Now don’t get me wrong, I never expected Texas to be in any way similar to Surrey. That would’ve been a ludicrous idea; but there are things you can never prepare yourself for when you enter a completely disparate cultural context. The differences between the US and the UK are frequently made into memes, often citing weird American customs as indicators of their bizarre nature; and yet, somehow, these differences don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what I’ve experienced.
I should preface this by explaining that the university I am currently studying at on my year abroad, the University of North Texas (UNT), is situated in Denton, a fairly liberal city, due to its heavy student population and a love of everything green and environmentally friendly, situated close to Dallas. I have yet to find a student that doesn’t smoke weed and the campus was swamped with people in Beto O’Rourke – a skateboarding Democrat who fought Ted Cruz for the Texas Senate position (and lost) – t-shirts on the 6th November.
Clearly “liberal” means something different in the US; one night I was walking back from my night class, when I was stopped by a very tall man who told me that I needed to accept Jesus otherwise the day of judgement would come and I’d be sent to hell. He also thought I was Australian, so I wasn’t particularly inclined to take him seriously.
Yet, even liberals seemed to be subject to this bizarre polarization of groups. Men and women can’t be friends in Texas, as every friendship group I have witnessed have been single-gender. White people and people of colour also barely interact; a black friend of mine literally said, “You white Europeans aren’t like white Americans, y’all are chill.” Sexuality, religion, age and many more factors affect whom you can consider your friends, and as someone whose best friends at Surrey are a bisexual immigrant and a POC guy, it made me extremely uncomfortable.
On top of all this, living in Texas can sometimes feel like existing in a cartoon… Yes, they literally use the phrases “howdy,” “y’all” and “fixin’ to” on a daily basis. Yes, they wear cowboy boots. In fact, UNT sell their very own embroidered green cowboy boots in their on-campus merchandise shop. Can you imagine Surrey-themed top hats in Appleseed? Nope. Didn’t think so.
If it surprises you that Texan customs are taken seriously, then you’ll be shocked by how intense recreational activities can be. The universities have their very own stadiums for American football games. In fact, UNT’s Apogee Stadium is so new, having been opened for use in 2011, that it outshines many Championship football stadiums back in the UK. The games begin with fireworks, an impressive performance by the marching band – in which all UNT students sing their fight song – and routines by both a team of cheerleaders and a team of dancers (both performing separate routines and both entirely necessary…). Unfortunately, the stop/ start nature of the games themselves won’t keep you half as entertained, but good news if you’re 21, you can drink at the games! (Just don’t miss out on the tailgate beforehand – you can get food and drink for free just because organizations are putting on a show.)
UNT’s organizations – the spiritual equivalent of our societies – take themselves extremely seriously too. The organization I joined recently sanctioned someone for adding a photo to their Snapchat story with a red solo cup because they were underage. Crazy. That being said, the craziness is worth putting up with since these guys go all out; you get formals, parties, tailgates, retreats and many more social events where you don’t have to pay a dollar.
That being said, the frat party culture is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. Americans think that alcho-pops are a serious form of alcohol and the whole atmosphere of a house party with a terrible DJ reeks of year nine nostalgia. Just don’t drink the punch. Yeah, it’s free, but who knows where you’ll wake up – you’ve seen the movies. I’ve been in multiple situations where, if I hadn’t had friends with me, I would have struggled to escape a potentially dangerous situation because men here just don’t know how to accept a ‘no’. Women here do the grafting, following the men around and asking for their numbers or even a little more, so these men often believe that if, for once, they put in the effort the women will be obliged to submit.
Overall, living in Texas is an experience like no other and I would recommend it to anyone. But, woah, can it be weird and unexpected. As long as you’re prepared for the bizarre and the peppy, you’ll be fine. Even in a place I find so truly peculiar, I’ve made friends for life. Get out there and experience the world; you never know… maybe cowboy boots are in your future.