The Brit in Beantown

Matilda, a Queen Mary History student, studied abroad at Northeastern University in Boston and reflects upon that famous American school spirit, English language barriers & the Beanpot…

When I left London for a year abroad in Boston, I had no idea what to expect. I thought moving from Leeds to London was a culture shock, but nothing prepared me for the one that was in store for me.

I completed my year abroad as an optional extension to my existing History BA at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. It was easily the best 8 months of my life, unfortunately cut short by the pandemic. I am beyond grateful to the Queen Mary International Exchange team.

As I said, as much as I absolutely loved my time in Boston it took a while to adjust. My roommate Ella can attest to me crying in Wholefoods because they didn’t have the British brands I was used to. I very quickly adjusted and hopefully this can give some insight into how British and American cultures differ, or are similar, to help your own journey.

Academically, I was not prepared for just how different our system is from theirs but strangely it works in our favour. The American university system, in my instance at least, was a lot less focused on essays that are worth a large part of your grade and more on participation, and less weighted but more frequent assignments. Overall, it was a nice change after the hard work of second year and if you managed your time well, it allowed so much more time for activities outside of school.

In line with university… school spirit. You hear about it; you know it’s huge, but you don’t quite expect it. For Northeastern it was ice hockey that was the focus of a large amount of this school spirit, including mine and my friends. As someone who isn’t a sports fan in this country, I got very quickly invested in a sport I’d never even watched before. The Northeastern Huskies played basically every week and in February were the winners of the Beanpot. The Beanpot is a tournament of four Boston schools: Northeastern, Boston College, Boston University and Harvard. Me and my roommate attended the final, which we won…now that was an amazing combination of school chants, school colours, mascots and pep bands. I don’t think anyone has ever turned up to any of my Queen Mary Netball matches with the exception of Merger, let alone enough to fill TD Garden.

Culturally, there are so many differences that you might find strange, but I guarantee by the end of your exchange you’ll love them. For example, I will never again take for granted a kettle after microwaving my water just to make a tea. The amount of times I had to ask someone if they had a “bin” before I realised, they called it “trash” was embarrassing. One thing I know for sure is that I would take all of those little quirks back in a heartbeat for more time in Boston.

Boston was a city I was not particularly interested in visiting, apart from the history lover in me needing to see the JFK Presidential Library. Saying this, after only a month there I was in love. I always describe the people in Boston as the “northerners” of America, as it was like being home. There are so many amazing things to do, tourist things like the Freedom Trail or Fenway Park and then areas you just find and suddenly they become your favourite place. Northeastern, for me, was perfect; after living in London I knew I couldn’t go somewhere suburban so it being in the city was ideal. Despite this city location it seemed like its own little community on Huntington Avenue.

I can’t thank Queen Mary or Northeastern enough for bringing 8 months of complete joy, new friendship and life changing experiences into my life.

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