing what church means for people here. Every Sunday people dress up and go to Sunday service, they socialize and exchange the news before and after service, and even the shops start working at lunch time for the reason everybody’s I n church till 12 on Sunday! It might be different in bigger cities, but if you have the chance – go and see what it’s like.
One more embarrassing thing you have to deal with is the difference in Academic systems of Russia and the US. Get ready for lots of readings every week (normally 100-150 pages), and remember that Russian students’ good tradition to read for their class the night before won’t work here! You should make yourself read or do your assignments daily – otherwise you’ll be in trouble. And you should be ready for being all by yourself – nobody will control you here and check the results of your research now and then (in case you are a visiting researcher like me). You normally have your academic advisor, but he, or she can only give you recommendations and SOME help with your research, don’t expect to be nursed and controlled like you were in Russia. So, it’s all the matter of your discipline and responsibility to make your study valuable, effective and fruitful not only for short terms goals, but for long terms ones!