My view of US college life before I got there was based on the 1978 film Animal House. I assumed everyone had sex with their professors; that sharing a joint was the best way to start a conversation; and that college football was a religion. It was only once I arrived on campus that I realised how times had changed: pot was for kids, college was about getting creative in the lab.
Yet even though Animal House is pushing 40, it’s still a useful guide for anyone thinking about going to America to study.
If you’re a girl you’ll be warned that university life can be a minefield of drunken gropings and sexual assaults. If you’re a boy you’ll learn that joining one of the roughly 5,500 fraternities throughout the country will mean being subjected to initiation rites — hazing, as it’s known — that wouldn’t be out of place in a category A prison. I’m not exaggerating: there have been dozens of hazing-related deaths in the past 15 years.
Leaving aside the pitfalls of unsupervised behaviour, Animal House hints at something else American students take for granted: a campus lifestyle that is jaw-droppingly luxurious. Believe me, it has only improved since 1978. The universities are locked into an amenities arms race. In 2013 almost $11bn (£7.2bn) was spent on upgrades and building projects.