By Chelsea LoCascio
America claims to be the land of the free. While I respect the country I grew up in, my perception of America changed when I flew back across the pond after studying in Scotland this summer. Instead of free, I could only see it as the land of crippling student loan debt, slow deaths from consuming genetically modified food, stifled student life and superfluous waste desecrating the environment.
Though I didn’t miss the haggis, I pined for Scotland more than ever when I paid a large chunk of change for this semester even after I received student loans. Fortunately, tuition is free for Scottish natives and when I told a few locals how much I pay for my own education, they laughed at what they thought was a joke.
Of course, their free tuition does not include the cost of living, but there are only a few outside expenses, such as textbooks, food and public transportation. Of these, food is the biggest expense for a U.K. student since they would have to go shopping weekly. Lucky for them, and unlucky for us, the U.K. and the rest of Europe use far less preservatives and hormones in their food.
For example, hormones like rBGH and rBST are found in Monsanto’s GMOs, approved by the FDA and have connections to breast and prostate cancer, thyroid disease, diabetes, obesity, infertility, asthma, allergies and early puberty, according to seattleorganicrestaurants.com.
Consequently, food outside the U.S. expires at a quicker rate, which would irritate the average American, but I would gladly pay a few extra bucks a week to not be slowly poisoned by my food.
Like Americans, the Scots love eating, but certainly not as much as drinking. On my first day there, my program director handed me, a 19-year-old, a glass of wine and toasted the new students’ arrival. Americans are so uptight about alcohol consumption that it has become a taboo topic in which professors and parents alike try to ignore and pretend it doesn’t happen. Yet in Europe, they embrace alcohol in moderation as a huge part of their culture.
The lowered drinking age throughout Europe is actually a lot safer, according to Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University who studies adolescent brain development. In a New York Times debate, Steinberg argues that though drinking does impair brain development, no one can stop teens from illegally consuming alcohol. Steinberg said that because American colleges have a split population of illegal and legal students, it makes it easy for underage drinking to occur. Even though Scottish students depend heavily on public transportation, Steinberg also said that places with driving and drinking ages both at 18 have safer roads than the USA.
In addition to understanding the realities of college life, the Scots are aware of the importance of protecting and maintaining the environment. Any traveler can tell how much the U.K. cares when they see the verdant hills, exotic flowers and lack of excessive man-made eyesores. How do they protect their land? Through simple acts such as paying for every plastic bag or minimizing toilet paper waste by allotting just one paper square each time you pull on the roll. They also clearly label what can and cannot be recycled — which would be a major aid to the College as I’ve seen students try to “recycle” shoes, bedsheets and even loaves of bread.
I’ve determined that the rest of the world is so mindful of not only others, but also the planet, because they do not have this capitalist “I’m going to be the best and couldn’t care less about how I get there or anyone in my way” mentality that many Americans have. As a country, we are setting up society to fail as we rob students of funds post-graduation, pump everyone full of chemicals, ignore and consequently exacerbate underage drinking and single-handedly destroy the planet that gives us life.
Land of the unfree and ignorant, I would argue. I’d take haggis over a hamburger any day just to live where the country acts in the best interest of its people, not its wallet.
Students share opinions around campus
“I want to study abroad because I’d like to enjoy their culture and you can immerse yourself in their language. America doesn’t really have a culture or a good history to lean back on.”
“To have a home campus and experience something totally different … that would affect you. I have doubts about (studying abroad) being cheaper. It seems pretty equal to TCNJ tuition.”