High school in America

One newcomer’s perspective on the mythic American experience

High School Musical. I bet all of you have heard of it and most of you have probably watched all the movies too. Think about the cliquey cafeterias, yellow school buses and football games… those were my expectations of high school in America.

The author (left) enjoys Mustang Block with friends.

Let me clarify: no, I didn’t think people would really stand up and dance on tables. I also realized that school in the U.S. wouldn’t be fun every single day; it’s still school we’re talking about. But I definitely thought high school in America would be way cooler than a typical Dutch school.

Yes, the country with the tulips and stroopwafels and has Amsterdam as its capital. I was born and raised in the Netherlands and so I have been in Dutch school systems for the majority of my life. A typical Dutch school was nothing but normal and boring to me.

So when I first heard I was going to move to the United States I was shocked. Going to high school in America is something that happens in movies, but in my own life? No, that’s insane!

Well, guess where I am now.

Surprisingly enough, I found myself adjusting to this school system relatively quick. The Pledge of Allegiance suddenly isn’t so strange anymore, and I got used to the yellow school buses – even annoyed when it is so full that I have to awkwardly share a seat with two other people while also trying not to fall off at every turn the bus makes. (Believe it or not, we didn’t have school buses in the Netherlands; instead, we walked or rode our bikes to school.)

While writing this article I was curious to see if I was the only one thinking of these stereotypes of American schools and if I had missed any. To see if anyone had similar thoughts, I decided to call some of my friends in the Netherlands. I challenged them to think of the first thing that comes to mind when they think of an American school and they said:

“A large school where every student wears a uniform,” Maureen Hoekstra (16) said.

“Large lockers with turnlocks, a lot of space and tons of decorations,” Rosanne Cordia (15) said.

“Guys in every hallway with those jackets from school, are they called baseball jackets?” Mariska van de Geest (16) said.

To many of you, these probably won’t make you look up anymore. Many of you probably also don’t realize the most customs of American high school could be really special and exciting to someone else. Personally, I could not wait to have a large locker. We did have lockers in my old school, but they were small, and every day I had to struggle to fit my own stuff in there. You could imagine how surprised I was to find out that I was almost the only one here to even know my locker combination, or even use my own locker.

I suddenly realized that people at George Mason probably have expectations of Europe and European schools, too. When someone would tell me a couple of months ago that Europe was the coolest place I would laugh. Europe, cool? I mean, I guess, but why go to Europe if you have a whole country like the United States to explore?

The truth is that once people are accustomed to their surroundings, there is no longer a thrilling experience where they live. For example, I’ve never been to the most famous tulip garden in the Netherlands: not because I wasn’t able to go, but it never occurred to me. I know it is not just me who experiences this. People living in Falls Church don’t go to Washington D.C. nearly as much as I thought they would. Additionally, when I tell locals that there is a Madame Tussauds museum in DC, they are surprised and say they did not know there was such a thing.

I do realize this is not the case for everyone, but in the meantime, I am enjoying every “so American” tradition just as if I were in High School Musical myself, and as I do so I am happily making my way up to prom – wait, that’s a thing here, right?

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