When talking to international students, one of the things many were surprised by is substance use on college campuses. In many countries, Singapore included, the legal drinking age is 18 – lower than it is in the U.S. When we start drinking, it’s not with friends in a dorm room on a Friday night. It might be with our parents at a wedding, or at a bar with friends. There is no pressure to chug as much as you can, and alcohol is a part of social life in ways different in the U.S. You drink over a meal, over snacks, you have conversations, you bond. Needless to say, the drinking culture in the U.S. might come as a surprise (both nasty and pleasant) for many unacquainted with it.
I entered Pomona College when I was 21, due to a two-year military stint back home – well above the drinking age. I am 24 and a senior now, I personally have never tried any substances in my life, and I have no intentions to start. The common response this draws from people is usually “Wow… that must be hard!”, perhaps picturing an internal struggle within me every weekend night as I consider the temptations of alcohol. Actually, it isn’t. Drinking and partying is one type of social life, let’s admit to that, but it is not the only one.
And so a shout-out to prospective students who wonder if they will “fit in” with the college social scene: It’s okay not to drink.
It’s perfectly all right to eschew parties for a night bike ride, to substitute beer pong* for a game of Settlers of Catan (okay, I admit it, this is my drug), and to defy the idea that partying has to define your social life. If you come from a culture or a country where the partying isn’t your definition of your social life, do not feel pressured to change just to fit in. In fact, there are many others like you on campus.
There are organizations on campus that provide substance-free events and activities. That Saturday Group is a wonderful gem that holds substance-free activities on Saturday night. The OEC organizes hiking and camping trips, while organizations like SOCA provide substance-free alternatives during events, like Halloween, that have become defined by drinking and partying. The gym is open on weekday nights for people to work out and play badminton, racquetball, squash and basketball. Pomona Vino promotes a healthy drinking culture through wine-tasting events, allowing students over age 21 to appreciate the finer points of alcohol.
Pomona offers lots of opportunities to study abroad, where you are able to immerse yourself in other cultures and, in the process, learn how they view alcohol. Observe how Spaniards sip sangria throughout the day. Or how indigenous groups around the world brew wine as part of their culture.
All in all, if you are uncomfortable with it, you don’t have to let the party culture define your social life. If this is not what you grew up with or something you don’t wish to partake in, seek others with similar interests to you, because they are here, too. Plan fun activities on weekend that do not involve using substances, and you will be happy to realize that you can have a varied and fulfilling social life at Pomona without them.
*Note: front-loading, as it is referred to in the Pomona College Alcohol Policy, is a violation of the policy and will result in sanctions.