First and Last Impressions

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by Lemara Lindsay-Prince

You can decide whether you like someone or something in an instant, so when I first arrived at Temple I didn’t like the place at all.

Driving down Broad Street and seeing the scenery change rather rapidly block after block was not what I expected. And as my very lost Haitian cab driver drove further away from 30th Street Station, the more real my surroundings became. It surprised me greatly that Temple University was somehow in the middle of this, a subway stop only seconds away and people’s houses only a foot off campus. I was shocked, to say the least; while I briefly thought it was no different to London, my hometown, the main reason I chose to attend the University of East Anglia in Norwich was to get away from inner city life; from cars, cops and casualties. The constant sounds of sirens in North Philadelphia made me feel as if I was right back there.

Before I came here, I had an image in my mind of what Temple would be like; yet, what I was presented with was the total opposite of what I had hoped for. It goes without saying that you put high expectations on things in your life. When you imagine something to be a certain way, you train your mind to think of only great possibilities. You don’t factor for the things that that are out of your control … the things that go beyond positive thinking. The true test is how you react when expectations don’t go according to plan. When you are presented with the opposite of what you had initially hoped for. Do you either give up there and then, or do you turn the situation around in your favor?

In other words, do your first impressions become your last?

It’s been eight months since I first experienced those negative and quite damning thoughts and initial reactions to Philadelphia. Yet my eyes have now been opened to the great things that hide in this city, and indeed, all across this nation. It has always been a dream of mine to study abroad in America, and I was more than happy to find a university in England that not only led in the field of American Studies, but had the most connections with academic institutions in the United States. My main reason for choosing to study abroad at Temple was the strength of its African American Studies Department. My “majors,” or degrees as they are called back home, are American history and English history, but I also have a great interest in Race and Racism, two concepts which are distinctly American. So the academic opportunities available at Temple were a major draw. I knew very little about the City of Brotherly Love, and I still feel like I have more to see and learn. However these past eight months have been jam packed with getting to know this city and its culture and history. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some great people here who helped introduce me to Philadelphia and its culture; my first slice of cornbread, a trip to the Liberty Bell, first time at First Friday or being pointed in the direction of the Reading Terminal Market. I really thought I would be at a loss with the city, but it’s been the opposite – I’ve submerged myself in the culture of this city by doing things and meeting people that are connected to it.

Apart from the obvious touristy things to do in Philadelphia, I’ve found new hobbies and interests on campus. At my home University I play for the UEA Panthers women’s basketball team, the 2007/8 BUCS (British University and College Sports) Division 2A champions. Basketball has always been an integral part of my life, and I hoped to continue my passion for the sport over while at Temple. There is a vast difference however, in the organization and structure of American college sports in comparison to English university athletics. There is so much time, money and effort invested in college athletes in comparison to the UK, and it’s great to see the resources at hand for the many sports teams at Temple. I’ve enjoyed the way the community and alumnae are involved with university athletics, and love that the composition of fans is a mixture of young and old, with the Owl logo uniting everyone.

I’ve continued my passion for the beautiful game by managing the Temple Women’s Basketball team this past season. The role of a manager is to do all the little things that make a big impact such as setting up practices, travelling with the team and working on game days. We don’t have manager positions for my team at UEA so this was a new experience for me and interesting to observe basketball from this angle. While I wish I could have committed more of my time to the team and even joined in at practices, what I did see was inspiring! Coach Cardoza and the Lady Owls are a team committed to hard work. The players have a great knowledge of the game, and I enjoyed watching them work on plays in practice and then apply those plays in a game. The hours and days put in to achieving such a high skill level is evident, and I hope to take that aspect back home with me and apply it to my final season as a Panther. I also wish them a tremendous season next year!

One major difference and aspect I’ve had a tricky time adjusting to at Temple is the workload that I believe is true of most American colleges. Before my peers and I left the comfort of UEA we had an informational session to tell/warn us about what to expect during our time in the US. Typical cross-cultural differences such as a trolley being a mode of transport rather than something you use to put items in at a grocery store, and so on.  But the thing that we were told would be of the greatest difference was the work structure and load, and boy were they NOT kidding! I’ve often asked fellow students just how they stay on top of it all, but I guess they are so used to this system it comes naturally to them, or they don’t have a definitive answer or formula. I’ve greatly enjoyed the topics available for me to learn at Temple, I just wish they didn’t demand so much work. For someone not used to a pop-quiz, let alone a multiple choice test or a paper due every week, this has been very hard for me and fellow UEA year abroad students across America to get used to. However, the constant load of work and knowing that you can’t falter for a second is yet another piece I will take back with me.

Leaving Philadelphia, and indeed America, will be the greatest bitter sweet moment for me ever. Without a doubt, I will miss my time at Temple as the education and opportunities here are overwhelming. The campus and faculties are thriving with things to do and ways to get involved, and I only wish I could have done more! Living in North Philadelphia has been something. It’s a section of the city rife with incredible people yet obvious hardship, and I only hope that its history is not lost and that Temple will somehow manage to help the surrounding community even more than they are doing now.

I advise anyone reading this and considering taking a year abroad in any country other than the one they were born to stop being indecisive and just do it! It will help you grow as a person; it will force you to appreciate your home and will introduce you to culture, people and places in ways you never could imagine.

Philadelphia has acted as a spring-board for my adventures up and down the East coast: Boston to DC, down south to New Orleans and Alabama and soon way out West to San Francisco and Oregon. Yet, no matter how many cities I have seen though, Philadelphia is the one that means the most to me as it has been my home for what feels like a long time!

Lemara Lindsay-Prince is an exchange student studying abroad at Temple from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK.

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