Attending an American High-School: Things that Surprised Me

I spent the last six years at small Indian private schools and the 10 before that in an amalgam of nursery’s, preschool’s, montessori’s, elementary schools and daycare. None of them prepared me for the big, colorful world of an American high-school (or maybe it’s just mine).  Here are some things which really surprised me:

  1. There are so many people!

    Let me put things into perspective: My batch at my old school was numbered 115- a fairly respectable number. Apparently, my new school has 400. It’s a thing of wonder to see students flow between classes. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to learn the names of all the students in school. Hell, I doubt I’ll ever learn the name of all the class of 2017 students!

  2. Where is the Morning Assembly?

    In India, no school-day can begin without an examination of our uniform (“You there, button your shirt.”, “Tie your tie properly.”, “Why haven’t you polished your shoes?” and my favorite- “Shoulder length hair has to be plaited. Don’t let me see your hair in a ponytail at lunchtime!”), shouted commands of ‘stand-at-ease!’ and ‘uh-ten-shun!’, school song and morning prayer (if you don’t know the words, mouth along- don’t ruin the tune).
    Can I just say I prefer the more relaxed, laid-back American version?
    A couple of school-wide announcements… simple and short really is sweet.

  3. Clothes:

    Speaking of uniforms and clothes, either teens here are a lot more daring or school dress codes are a lot more relaxed! There were some events for which we were allowed to wear ‘colour-dresses’ (ordinary clothes). I remember on one such event a girl wore a crop top with another shirt underneath it so that she wouldn’t violate the dress code. But over here there is no end to the short shorts, crop tops, backless or spaghetti-straps. Sometimes all four are worn at once! This observation doesn’t come from a place of prudishness or lechery, but rather jealousy. Trust me, India was hot too. But if I ever wore any one of these things, my teachers would have cheerfully murdered me!

  4. Migratory Movement

    In terms of classes to take, high-schoolers in the US have a lot more leeway than their Indian counterpart. For example, my school offers over 8 different kinds of English classes for 11th graders (stuff like Escapist Literature, Film Literature and Philosophy through Literature). Some students go to a close-by community college to take advanced Maths classes or courses like Nanotechnology. I’m taking Biotechnology, Journalism and Photography- 3 classes I would have never gotten to take in India (If I had stayed, my classes this year would have been physics, chemistry, biology and maths because they go together in one stream). When there are so many different variables in what you can take, teacher’s don’t move from class-to-class – student’s do.
    It’s impossible for you to appreciate how much this blows my mind!

  5. Class is More Interesting:

    This may partially be because I’m allowed to choose most of my classes. It may be partially because there’s a whole lot more interaction in the class.
    In India, the teacher literally reads the text-book out, explains it paragraph by paragraph in slightly different words (she’ll give you an example if you’re lucky) and then dictates notes to you.
    This is the first week of school, so take this with a grain of salt: The teacher will give you a couple of questions to make sure you did the homework/reading, explain elaborately with the help of a powerpoint while you take notes, give you time to practise what you learned until the period is over.

  6. American High School’s are More Insular; It’s Harder to Meet People:

    Since we switch classes (and thus, classmates) every period, as a new student, it’s really hard to remember names- much less form long and lasting friendships.
    This isn’t a book where you’re assigned a guide who becomes your best-friend like in the book, The Fixer (I wasn’t even assigned a guide). You don’t walk into Biology (why are 11th graders doing Biology if it’s not an AP class?) and meet the love-of-your-life/a hundred-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen. You don’t form a deep, but instant friendship when you ask someone for help with your locker (I don’t think my school even has lockers!). High school and new students in books are a total cliche, not to mention untrue.
    Everybody is nice. There are no raging witches who head cheerleading squads but there are no super-friendly, slightly awkward people who’re waiting for me at a lunch table (again, who sits at lunch tables for lunch?).
    I don’t really know anybody. Nobody really knows me. I’m too shy and socially awkward to approach people and try to fix this (I wouldn’t even know what to say). <gasp> I have become a friendless loner! Next thing you know, I’ll be the weirdo who eats lunch alone. Oh! Wait…never mind.

High School is difficult to predict from books and movies. It’s a new experience. A little bit exhilarating, a little bit scary. Here’s hoping to a great two years ahead.

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