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Question of the Week: Social Life and Drinking on U.S. Campuses

The Question of the Week (a new feature for the blog!) this week was about drinking and partying on campus. How does it compare to the college social scene in other countries? What can you expect from the university social life? Here's what you and our bloggers had to say on the topic:

When the New York Times reported recently on the influx of Chinese students at American universities, they noted the disillusionment some Chinese students develop when it comes to campus social life. It “was all about drinking,” they quote one student as saying. “I don’t want to be in a bar drunk and grinding with someone I’ve never met and will never see again,” says another.

Drinking can be a big part of the social life at a U.S. university, particularly for undergraduate students. The University of Nonsensical Happenings, a humorous blog by students at the University of New Hampshire, is a useful read for those interested in seeing how American undergraduate students view alcohol and partying (caution: some posts contain strong language).

Two posts in particular worth looking at are this one mocking a health services announcement on the dangers of alcohol, and this one on the funniest places to wake up after passing out on campus.

Tara, who’s a graduate student at USC, says on Twitter that she has definitely found herself drinking more in the U.S. than she did back in China.

Jaime writes that she struggled to find her place on campus as a non-drinking undergraduate. “I didn’t want to drink, therefore there was no reason to go to parties, and therefore there were no real opportunities for me to make friends outside of class. I was miserable. I was lonely. It wasn’t until my sophomore year when I discovered the L.I.F.E. community that I started to accept Syracuse as my new temporary home. LIFE, which stands for Living in a Free Environment, is a living community specifically designed for substance free students. Students just like me.”

[ Read Jaime’s full post ]

How much of an adjustment is the social life at a U.S. college for international students? According to some, American students have a different relationship with partying and alcohol than students in other countries.

Blogger Brittney, who is American, writes (on, “I don’t think US students drink or party more, but I do think US college students have a tendency to party more destructively.” She attributes it to the high drinking age in America, and the taboo that develops around alcohol as a result. “I know other countries are not completely rid of underage illegal behavior…but from what I’ve heard from other international students it isn’t nearly as big of a problem because they aren’t constantly being told, ‘You’re not allowed…you’re not old enough to understand the consequences.’”

In the Daily Collegian's article about a new study indicating that Americans tend to drink more when they study abroad, one student replies of his time studying in Ireland, “It was more casual drinking in pubs, than drinking at a party with the expectation of getting drunk.”

Here’s Nareg’s perspective on college drinking, based on his experiences living in India, Armenia and the U.S.:
Certainly one of the more disillusioning aspects of student life in the States has been the overindulgence I have been exposed to on the part of many of my fellow-students when it comes to alcohol and drugs. Of course they are a minority, but they are enough in number to be visible, and to be disillusioning. Plus, I have class with them. It's sad when I find myself not taking a colleague seriously in an academic setting, mainly because I remember his or her behavior at a recent party. Perhaps it's unfair, but I can't disassociate the two in my mind.

In India, where I grew up, alcohol and drugs were strict no-nos. That doesn't mean nobody ever did either, but they were frowned upon by society as a whole. The argument against that is that it causes such habits to be driven underground, and all sorts of problems arise from bad or unregulated use of drugs or alcohol. Understandable, but regulated use just as easily leads to abuse. It's an old dilemma, and one I can't claim to solve.

I can invoke the spirit - and spirits - of Armenia, though, where I lived before coming as a student to America. Among my own and many other peoples of the Near East and Caucasus, alcohol is something that touches upon the sacred. Every drink has to be accompanied by a toast which gives the drinking some sort of basis. One doesn't drink to get drunk, but in celebration, in remembrance or in appreciation of something or someone. This practice adds reverence and even solemnity to drinking. (Oh, and the strange American concept of a "drinking age" of 21 doesn't exist either.)

Of course, to some extent what you’ll find depends on what school you go to, where you’re from, and what type of degree you’re going for.

Some college search sites, like the Princeton Review, rank schools according to the drinking culture you’ll find on campus, allowing you to find top party schools or relatively dry campuses, depending on what you’re interested in.

Chris, in graduate school at the George Washington University, has experienced a much more relaxed approach to drinking. He says, “The Organization of Asian Studies (OAS), the student group with which I’m most involved, also arranges happy hours every few weeks. These happy hours bring together students with similar interests in Asian studies and culture to get to know each other and swap stories over food and drinks. They’ve allowed me to get to know students who I otherwise might not ever see outside the library, which has been a great experience.”

[ Read Chris’s full post ]

And blogger Kim writes (on that compared to her undergraduate institution, which wasn’t much of a party school, she thinks students overseas may party as much or more. “My roommate studied abroad in Korea a couple of years ago, and the kids went out and played until past midnight and went to class only a few hours later…I feel almost inclined to say that students at some schools in Korea do go out and party more than the kids in my undergrad."

Sebastian agrees that there's not much difference between his native Bolivia and the U.S. when it comes to college partying:
Only two weeks after arriving to KU [University of Kansas], I was asked to take an online alcohol education course. From the start I suspected alcohol was a big part of on-campus life, and I wasn’t that wrong. But that's not surprising given the circumstances - youngsters in the process of turning into adults, living with each other with no parental control. Alcohol is involved in many social activities. This happens in my country too, so even when university authorities try to prevent college students from drinking there is only so much to do.

In the case of my college, KU, instead of focusing on banning alcohol, a battle hard to win, they use a program that tries to make students safer and more aware of the risks from alcohol. It is good to know about strategies trying to help on that matter, but after all it depends on each person to be mature enough and take care of their actions.

Kim adds of the social scene for international students, “I think it just depends on the person individually--there were some international students who didn't really do much partying (they would try it out and decide it wasn't for them), while there were others who did.”