Feeling Funny About Philly

My name’s Melissa and I study English Literature. I am preparing to take my course across the pond and would like to plead for sympathy for the cold feet of my inner grumpy old man.

I’m heading to the University of Pennsylvania, stateside. That’s UPenn, not Penn State – not the cool one with the party party reputation that sells jumpers. It’s UPenn, but it’s still Philadelphia, man – that’s the Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s hometown!

I certainly thought Philadelphia would be cool when I applied. I felt smug when the Study Abroad Handbook talked about ‘Culture Shock’ – Philly will be chilled! Everyone knows that the yanks love British accents. Edinburgh Freshers’ 2k11 may have been a disaster – everyone may have thought I was weird because I drunkenly sat in a puddle of spilt coke on the common floor – but I will be able to charm everyone in America by saying ‘tomarto’, repeatedly.

Applying for accommodation brought some fear. UPenn’s accommodation booklet is very enthusiastic. I don’t really do phobias but earnest exclamation marks, well, they unnerve me. I’m British, I am genetically wired to like stiff upper lips and queuing – the ANTITHESES of exclamation marks. The booklet uses a lot of exclamation marks very earnestly. It also tells me that I ‘can be as zany as legally permissible’. The word ‘zany’ chills my bones. Moreover, the whole ‘legally permissible’ thing really hammers home the realities of being under 21: I am renouncing easy access to beer gardens, American Why Not, and wine with dinner.

I start to pant in the library; my brain begins to harbour a near overpowering desire to crawl under my desk and weep.

In the nick of time, I remember that these things are my fault. I must grimace and follow them through for the sake of my pride. I remember that I applied in conscious knowledge of all adversities: the universally acknowledged stereotype of American enthusiasm; the fact my birthday has not moved in 20 years and would be unlikely to adopt a more considerate approach. I remember telling myself that I would be chasing the real, all-encompassing American University Experience. The fear is good, I had said; I will be, like, totally pushing myself.

I employ this CV-loving logic with the next absurdity the booklet throws at me: UPenn has a system of ‘residential programs’. These place you in living arrangements with like-minded people and together you watch films in the ‘intimate’ cinema and go canoeing. Program titles include ‘Penn women in leadership’ and ‘Biosphere: the active environment’. They’re optional, but I make a spontaneous decision to ‘push myself’ and sign up for a Modern Languages theme. I soon receive a congratulatory email. I curse my rationalizing self.

The thing is that my main drive with year abroad is an inherent Fear Of Missing Out. I must go to renew my anecdote stocks – they’re running low. My supportive friends have said ‘Stay here where irony roams free’ but my inner grumpy old man has been ignored in the face of F.O.M.O. He resolves to martyr himself while I schedule in BA to fly me out of his comfort zone on August 22nd. I have compromised British morals but I am resolved to bite the canoeing bullet. Still, I ask you to spare a thought for his chilly toes.

Categories: Pennsylvania, USATags: , , , , ,


  1. good luck on your trip, Melissa

  2. I wonder what accommodation you did go for? Applying for it now

    • I applied for campus accommodation and got Gregory House – I got by fine but I’d recommend trying to find a spare room in off campus student accommodation if you can. A lot of people need sub-letters while penn students are on exchange for the semester and it’s a much better way to integrate. Hope you’re excited – I miss it a lot!

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