Life Abroad
10 min

Pros and Cons of Living and Studying in the US

Yulia Rychkova has been living in the United States for five years now.
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She got a Fulbright grant for English teachers and then completed a master's degree. Now she is a fully-funded graduate student at the University of Mississippi and teaches Russian to American students.

StudyFree asked Julia to talk about the pros and cons of living and studying in the US.

What’s Good About Studying in the US

Motivated students. Studying at a college in the United States is expensive. Many students have to take out student loans for that, so they understand what they want out of their education, appreciate every piece of information, and even get frustrated when classes are canceled. Such an attitude is very inspiring, no matter whether you are groupmates with these students or you’re the one who teaches them.

Excellent professors. If you are a professor at a US university, you have to be actively involved in research and get published in prestigious journals. The quality of teaching is being constantly ensured by students who fill out anonymous evaluations and provide detailed feedback at the end of each semester, as well as by peers visiting each other's classes. As a result, professors strive to keep the bar high and only the best of the best remain in the system.

Great university campuses. I've been to about twenty universities in the US, and I know a huge amount of money is invested to maintain the campuses. They look like modern towns that have everything a student may need. There are no shabby classrooms or awful food in cafeterias. Students can use a lot of comfortable and secluded areas to learn and do their homework. You can find everything on campus, from a state-of-the-art computer lab to a nice coffee house. The campuses are very well designed in terms of architecture and landscaping, so one could hardly wish for a better place to learn.

A lot of free opportunities. We have at least five events on campus every day. For example, it can be a CV workshop, a foreign film club meetup, or a quiz with prizes. These activities help you switch your focus from studies, have some fun, and get to know new people.

Guaranteed success if you put in the effort. The US is a country where the effort multiplied by strategy will always pay off. If you study and work hard or even promote some project, your efforts will never be wasted. If you pursue it, you will receive a grant, scholarship, funding to attend a conference, get an internship, and build a career. Knowing that gives you confidence and helps you cope with the learning process, which is obviously hard, and other daily difficulties.

 

What’s Good About Living in the US

Friendly and polite people. In the US, it’s common that strangers smile at you, say hello, make small talk, or give you a nice compliment. For example, if you are an international student, people here can eagerly ask you about your country, your studies, and how you find life in America. Normally, people here won't yell at you if you accidentally hit a shopping cart in the supermarket or get stuck at traffic lights. Many people think American smiles are fake, but it's actually just a decent thing for them.

Developed cities all over the country. Many people here want to live in a big city and seek to move to places like New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. However, you can also live comfortably outside metropolitan areas, or what Ilf and Petrov described in their “Little Golden America”. Most towns have large stores, schools, colleges, hobby clubs, and boast their distinctive flavor.

Extensive social services and support. There are many public and private charities, often religious ones, that help and financially support the poor, disadvantaged, and other people who find themselves in a difficult life situation. Every city has second-hand stores and food banks where you can get free food. Many states offer healthy nutrition programs for pregnant and postpartum women. Besides, there are a lot of free colleges all over the country.

Freedom to express yourself and not be judged. You can wear bright hair, bold makeup, a national costume, have piercings all over your body or go to the store in your pajamas — no one will care. If anything, you might even get a compliment. The same goes for your job, hobbies, and religion. Even if someone finds the way you look or what you do weird or embarrassing, they will hardly say a word to you.

Price stability. Inflation in the US is controlled so the prices remain almost the same. Now, in late 2021, prices have risen a bit for the first time in several years due to the supply crisis, the effects of the pandemic, and costly infrastructure reform. However, prices normally go back down after a crisis. For example, if oil prices decline, gasoline gets cheaper too, rather than remaining at crisis levels.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but everything I mention here does reflect general trends and values. 

What’s Not So Good About Studying in the US

Tuition fees. Although prices vary from college to college, it is generally expensive to study in the US. For domestic students, it is cheaper to study in their home state. In a neighboring state, they have to pay as much as international students do. For example, it is $25,000 a year for local students at the University of Mississippi, while “guests” have to pay $40,000. And this is not the largest and most prestigious university in the country. At top universities, prices are much more frightening. In addition, they don’t provide you with free textbooks here, so you will have to buy them yourself, and they are pretty costly — $100-150 each.

Tough policy against plagiarism. You can be seriously punished for plagiarism and even self-plagiarism, including by expulsion.

This applies not only to final tests and graduation papers, but also to essays, reports, and other written works you submit during the semester. Using Google translator when writing essays in a foreign language can entail the same penalties.

Personalized schedules. On the one hand, being able to create your own schedule and only attend classes you find interesting is really great. On the other hand, students in the US study most of their time. With an individual schedule for each semester, you don’t belong to a permanent student group. This means you have to put in extra effort and/or join student associations to make good friends at the university.

Lack of dress code. Comfort goes first here, so most students in the US wear casual clothes. Sometimes students’ outfits look as if they’ve come to class right from a workout or just got out of bed.

Too much of everything. There are lots of tests, home assignments, projects, cars in the parking lot, and people in classrooms in some courses. In the first year of a language course, a group may include from 25 to 30 students.

What’s Not So Good About Living in the US

Customer-unfriendly banking services. In my state, ATMs, where you can withdraw cash, are very hard to find. The mobile apps of local banks are awfully obsolete. Even the chip card encryption process is not that smooth. To transfer money from card to card online, you have to download a special app, which does not work with all banks.

No small retail outlets. Those living in small towns in the US can only dream of having grocery shops, convenience stores, or vendor stands near the house. If you suddenly run out of snacks, fruit, bread, or milk, you have to go to a hypermarket. It takes 25 minutes to walk from my house to the nearest Walmart. A bus ride there will take the same amount of time. So most people here go to these stores by car and shop for a whole week.

 

"Hidden" payments. In the US, VAT is added to the declared value of the purchase. So you might be surprised at the cash register to find out that you pay 4-10% more than expected. The tax depends on the state. In Mississippi, it is 7%.

When having dinner at a cafe, a tip is a mandatory thing. The official wage of a waiter can be as much as $3 an hour. It’s mainly customers who pay for their work so you have to tip 15-20% of the bill.

Expensive mobile phone and home Internet. High-speed home Internet would cost you from $50 a month. An unlimited cell phone plan is from $30 to 70. That's why limited GB plans and family plans for 4+ users offering a better price per user are still popular in the US.   

It takes effort to eat healthy. In the US, most foods have sugar, even the ones where you wouldn't expect it, such as meat or sauces. Corn syrup is often used as a sweetener. It's popular with manufacturers because it’s cheap. The bad thing though is that it increases the risk of diabetes. If you're concerned about what you eat, read food labels very carefully.

Portion sizes in restaurants and cafes are too big. Besides, a free complement often goes with soup, salad, or a drink. The cost of the dish is proportional to the size of the portion. This is exactly the situation when you get a service that is worth its price, but you just don't need it in that amount. No wonder food waste has been an acute problem in the US for years: 30-40% of all food produced in the country ends up in the trash.

By Yulia Rychkova

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