Welcome to the USA

I landed at Philadelphia International and took a shuttle bus to my new campus. The shuttle drove through a very industrial-looking landscape: Imagine tall smokestacks, like the ones you see in all those popular anti-pollution commercials. I saw this type of scenery for the first time in real life. A little later the shuttle started dropping off students, at what seemed to be just another residential block. I realized we were actually on the campus itself. It is very different from what an EUR student might imagine. Firstly, the campus grounds are large. It comprises a couple of blocks, an area roughly the size of Kralingen. Secondly, there are no real borders between it and the city itself; it just blends in. I found my room, settled in and couldn’t help visiting a McDonald’s restaurant. I just felt I wanted a taste of the institution most associated with America, in the US itself. I can’t say the food was very different from anywhere else, besides, perhaps, the free refills. What struck me however, were the two tall guards that stood next to the doors, inside, attending to anyone who spoke a little loud and removed people that sat there without purchasing anything. Only later I found out that this McDonalds had one of the highest shooting incident rates in the United States.

Despite the lack of clear boundaries, the campus itself feels like a bastion. There is literally a police officer or a ‘yellow coat’ (a private protection force operated by the university) on each corner. It made me wonder whether I should feel safer or just more worried. We even had a safety talk by a campus police officer telling us about falling crimes rates. Still everyone was given a ‘rape whistle’. This has its obvious use but also has printed on it the phone numbers of the ‘yellow coats’ who will escort any student home after 6 pm. That same week we got some proof of why all these measures are needed. A student and an off-duty police officer got shot inside the on-campus movie theater. The offender managed to escape with the money unhurt. I was just about 200 meters away munching on a burrito when it happened. Seeing five choppers in the air with beam lights scanning the whole area and channel 6 vans with reporters reporting live from the scene were like sights from a movie. The opening titles were running: Welcome to the USA.

Jonathan Friedman is a Master student at RSM, doing the Finance and Investments programme. He is currently in Philadelphia, studying at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, as part of an exchange programme.