Oh Dream, American Dream!
By courtesy of Janka Kopálová
Janka Kopálová is a third-year student of European Studies at Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at Comenius University. She spent a year in France as a secondary school student and in 2011 she returned to France, this time to Bordeaux as an Erasmus student. She is a dedicated student and a very prolific person. From her extracurricular activities we can mention her taking part in FSEV Conference in Florence entitled The EU and the World: New Challenges and Trends. Twenty-seven ideas from Erasmus Generation, and her summer job in Paris, which has become part and parcel of her life.
Last year was a real international mix for Janka. She spent the summer in Paris, the fall semester in Pennsylvania in the United States and as Canada was in spitting distance from her at that time, she joined her cousin in Vancouver for Christmas.
She likes travelling and getting to know new people and cultures. Apart from that, she enjoys jogging, skating and skiing, and she loves hanging out with friends over a glass of good wine. In case you were interested in her literary taste, she has revealed that the last book she has read was Mních, ktorý predal svoje Ferrari (The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari) by Robin Sharma.
She wrote a report for Perspectives about her stay in the United States entitled Oh, Dream, American Dream! and yet she is dreaming about another travel! Her life dream is to cross some African states, but till it comes true, she is making plans for another travel. Again to France, but this time she'd like to spend more time there... So let's cross fingers for her!
It is said that unplanned events and spur-of-the-moment decisions are the best. After a semester spent in the US, I can only agree. Let me explain. Last year, sometime in mid-March one of our teachers told us that there was a good chance to study at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, USA for one semester of the following academic year. I was attracted to the idea, but I cannot tell I dedicated all my attention and energy to get there. On the contrary, it took me quite a time to find all the information necessary about the university, fees, eligibility and selection criteria. When I realized that I met the criteria, I told myself: “Why not? Let’s try and we will see!” And I got lucky. When our university coordinator gave me a call, I experienced a light heart attack and a surge of excitement flooded my body and mind. Without hesitation I confirmed my “attendance” in the American dream.
Later in April I focused on getting visa, booking my flight, buying the insurance and all that paperwork that everyone hates but has to do in order to be allowed to enter the American soil. The true American dream began in August 21, 2012 when I arrived on campus of Slippery Rock University. My first impression was very positive – a nice, small place with familial atmosphere in the air. I was really impressed by how everyone took care of me and other internationals and how girls in the international office and other staff were always willing to help. Every day of our orientation week we were introduced to different tasks and experiences lying ahead of us in the fall semester. However, the most important thing everyone stressed to us was that the campus was alcohol free, thus you were not allowed to bring beer or any other alcoholic drinks even if you were 21. I think that Americans are somehow “obsessed” with alcohol control. For instance, if you go to a restaurant and you are not over 21, you cannot sit in the area where alcohol can be served. Shocking, strange, illogical and silly for us but for Americans a good and generally accepted solution how to prevent youth from consuming this prohibited substance.
One of the historical buildings on campus
Since my first week was an orientation week for international students, there were practically no American students on campus. I was sincerely surprised by how many international students came to study or have already studied at Slippery Rock University. There were about 70 of us and every corner of the world was represented. This is something we can only dream about in Slovakia, but I hope that we will do our best to attract more international students.
Classes started at the end of August and I dived into the sea of knowledge and new information. From my point of view the way American teachers approached their students is very different. Teachers invite their students to react, to ask questions, to express their opinions or even question the things the teacher says. Questions like: “Guys, what do you think about it?” or “What would you do at his place?“ were an everyday routine. Since I took classes at the department of political science, we dealt with American presidential election campaign almost every single day till November 4th when Obama was reelected.
Dorms on SRU campus
Moreover, we had some surprise quizzes and mid-term exams, which is not the case at my home university in Slovakia. On the whole, I would say that their level is comparable to ours. However, I noticed that American students did not know some basic things that I would consider elementary for anyone studying political science. I appreciated that all students took their final exams before Christmas. So, you pass the exams and then you are free till the end of January – what would Slovak students pay for having six free weeks in the middle of the winter season for skiing or other activities that are more fun than studying?
But my stay in America was not only about school and studying. Spending a few months in a foreign country helps one notice the difference. On the one hand, there were things I was envious about and wished they would become a part of Slovak reality. On the other hand, I was glad we were able to avoid others.
I would start with those I did not like. The number one would certainly be the air-conditioning. It was 30 degrees outside, but when you entered a class, you were almost freezing. As my French friend said: “Thermal shock is guaranteed every time you enter or quit a building.” My roommate was such a big fan of air-conditioning that she used to turn it on at night. As a result, I woke up trembling from cold in the morning. Another important thing which I realized was that Americans have no sense of saving energy, protecting nature and other resources. Nonstop air-conditioning is just one example. Being in a class with windows closed, blinds fully retracted and lights on while the sun outside was shining bright was absolutely normal.
Moreover, walking distances over a mile was quite unimaginable for many of them. That was one of the reasons why there were constant problems with parking lots – there was just not enough space for so many cars.
Last but not least, I cannot forget the food. Every event was provided with complimentary food. The campus dining hall was full of food of any choice – pizza, pasta, hamburgers, fries, different kinds of meat, salads, soups, fruits and veggies, cookies, cupcakes….I could go on and on. You just swiped your ID card at the entrance to the dining hall and you could eat limitlessly.
However, let’s have a look at the positive things that should be more appreciated and brought to Slovakia. First of all, we should be more proud of ourselves. I think that America is no longer that paradise of the '90s, but Americans still believe and proudly proclaim that they can find a solution to any problem because they are the magnificent nations of the United States. And I think it is something that makes them go on in any situation.
Secondly, having fun is a crucial part of every activity. I had a chance to talk to a successful businessman and he told me about the key principles of a good and prosperous business. Believe me or not – HAVE FUN! – was in the top five on the list. If you don't like what you're doing, if you do not enjoy it, you will never ever make the best of it. Another thing I miss about America is their openness to anything new – whether it is a foreign accent or a new idea that could be transformed into reality – they all seemed so fascinated by it. Here, in Slovakia, we are still suspicious about anything and anyone we don't know. So in this aspect, we should take inspiration from the Americans.
Lake on SRU campus
In conclusion, I would like to highlight that it was an enormously enriching and unforgettable experience and I would recommend it to anyone who is toying with the idea of crossing the Atlantic. My spontaneous decision to do so was worth it. I have already told you about many great things in America, but I somehow forgot to mention that it is through travelling and getting to know new things that one can appreciate what one has at home. But that's a different story.
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