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The authentic American student experience

Written by students Annabel Fuller and Ruby Yates.

Our exchange semester at West Virginia University (WVU) has been an incredible experience. Although we still have another six weeks of the semester, we can both say with certainty that living the "American dream" has been one of the best experiences of our lives. When we embarked on this journey unsure of what to expect, neither of us thought that the small town of Morgantown, West Virginia would bring us so many cherished memories. 

Here are the nine things you'll love when you become a Mountaineer. 

1. Mountaineer pride

WVU is the largest university in the state of West Virginia with around 30,000 students. Still, it's not just the students who love WVU, the entire state is full of proud Mountaineers, sporting college colours and singing Country Roads. Local stores including bookstores, supermarkets, gift shops and Wal-Mart all stock college merch, from number plates and flags to dog coats and golf caddies, it's hard to find anything not branded with the flying WV. 

2. Tailgates and football games

Football games have been one of our favourite weekend activities. Every second weekend the Mountaineers play on campus in a four-hour spectacular only comparable to the AFL grand final. Game-day brings enormous crowds to campus with the stadium becoming the state's largest city each game. Before the match, Mountaineers tailgate outside the stadium to celebrate all things West Virginia with food, drink and Country Roads playing loudly. At half-time, we're entertained by the Pride of West Virginia Marching Band, famous for their dance moves. 

3. Greek life

A part of the American college experience is Greek Life. Fraternities and Sororities are a big part of WVU culture. As exchange students we were unable to join a Sorority but as we made friends with some of the 'sisters' we were still able to attend some of their events and see that Greek Life is about more than just parties.  

4. The variety of subjects

WVU offers an extensive range of subjects which are not provided at Bond. We each chose subjects that interest us; such as Spanish, America Politics and Sports Writing. These subjects have allowed us to gain a more extensive range of knowledge of different cultures and traditions, such as how the American political system works and the rules of an American football game. 

5. The ability to travel

When we have not been busy at weekend football games and in class, we have been fortunate enough to travel. Given Morgantown's location on the east coast, we have been lucky enough to visit Pittsburgh, DC, Chicago, NYC and Tennessee on long weekends. During our more extended mid-semester break, we were able to visit California and Nevada, which was exciting to see as it is very different to the east coast where we live. Travelling around the US has been some of the highlights of our exchange, and due to the diversity of America, we have not had to go too far to experience something new. Travelling within the US is much cheaper than in Australia as there are many transport options, including buses, trains and flights. Our travel highlights have been seeing the White House while aboard a Segway tour, driving across the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing snow at the beach in Chicago. 

6. PRT

The Personal Rapid Transit, more commonly known as the PRT, is a self-driving car which takes students from campus to campus. With the swipe of a student ID card, you can travel through the mountains to any of the stations which get magnificent views of the Monongahela River and the fall colours on the trees. It is a quick and easy way to get to class during the snowy season. 

7. On-campus activities

WVU has a variety of free activities on campus. Our favourites have been the rock-climbing wall in the Recreation Centre and the bowling alley, both of which are entirely free for students. There is also a large gym and swimming pool that is open until midnight each day. The gym provides free classes including F45, which often 'sell-out' within minutes due to their popularity. Another activity available Friday and Saturday nights are the Up-All-Night program that has free food, movies, games, and entertainers perform from 10 pm until 3 am each weekend. In the dorms, which are similar to The Blocks (The Halls), there are ping pong tables, a craft centre and free tutoring.  

8. American holidays

North America takes its holidays very seriously. Our introduction to this was Halloween, where we saw streets and houses decked with 'spooky' decorations and stores filled with candy and costumes. The Halloween festivities lasted over a week with pumpkin carving, parties and trick or treating. Our next American first has been Thanksgiving; the WVU Global Office put on a traditional dinner of turkey, potatoes and pie for international students. We are now going into the Christmas season, which we are very excited about! 

9. American culture

For anyone looking to study abroad in the USA for the authentic college experience, WVU is the place for you. WVU is thoroughly American with school pride, huge sporting events and a club and society for everyone. Our highlights have been attending the Homecoming Parade which saw thousands line the streets to watch local marching bands and floats before this year’s annual King and Queen were announced. While it's not our favourite American snack, all West Virginians must try a pepperoni roll, which is a local delicacy. 

As we have discovered, the United States is so much more than we had expected. The people of West Virginia are incredibly welcoming and made us feel at home the second we arrived. While we’ve had our ups and downs, we wouldn’t change the experience for anything. We still have so much of the USA to explore, but for now, we are so grateful for the experiences we have had at WVU. 

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