International students have hard time adapting to U.S. drinking laws
One of the perks for American college students studying abroad is being able to enjoy the drinking culture in countries with lower drinking ages. International college students studying in the United States, however, have the opposite experience.
Many international students come from places where they can drink as young as 16, but the legal drinking age throughout the U.S. is 21.
Making the adjustment from one drinking culture to another can be a pain for students, especially those who were old enough to drink legally in their home countries but not in the U.S.
Naish Annert hails from Melbourne, Australia, where the legal drinking age is 18. Annert, 19, is studying at University of Nebraska-Lincoln and does not let the fact that he is legally underage in Lincoln deter him from drinking, although he said he has to take extra precautions to avoid getting in trouble with the law. That has not always worked for him, however, as he has already received a citation from UNL police for underage drinking.
“It’s like I’m 16 again,” he said.
According to Annert, Australia and the U.S. have different drinking cultures, as well as different legal ages. He said in Australia, he would usually only drink if he was going out on a Saturday night, but in the U.S., people drink during the week.
“Here people just drink for fun,” he said. “It’s weird.”
Marloes Berends, 22, is from the Netherlands but was living in Amsterdam before her semester at UNL began in January. Berends was surprised by how much college students drink here.
“When Americans drink, they go totally ape s–t,” she said said.
American young people get “out of control” when they drink, Berends said, and their house parties are “mind-blowing.”
“In the Netherlands, it’s more like ‘Yo, Joe, let’s drink a beer because we like the taste of it’ and here it’s like ‘I want to get drunk because it’s not allowed,’” she said.
In Holland, minors can consume alcohol as long as it was given to them for free, but a person must be 18 to purchase alcohol.
Cristina Petrisor, an international student from Spain, agrees with Berends’ assessment about the difference in European and American drinking cultures.
“You drink alcohol to enjoy your alcohol, not to get wasted,” she said of the culture in Spain. “I think that’s the basic difference.”
Petrisor, 24, said drinking laws are enforced in the U.S. more than they are in Spain, where drinking alcohol is permitted at 18 and is seen as a social activity rather than a means to get drunk. The stricter enforcement largely affects her friends who are of legal age in Spain but are not in the U.S.
“I think it’s depressing for them,” she said.
Underage international students cannot join their friends of age for a drink at the bars, so they usually end up at house parties, Petrisor said. This is worse for the students because they probably would have consumed less alcohol with their friends at the bars than at a house party.
House parties are unsupervised, which allows them to get out of hand, Berends added.
UNL psychology professor Ian Newman said America has always treated drinking issues very conservatively, and that the U.S. could not simply lower its drinking age from 21 without any repercussions. Newman studies underage drinking and substance abuse across in Nebraska and across international borders.
This leaves underage international students and U.S. students alike to find ways to drink without getting in trouble. If international students did end up getting in trouble, the consequences would be similar to those for underage U.S. students.
International students’ visas would not be affected unless the student committed a felony and was disciplined by UNL, said Karen Cagley of he International Student and Scholar Office. Underage international students caught drinking would likely face the same penalties as a U.S. student, which may include diversion and community service.
Brazilian Caroline Salles said if her parents found out she got in trouble for underage drinking in the U.S., they would be upset, despite a legal drinking age of 18 and lax enforcement back home in Sao Paulo. Salles, who turned 21 in late March, said her parents would not want her risking her scholarship because of disciplinary actions.
Berends could see why parents of international students would care if their children were disciplined for underage drinking in the U.S. Athough she thinks having a legal age of 21 is ridiculous, Berends said it is impolite to flout the laws in a country you are visiting regardless.
In the meantime, underage international students like Salles was up until recently often find themselves stuck in UNL residence halls – where alcohol is banned – while their friends are out at the bars.
“I’m just waiting for my birthday to drink,” she said in mid-March.