Monday, October 25, 2010

Abroad in the USA

While getting my daily fix of facebook stalking yesterday, I discovered something which deserves displacing my usual "how-to's" and cultural mockeries:

Domestic study abroad.

That's right. One of my high school friends, who is going to school more or less close to home, is taking a semester to do an "off-campus study." She's trying to decide between Ohio and Kentucky.

For those of you who may not be well-acquainted with the floor plan of the United States of America, Oklahoma is about twice as far as both of those states from Massachusetts (where we're both from).

This heavily punctuated post may seem like I'm bitter--not the case at all! I just find it terrifically ironic that my school is farther away than her big semester in a distant land it going to be.

I did some web surfing to find out if lots of schools offer this type of thing, or if she just went to some off-the-wall homebody college-for-the-culturally-timid. Happily, it's the former (and her college is entirely normal--they offer "regular" study abroad in foreign countries as well). A good number of colleges have specific exchange programs set up for students to spend a semester in other states or regions. You could even do your own domestic study abroad if they didn't, I suppose. As long as they accepted transfer credit.

I can see the benefit of the program. No currency exchange, no customs hassle, no fear of sudden coup-d'etats or language barriers.

So here's my question: Does this mean that I automatically get study abroad credits? I mean, we've talked about culture shock, that has to be worth something.

At the very least, I demand a study abroad stipend to help pay for the gas back home! Call it an educational expense.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

America Runs On...

When it's 4:08 p.m., and you're just on the way home, and you're dying for something sugary or a hot sandwich or some caffeine, where do you go? What chain can you find on every corner? Where can you get a quick, completely unhealthy meal for under $5 without getting out of the car?

My own beacon of hope was pink and orange and every 5 miles:

Unfortunately, there was one thing I never anticipated in moving to Oklahoma: the loss of my comfort chain. The first hint at this tragedy was getting off of the airplane to visit the school. While waiting for my uncle, I instinctively went walking through the airport to search for something to make my life a little less jet-lagged.

I attributed the lack of Dunkies to the extreme podunkness of the Tulsa airport. Which is partially responsible. But also responsible is this:

See that one little orange dot in Oklahoma? That's the only Dunkies in the state. And it's nowhere near my campus.

Compare that to this:

This is the map of distribution of the Oklahoma version of Dunkin Donuts. The place everyone goes at happy hour. The original drive-in.

This, my friend, is a map of Sonics.

They're everywhere.

While Sonics now have a special place in my heart, and I even have reverse withdrawal for them when I go home (a little bit), I do still occasionally pine for rich hot chocolate and double chocolate $0.89 donuts.

It's not a bad thing really. It's not anything to complain about. But it's something I warn you about now, so that you don't go through the heartbreak I had to.

Call me a saint, I know.

A saint who goes straight for the Providence airport Dunkies when she gets off the plane at Christmas.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Oklahoma Coma

The day I told my mother I had decided to go to OU, the first thing she tried to do was talk me out of it. Now, I found out later from her that she was trying to make sure she couldn't; she figured that if she couldn't change my mind, then I was certain and set and meant to move out to Nowheresville Norman. At the time though, that wasn't abundantly clear to me. Here's a small excerpt from the part when she told me about culture shock and I, already upset that we were even having this conversation, heard that I was going to be a social failure.

Concerned Mother: Jen, you know that life is different down there.
Headstrong Rude Daughter: It's Oklahoma Mom, of course it's gonna be a little different.
CM: No, really. It's a completely different way of life.
HRD: What do you mean?
CM: They have a different set of etiquette. Your sense of humor might come across wrong, rub people the wrong way. Someone as forward as you might have trouble.
HRD: Are you telling me there's not a soul in the whole state who understands sarcasm?
CM: I'm telling you that it's not really accepted there.
HRD: So you're telling me that I'm not going to make any friends.
CM: I'm just saying you might have to think about your words a little more....
HRD: So you're telling me I'm not going to make any friends without changing the way I talk?
CM: Sort of...

If I recall correctly, it was at about this point that I frustratedly left the room, convinced that my mother--who was trying desperately and lovingly to make sure that I didn't have a terrible college experience--was trying to keep me at home by telling me my personality wasn't compatible with anyone's.

Ironically, she went to college about as far from home as I did. And made lots of friends.

Since "culture shock" is so often talked about, both in situations like this one and when you come home for the first time, I figured it would be worth addressing.

Though there are stereotypes for each region of the country that speak for themselves, I think this issue still merits a post. After all, how can we navigate Southern belles and New York minutes if we cannot even understand that the two places are different?

I, for one, was convinced this would not be a problem. As a well-seasoned traveler (vacations in Wisconsin, a wedding in California, a dance competition in Tennessee the obligatory childhood trip to Disney world--the works), I knew that all parts of the U.S. were the same. I'd even been to Oklahoma before--twice! (Once when I was 3 and a half and once when I spent the entire time inside in the air-conditioning with my 86-year-old great aunt.) Other than a marked lack of tall buildings, nothing was different.

But people are not the same as buildings, and it didn't take me long to find out that life here is different. People live at a rate that I can only describe as The Oklahoma Coma. Want them to get that piece of paper for you? They'll do it with a smile and a 10-minute conversation and a complete inability to move at a comparable speed. Need to get something done? No you don't--why rush!

Now, I am happy to report that this is not the extreme that one might expect from the worst of stereotypes. And it is less noticeable if you stay on campus among the relative hustle and bustle of student life. But it still exists, especially if you run into someone who's been living in Oklahoma for 40+ years. (This probably intensified by the presence of so many Texans in OK. Apparently distance from the equator is proportional to speed of living).

I'm sure the reverse effect occurs for people migration the other way. Heck, even I get left behind in the traffic of Boston proper. Chances are good that if you're not used to that fast culture you'll get turned on your head before you know it.

However, for the most part things are the same. College kids are still college kids, and buying a piece of gum at the gas station is still buying a piece of gum at the gas station. It just takes a little longer here. Don't be worried about not understanding what's going on, but do be prepared for some small, often humorous differences.

Just something to be aware of when you're packing up your sarcasm and slow southern drawls!

Also, you'll be happy to know that I've successfully made friends here. And that's not sarcastic.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Did we mention the 50 lb limit?

Now that you know whether to put your stuff into winter hibernation (also known as summer storage) or have it fly south in the plane's cargo hold, let's talk about how to give it wings.

Other than, of course, pouring red bull on it.

Even if you're planning on driving, basic packing skills are necessary. Chances are good you don't have a whole lot of trunk space (and even if you do, you should fill it with friends and their stuff and have a fabulous road trip).

1. Roll your clothes! This will give you lots more space. Fold them longways and then roll them up and stuff them into your suitcase.
2. Fill your shoes with socks--don't waste empty places!
3. Spread out your heavy stuff. Having one suitcase full of textbooks and clunky heels and one full of fluffy sheets and pillows will mean that you have 100 lbs total, spread out 98 to 2. This is not ideal for your buff friend carrying the suitcase or for trying to get it into the air.
4. Use the corners. Suitcases are usually rounded, but socks, underwear, and belts make very good suitcase stuffers. Again, again, and again, don't waste your space!!
5. Don't pack children. They usually grow to over 50 lbs once you reach your landing location. It's also frowned upon in most civilized societies (Texas excepted).
6. If you're driving, snacks ride up front with you. This not only leaves room for more junk in your trunk, but also gives you easy access to the most important thing you'll have with you.
7. For car packing, treat the corners of your trunk like the rounded corners of your suitcase. Stuff in sweatshirts, blankets, clothes, lamps, and roommates.
8. If you have a choice, make rolling suitcases your heavier bags rather than duffel bags just for the sake of making them easier to tote around (make sure you factor in the weight of the wheels though).

Follow these rules so that your entire room can look like this:

Just find someone to carry it to your car/the airport for you and you should be all set.