Cultural Differences

Some students ask: What’s the big deal about drinking?

Photo credit: Area María Guede Ramos by Kantaro Komiya.

By Kantaro Komiya

In her first year at DePauw University, sophomore Area María Guede Ramos from Moaña, Spain, was surprised at the lack of self-awareness among binge-drinking students, intent on going beyond their physical limits, even if that meant being hospitalized.

“I kind of thought that once you get into college, people get more responsible with their drinking, Ramos says. “But that was not the case.”

Ramos is a member of the international contingent of more than 200 students who comprise 10 percent of the student body, representing more than 30 countries. Some come from countries with lower or no drinking ages, according to the World Health Organization, so their perspective provides insight on how the drinking norms are experienced by students who come from vastly different places.

The legal age for drinking is one problem, Ramos points out.

In Spain where drinking is legal at age 18, college students tend to have clearer knowledge about how many cups can mean too much “because they've already like been drinking for a while.”

She suspects the forbidden nature of underage drinking is a big lure.

“Here everyone's so eager to go and drink, whereas in Spain [college students] can drink so it's not that big of a deal,” Ramos says.

Junior Yi Zhou from Fujian, China, where no legal age is set for alcohol consumption, also says the restrictions “in this desert of amusements makes it look wonderful.”

“It's in a small town so people don't really have very much choice [of what] to do during the weekends,” Zhou says. Drinking is a “colorful thing” for students’ perhaps because of limited social options.

Photo credit: Yi Zhou by Kantaro Komiya.

According to Zhou, his friends back home prefer to hang out in small groups at places such as local restaurants where they can drink alcohol if they want.

“They don't usually go to a club or have a very big party like we do in fraternities,” Zhou says of his particular group of friends.

Zhou himself says, “It's OK for people to enjoy DePauw’s drinking culture” because of a social safety net that includes well-equipped public safety patrols.

Masaya Sasaki, sophomore from Kyoto, Japan, says being at a liberal arts school, particularly an American educational system, causes a high level of stress among students, pushing them to drink as a stress-reliever.

“We have too much stuff to do, you know, maybe too much class homework,” Sasaki says, “and we tend to do things perhaps not so useful for ourselves. Stresses come from the frustration of not knowing what we are doing.”

Back home in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, bars aren’t open to people under 21, either, says Nemekhbayar Nergui. At DePauw, students who want to socialize and unwind are challenged if they don’t have a car.

“If there are other options besides drinking, something more fun, something better than that, then maybe people will go or choose that option,” Nergui says, endorsing the recent initiatives of DePauw After Dark.

As a first-year mentor, Ramos has seen students having fun without drinking before they were allowed to enter Greek properties. An alternative nightlife is possible.

“It was like, in South Quad, we had volleyball and brought a DJ,” Ramos says, describing a mentors’ event in September. “And people stayed. That’s the thing,” she says. “That was a lot of fun and there was no alcohol involved in it.”