Secrets of a Briton in New York

Before my departure, the University of Exeter’s Study Abroad department held various meetings about what to expect when you… well, study abroad. They went into minute detail about the culture shock that we would face, and reiterated that there was a trained team in our chosen country to help us if things got a bit too overwhelming.

I have to say that when I arrived, it hit me harder than I expected. The air was so much thicker; the food was so much smellier; streets were busier; and the people talked so fast and in this strange, foreign dialect. New York was shaping up to be one weird place.

When most people come back from their year abroad, we are regaled with tales of beautiful beaches, cute little villages, flea markets, cheap food, and more drunken shenanigans than you can pack into a Timepiece Wednesday. And I was determined not to be any different. Did America have any culture apart from obesity and alarmingly low literacy rates? If it did, I was here to find it.

Based in a suburb of New York called Poughkeepsie, my university was a 3000-strong liberal arts school. When I first arrived at Vassar College, I thought I’d stumbled upon the Hipster’s Pilgrimage. There were thick rimmed, non-lens glasses as far as the eye could see. And trust me, school was a lot more fun when I started taking a shot from my Urban Outfitters hipflask every time I saw someone on Instagram. But before I knew it, there I was too: listening to The Black Keys with a bong in the middle of the room, and telling my friends about the great bargain I got at the thrift store earlier that day.

Since I couldn’t legally drink (damn Prohibition), I went to a lot of house parties. The seniors would kindly host said parties in their off-campus abodes, and provide enough alcohol to last a couple of hours.

I had been warned. Multiple times. But I didn’t realise the extent to which these people could be obsessed with a drinking implement. In all honesty the red cups are pretty cool. They made me feel like I was doing something dangerous, illicit, and even slightly raunchy. When in reality I don’t do those things until I’ve put the cup down and taken someone home…

How do I describe the atmosphere…? I’m sure you’ve all experienced that moment in a club, usually around 3am, when everyone has had too much to drink and loses all sense of morality and self-respect; when you grab the nearest freestanding person to you in a desperate attempt to keep yourself upright, and avoid one more night of sleeping alone; when your lips meet in a fiery, and let’s face it sloppy, collision. Well every single moment was like that at one of these parties—and at Vassar College, it didn’t matter about gender or relative attractiveness. Everyone was appreciative of everyone’s appearance, and everyone’s sexuality was fluid. Now I know what it felt like to live in the sixties.

And if by 2am you weren’t having sex in the same room as an unsuspecting roommate, or eating your way through a 24-hour Wendy burger, then you were wasting your life—or as I like to call it, sleeping.

New York City is renowned for its art galleries: The Guggenheim, MoMA, The Met, etc. But for those artistically-minded, the places really worth seeing are the lesser-known galleries like The Frick, Pace, Gagosian, Danzinger and Pace/MacGill. For theatre, I’d stick to off-Broadway, or even take a train down to Poughkeepsie and watch Vassar’s talent shine. Home to alumni Meryl Streep, Lisa Kudrow, Anne Hathaway etc., Vassar’s theatre department produces stellar productions and is a breeding ground for budding actors. There’s more than one art gallery in the college, a library that made the Top 10 most beautiful libraries in the US, and a magazine that is dubbed as “artistic porn”. Yes, I’ll definitely be going back.

Oh and I guess I learnt some academic-y stuff, too.

Written by Alexandra D’Sa.

For more information about Alexandra’s year abroad please visit:

Special thanks to Ryder O’Dell.

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