This week has seen the beginning of midterms, a phenomenon unfamiliar to many of us exchange students who are used to more heavily weighted exams coming at the end of the semester or even year. Though some of us are lucky in that only our credits and not our grades transfer, tests still need to be taken and papers submitted. As someone whose organisational skills have been tried in America and found wanting, and combined with rehearsals running till midnight, I have found myself in ‘Gel hell’ one too many times this week – holding it together with Red Bull, Reese’s pieces, pancakes, pumpkin-flavoured coffee (it is October in the US after all) and the mutual moral support of friends and flatmates in the same situation. I still feel I haven’t really got a handle on how to work the academic system over here, a paper taking my American friend approximately half the time it took me to complete, but as midterms seem to be scattered throughout the following weeks hopefully I’ll soon begin to learn it.
Trying to stay true to the mantra and play harder, I looked to fill my weekend with excitement. On Friday I once again embraced US sushi culture by going with a knowledgeable friend to Buredo, a restaurant/fast food joint near McPherson Square Metro Station, selling the very American concept of ‘burrito-size sushi rolls’. I had high expectations and it did not disappoint – as attested to by the long lunchtime queue at the door.
In the evening I had an event that I had been looking forward to for over a week: an NBA pre-season game at the Verizon Center with the New York Knicks playing the Washington Wizards. Getting caught in the sudden downpour on the way to the arena dampened our clothes but not our spirits and we had a great time, our all-American night finished up with my first trip to a US McDonald’s.
Though I really enjoyed seeing a basketball game – better than baseball in my opinion! – again I was struck by how commercial watching American sports is as an experience, everything seeming so artificial as to feel unreal. Part of this feeling of unreality I know comes from the fact that these are experiences so commonly presented in the media and stereotyped that when you do get to live the cliché it seems unnatural and that you are somehow part of a movie. However, despite knowing this, you still get waves of this idea that everything has been carefully constructed and that the individual just passively accepts it all. To put it this way, I feel like going to the game has made me understand the premise behind The Hunger Games a little bit more.
Another thing I’ve had to think about more deeply this week is memories. My friend and I have set up a weekly Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast date to discuss what’s happened in our lives and the days ahead – this is not the problem, but the coffee is. Dunkin’ Donuts was a key component of my American memories from seven years ago and I had idealised the flavour (there being only a few stores in the UK and none near where I have lived), so was not so pleasantly surprised to find that now to me it tastes weak and…average. It was a small lesson in how memories can change over time, are based less in realities and more in emotion, and that things change and don’t stay the same – nor should we want them to. A vaguely disappointing coffee experience is a sacrifice I’d more than happily make in order to keep the great positive differences between my first time in America and my time here now.
To next week and the memories it will create and alter,