Sussex & Culture

This is Sussex:

Sussex University

I live in the newest hall, which is at the very top part of this picture. For scale, it takes me about 15 minutes to walk from my hall to the gym, which is the building in the lower left hand corner.

The majority of the buildings were made in the 1960s, and if you have ever seen a University building anywhere in the world that was built in the 1960s, you know what this campus looks like. Not offensive. Kind of bland, but not in a bad way. Sometimes a little weird. Like Falmer building, which houses the student union. It has open hallways – as in, open to the elements. In the freaking United Kingdom. And if you go up the wrong set of stairs, you can’t get to certain rooms, so you have to go back down three flights of stairs, across the courtyard, and then back up three flights of stairs. Navigating that building feels like you’re wandering through an M.C. Escher print.

The campus is really international, which is mostly cool. There’s some challenges with this though. They seemed to have imported a Chinese village (small town?) onto campus. Half of my hall are Chinese, and they’re complex cooks that are generous with their food, so I’m getting all sorts of periodic tastiness. But navigating sharing a kitchen with 18 year olds that don’t speak English very well is more than a little frustrating. The flat meeting we had actually had to be translated for two of them. (Despite translation, the grease spatters remain not cleaned up after cooking and various other irritants. But I think that’s an 18 year old thing.)

I had a conversation the other day with a guy in my program about whether or not America was actually a different culture – like, does it really feel that different to be here? I argued pretty passionately that yea, it’s different. I frequently have to ask people for clarification on slang (e.g. “taking the piss out of someone.”) and have to clarify what I mean with my own vocabulary. The bank system is different. The cell mobile companies are different. And oh my god the lines. You stand in line everywhere and the kind of privacy that would be offered at the end of the line in the US simply doesn’t exist here. I’m not used to discussing my finances with the guy behind me breathing down my neck. I possibly missed out on a job opportunity because of a slang misunderstanding. The sense of humor is different, so there’s times when I’m sitting there awkwardly when everyone is tittering over something. The volume of speech is different – guys, Americans are loud, and yes, I am guilty of this.

Is it on the same level that say, if I was doing all this in India? No. India also has the added complication of race – I stick out as a foreigner there on sight. Here, the foreigner label isn’t applied until I open my mouth.

Along these lines:
As another American in my program said (paraphrasing) – “The taps! They colonized half of the world and they couldn’t figure out an efficient way to manage the taps?”
Most of the taps come out of separate spouts and the hot water is REALLY HOT and the cold water is REALLY COLD and there’s just no way to get a nice pleasant warm water to wash your hands. I’ve been here two weeks and I still scald my hands at least once a day. I kick myself when I do it, too, because it’s like that kid that keeps on putting their hand on the burner (hob) despite the fact that they still have burn marks from the last time.

So yea, things are different here. Duh.
It’s interesting, academically, to look at the United States and study US laws/history/policies from a European perspective. It’s not always flattering, but that’s not to say it’s negative either – it’s definitely a bit more objective than it would be if I was say, doing this course in the United States. There would probably be less of a focus on international law, for one. Sometimes it feels like, as far as twentieth/twenty first century Americans are concerned, Galileo got it wrong – the sun’s not the center, the United States is. We, as a culture/nation, are not very good at thinking outside of our own borders or interests.

I like being back in academia. I like going to afternoon lectures like this one put on by Dr Laura Agustín of The Naked Anthropologist and spending forty minutes after the lecture discussing feminism and sex trafficking and academic responsibilities. You just don’t run into that experience as frequently outside of academia. It’s good to be back and it’s good to be spending so much of my time in the library with vending machine coffee again. But then, I’m a bit of a nerd.

A day hike this weekend, a trip to Bath & Stonehenge next weekend. I’m sure I’ll find the procrastination time to write about both of those.

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2 Responses to Sussex & Culture

  1. mebrett says:

    Yes, it is definitely a different culture. As you say, the banking system is different (also varies a bit internally), and the taps! That was the thing which took the most adjustment. I really enjoyed getting my MSc in Scotland, and I think it helped me when looking at PhD programs to know that the US University system isn’t the only paradigm out there.

    Have a lovely time at Stonehenge!

  2. *nod* although, the wiping of the stove isn’t just age. Some people are incapable of seeing these things. I don’t understand either.

    Bath is lovely, hope you enjoy it, too (tho the mineral water is less lovely on the taste buds). Stonehenge is kind of.. well you’ll see. There are less well-known standing stones that are a bit more accessible and fun, might be good for hiking/touring.

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