The Varsity Life

Advice for elite sportspeople in North America

Quick advice for anyone who wants to play elite level sport while they’re studying abroad in North America.

(experience from the University of Toronto in Canada)

What is Varsity?

It is essentially the first team for any sport at a university in North America, except they receive far more funding than UK sports teams do as they tend to lead into American and Canadian professional sports like in the NFL or NBA, and there’s usually only one team rather than A, B, C teams. It also gets big crowds as school pride is huge in North America, so be ready to play in front of hundreds or even thousands of fans.

How High is the Standard?

I was playing soccer (I know it should be football, but they get confused out here) and I was expecting the standard to be low because Canada isn’t exactly famed for its soccer ability but I was very wrong. It was evident even from just the first few weeks of training that my teammates had little else that interested them and so they were a high standard, and most had played in specialist academies or had international club experience. Therefore, if soccer can have such a high level, then so can any sport in North America.

What is Involved?

Varsity is a great experience in elite sport but it does take an incredible amount of time and can force you to sacrifice other experiences, so you have to be sure that sports is your main focus of your year abroad. I had to wake up at 6am for 7am training most days and gym sessions in the evening which meant sacrificing nights outs with new friends as well as passing up on travel opportunities as matches are usually at weekends.

However, the additional opportunities you get are great (Although I can only speak from a Toronto perspective). You get elite level coaching and physiotherapy daily, priority access to counselling services and dietician services. Away from sport varsity athletes are often recognised on campus and are always the centre of attention – especially with a British accent.

Is it Worth it?

This is a question only you can answer. On one side, it is a great opportunity to play elite sports in front of large cheering crowds. On the other, it does take a lot of commitment and may detracted from the myriad of other experiences that can make a year abroad even more special. The choice is yours and good luck!

20 Cultural Differences: UK vs US

The number one question I’ve been asked since living in the US for the past four months from both Americans over here and Brits back home, has overwhelmingly been “so, what are the differences over there then?”. My response is always “where do I begin?!”. It’s become somewhat of a running joke between myself and my fellow Brits on exchange over here, the sheer confusion on where to start when trying to explain how different the two places really are. The fact of the matter is, the cultural differences are endless! So I’m going to attempt to shed a little light on the matter, and maybe it’ll answer some of the burning questions that you may have about life in Arizona, or life in England.

Before I begin however, I will point out that these are only my experiences of the US. They are also experiences of a particular state, Arizona. The USA is vast and extremely diverse so some of these generalisations may not apply to other states! These differences are not to be taken too seriously, and are not intended to offend anyone at all. My intention is simply to have a resource to present when someone next asks me that question! In no particular order, let’s begin…

Repping the Murican’ flag  

  1. Tipping: it’s a bit of cliché one to start with, but its relevant all the same. Many people are aware of the higher rates of tipping in the US in restaurants, averaging at 18-20% of the total bill as the expected norm. However, something which Brits may not be aware of is the tipping in other areas. The most random things I’ve been expected to tip for so far are: a hair-cut, a nose piercing, and a bus tour (which I’d already paid $90 for- ouch). In the UK we only tend to tip for restaurant service, and there is no expected amount. Most people just chuck a few quid down regardless of the bill.
  2. Skateboards/Pennyboards/Longboards: I’m not sure if this is an American college phenomenon or just a purely ASU trend (the uni which I attend), but half the population seems to ride one of these items to class. In Manchester, we get the bus and then we walk. A few brave souls cycle. At ASU thousands of students fly around on some variation of skateboard, bike or even ‘one-wheel’ (look it up). I initially thought I would be ploughed down one day on my way to class, but the ‘sun devils’ are more capable riders than I’d previously assumed.
  3. Toilet Doors: I’m really not sure why this is the case, but it’s something I’ve noticed in several other states too, so I don’t think it’s purely an Arizona issue. The public bathrooms have a gap in the door of each cubicle, almost wide enough to see inside the cubicle! I’m not sure the reasoning of this, but it is what it is I suppose.
  4. Compliments From Strangers: This is something I really love. Sometimes when you’re walking down the street, a girl will say “I love your outfit!” as you walk past. I found this really surprising at first, and thought people were being sarcastic. They aren’t, they’re just a lot more forward and willing to compliment a stranger. I’m planning on taking this one back home with me, I’m all about compliments!
  5. The Obsession with the ‘British Accent’: I’d heard a lot about this before I arrived, but I don’t think I was truly prepared for the extent of it. I decided for fun to count how many times I was excitably asked “Do you have an accent?!” on an average day. It was four times. FOUR. Americans love the British accent. I’m not really sure why, especially mine which isn’t so great (an east-midlander/northern-y mix). But it makes for a lot of fun regardless. My favourite occurrence so far has been when I stood up to do a presentation in class, and a boy in the row in front of me grinned from ear to ear from the second I spoke until I finished 5 minutes later. It was hilarious, and I’m laughing to myself writing this.
  6. Drinking: The drinking age across the US is of course 21, instead of our blanket age 18 across Europe. This does create a huge amount of differences in socialising and just general uni life. I could never do it justice to explain all of the difference here though, so I’ll link this article which gave the most comprehensive and accurate explanation I’ve seen so far:
  7. Dry Campus: This is related to number 6 and the drinking culture. The ASU campus is a ‘dry’ campus, meaning that no alcohol is prohibited anywhere on campus, including residential halls/dorms. This rule applies to everyone, 21’s and over included. This was very different coming from a uni which has bars within residence halls, and across campus between lecture theatres!
  8. Campus Fashion: This one of course varies from college to college, but one thing I have noticed is the overwhelming amount of American students that wear some kind of ASU related apparel. It is legitimate every day wear, an ASU t-shirt, hoody, hat, you name it they’re wearing it. This was weird to me at first, as in the UK no one ever wears anything with the uni’s name on aside from the odd jumper or sports-team jacket. Here they have entire shops dedicated to college apparel and every local shop sells a knock-off version of it too! I admire their love of their college!
  9. Mexican Food: Due to Arizona’s proximity to Mexico and the fact that it shares a border, there is no end of insanely wonderful Mexican food on offer in Arizona! It is by far the best food I’ve eaten since being in the US! I wish it was a more popular cuisine in the UK.
  10. Refills in Restaurants: If you’re eating out, and you’re drinking something which isn’t individually bottled such as coke, lemonade, or water, expect free refills! Not only do you get free refills in most places on those kinds of beverages, they often bring you them before you ask. An attentive touch which I really enjoy in the Arizona heat!
  11. HEAT: I’m well aware that this is an Arizona specific one, and that the US has its fair share of freezing states like the UK, however the heat here is too great to miss off the list. Arizona is statistically the hottest state in the US, and I have to say I’m enjoying it so far. I hasn’t dropped below around 15c since I’ve been here (early January), and it’s averaging a lovely 30c during the day at the moment! A far cry from rainy old Manchester!

    There’s that heat I was talking about…
  12. Free Speech Laws: Free speech laws in the US are a little more ‘free’ than they are in the UK. This has meant that anyone who wants to can come and speak on/around the campus about whatever they like, can. They can do this whenever they feel like it. It’s resulted in some interesting speakers to say the least (ask me about it if you’re intrigued!).
  13. Working: In the UK, I’d say that most uni students don’t work a significant number of hours during the semester. A lot of my friends don’t work at all whilst in uni, preferring to focus their attention solely on studies and working during holiday time instead. Those that do work I’d say only work around 15 hours a week max. The US is a different story! Many students here seem to work 30+ hours a week whilst in school, as well as taking part in unpaid internships! It seems a little crazy to me, but I really admire their ability to juggle everything!
  14. “Fin-stagram”: The Americans will 100% know what this one refers to. I imagine the Brits will be as confused as I was at first, so let me fill you in. A ‘finstagram’ is a ‘fun-Instagram’. It’s a separate Instagram account that people run for themselves, and keep on private for their closest friends to see. It’s essentially a feed of crazy/ funny photos and videos which you’d like to share, but not with quite everyone. A fun concept which I intend to bring home with me!
  15. Roommates: A commonly known thing, is that in the US a lot of students share a bedroom in college. It cuts costs and gives you a constant companion. I was pretty scared to do it at first, but it’s totally fine! A foreign concept to us Brits who love our personal space, I know. But, I promise it’s totally okay!
  16. Attending College In-State: In the US it’s very common to attend a college within your home state. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that in-state tuition is far cheaper than out of state tuition in most cases, so it makes sense financially! The other thing though, is that it’s not at all the same as staying in your city or region for uni in the UK. States here are FAR bigger than any region in England. To give you an idea, I recently discovered that the entirety of the UK (not just England) is smaller in square miles than the state of Arizona. Let that sink in. This state is bigger than the whole of the United Kingdom. You can still go pretty far away from home for college in-state!
  17. Class Times: In general, I find Americans to be a lot more work-orientated than us Brits. This results in far more working hours of the day, and included in this is college class times. The earliest classes here at ASU begin at 7.30am, and the latest finish at 9/10pm! A far cry from the 9am-5pm schedule that British uni’s tend to follow. I must say though, I couldn’t see myself taking a class that early or late, and being able to function effectively!
  18. Driving: Driving in Arizona is pretty essential to everyday life, which is quite the contrast from life in a city like Manchester. In Tempe where I live, it’s pretty difficult to do anything major without being able to drive. Public transport is not a huge priority here, so it makes life a little bit more difficult not having a car (good thing I have kind friends to taxi me around). The other interesting thing is that it’s legal to ride in the bed of a truck in Arizona, so you often see a group of boys sat in the back on the roads. I did it the other day and it wasn’t quite as terrifying as I’d expected!
  19. Police/Guns: I know this one is probably something that comes to mind when thinking of differences between the UK and the US, and I’m not going to go into detail about the wider issue of guns here. However, specifically with police I think Americans are always surprised to hear that British police don’t tend to carry guns unless for a special reason, and I admit I’d never really seen one up close until I moved here. The shock of my life was when I found out our campus police carried them everywhere, and when I saw an officer at a college basketball game with about 5 guns strapped to his body!
  20. Passports: Our final difference! I was surprised to learn that only approximately 35% of all Americans currently hold a passport! In the UK over 83% are estimated to have one. I didn’t realise until I arrived just quite how large the US is, so I don’t blame people for not being in a huge rush to leave, as there is plenty to explore here. I think I’d taken for granted how easy it is for us Brits to hop across to mainland Europe whenever we feel like, a visit to Paris here and a trip to Barca there! We definitely are blessed in that department!

*A bonus cultural difference- Palm Trees!* creds to my mate Phil for this film camera shot (his insta is @philly_gg)

Well there you have it! 20 of the possible hundreds of differences that I could think of between Arizona and England. I hope they shed a little light on some questions that you may have had, and maybe gave some insight into the life of a Brit in a foreign land. Again, if you find any of these to be inaccurate do let me know, I love discussing cultural differences with people! If you know me personally, feel free to drop me a message with any questions or other things that you may want to discuss. If not, feel free to follow me Instagram @gabiprice_ for more study abroad fun, and pretty photos from my excursions!

Until next time, Gabi xoxo





Reflections on Studying Abroad (just another excuse to keep talking about my year abroad, really)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So this is my eighth and final blog (try not to get too upset) and its basically just a short one to talk about what it’s like being back in Manchester, post-Illinois.

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Canada, Montreal and McGill: first impressions

I came to Canada about 10 days ago now with family, to combine holiday with sorting my life out. We spent a week or so in Montreal, exploring various areas of the island (it is an island), meeting my landlord and dealing with the bank. Continue reading “Canada, Montreal and McGill: first impressions”

End of exchange reflections (penned somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I really should have been trying to sleep)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So 10 months later and I’m permanently back in the land of real bacon, correct spellings, day/month/year and people who know how to make a proper cup of tea (I’ve had 12 already). For my final blog, instead of getting all sappy and emotional about how amazing this year has been I thought I’d finish off by sharing some of the worldly wisdom I’ve acquired since August. Here are a few of my top tips and insider hints for studying abroad at the University of Illinois, navigating the USA in general, and for all of those things you think will never happen, but actually did:

(interspersed with various photos from UIUC post-spring break and summer travels)

Continue reading “End of exchange reflections (penned somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when I really should have been trying to sleep)”

End of winter semester wrap up

Harry at McGill in Montréal

Hello from the second-to-last compulsory blog entry I have to write for Manchester on the road. On the other side of the last hurdle of the year that is finals I write this with a breezy light-spirited attitude and as so all my reflections will be horrifically bias and rose-tinted since the stress of exams an work will have been purged from my mind.

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Spring Break Travels (or Cuba: Fun yet Maddeningly Frustrating)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

“Fun but maddeningly frustrating” is the line used to describe Cuba on the back of the Lonely Planet Guide and by the end of our second day in the country, it had pretty much become our mantra for the trip.

If you’d asked me a year ago where I thought I’d be spending my spring break while on exchange in the USA I’d probably have said Mexico, or Florida, or some other typical location known for its beaches and partying. Then one day someone mentioned off-hand, “Guys, wouldn’t it be hilarious if we went to Cuba for spring break?”.

I’ll admit there was something enticing about the idea of, while on our American exchange, spending our break somewhere that Americans can’t actually go (at least not just for tourism reasons) and after triple checking with the international office at Illinois and various embassies that, yes, we would be allowed back into the country after having gone to Cuba, our spring break plans really started to take off.

Continue reading “Spring Break Travels (or Cuba: Fun yet Maddeningly Frustrating)”

Semester Two Update (or its midterm season again so seems like the perfect time to start writing another blog)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

I’m now five weeks into my second semester here at UIUC, so it’s probably a good a time as any to talk a bit about what it’s like being back on campus, what I’ve been up to so far, what’s different about this semester and what’s very much the same.

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Pre-departure Pep Talk

From where I am now, if I could give my pre-departure self a few words of encouragement and reassurance, they would go something like this…

Everyone has an American Dream.

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Academic differences in the USA (because it’s not called “study” abroad for nothing)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So now that I’m officially half-way through my exchange and no longer in the midst of the panic and stress of final exams I thought it would be a good time to take a step back and talk about the actual “study” part of studying abroad. Continue reading “Academic differences in the USA (because it’s not called “study” abroad for nothing)”

Thanksgiving Travels (or the real reason I went on study abroad in the first place)

By Elizabeth Pace (Chemistry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)

So here it is. After 13 weeks, 8 midterms, 9 lab reports and countless homeworks and surprise quizzes we finally got a week off. Thanksgiving break; the first decent length of time I’ve had to escape Illinois and actually see some of the country I’ve been living in for the past three months. As any of you who are friends with me on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat will know I definitely made the most of the (much needed) time off as me and a couple of other fellow Brits set off on an East coast adventure I like to call “One Week, Four Cities”.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving Travels (or the real reason I went on study abroad in the first place)”