The University of Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C, oozes college culture just as you’d expect from a university in the U.K. However it has one vital difference: most undergraduates are under 21 years old and therefore not allowed, by law, to buy or drink alcohol. The implication this has upon the student lifestyle however appears minimal – teetotal? I don’t think so!
Casual drinking is ultimately absent in the lives of these undergraduates. Unlike in the U.K where you may go for a pint in the pub or a beer and a burger at Wetherspoons, the American student way is to throw college fraternity parties as wild as in the teenage films.
It is everything you would imagine from seeing the movies. With beer pong, red and blue cups, D.J’s, free alcohol (provided by the fraternity you pay large amounts to join), the basement crammed to bursting point, and people dancing against a backdrop of fluorescent decorated walls; these parties provide you with the ultimate club atmosphere.
This is not just your average student party. A U.S college party is highly organised to minimise the chances of police disruption. Each party has allocated members of the fraternity to take on the role of ‘bouncer’. They take control of people socialising outside and I was shocked to have my drink removed from my hands as soon as I stepped out of the door which, done without a thought in England, is one of the main rules to abide by at college to avoid unwanted police attention.
There is definitely a sense that the occupant of the house could not know everyone at the party which certainly rings true with many an English house party. But this party was different. It was an opportunity for the fraternity to meet new people and see if there were any new ‘freshman’ who would be qualified to join their frat house. As an all male brotherhood, fraternities are an American institution which provide their social culture. This culture is comparable to what students in the U.K may find in university societies which also have an emphasis on drinking. However there is a much greater stigma attached to a fraternity with the most famous being the gruelling initiation ceremonies.
With such a drastically different drinking age, the attitude to student drinking does not differ as much as you may think. Aside from the fact that these parties are definitely larger and more extravagant than those in the U.K, and perhaps more precautionary measures are taken to avoid police dispersing the party, student culture remains ultimately the same.
It struck me, as America is famous for its college parties, that there is still such a façade to be upheld that drinking is strictly for the over 21’s. In this era of social media documenting our lives, where facebook will hold many photos of alcohol fuelled nights for almost every student at university, it was startling to note the American student attitude. No photos could possibly be put up online if they had a drink in their hand in case future employers were to view them.
So everyone hates it when ‘the day after the night before’ photos are uploaded and tagged to numerous extremes but this was different. It was a request not to be ignored – ‘the photos will not go on facebook!’ Maybe this is an attitude those of us in the U.K should adopt. It is only once you begin to think about applying for jobs that you realise that there are 1000 photos of you in Sobar and that this evidence of a student drinking culture is difficult to erase.