After a dizzying day of lectures, essays, and group projects, many college students wind down by enjoying a beverage or two at their favorite bar. However, for Mikaela Wilkes, a 19-year-old international student from Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand, that is a privilege she forfeited when she came to the United States.
“It’s how we socialize” said Wilkes. “I know for a lot of my international friends here, it’s a struggle for us, because at home if you want to get to know someone you go get a beer with them. But here we can’t do that, so it takes away that huge social element in our lives.”
Wilkes explained that, compared to the U.S., New Zealand is much more lax when it comes to underage drinking. Legal able to drink since 18, the New Zealander admits she’s started drinking at about 16 under legal parental consent. She explained that the cultural norm in New Zealand is that parents usually introduce their children to drinking alcohol by let them have a glass of wine or beer at dinner before 18.
“People do it [drinking] as rite of passage, it’s just what uni students do,” said Wilkes. “Of course, everyone’s going to go out and get drunk a couple times a week. It’s just kind of seen as the norm.”
However, she did note, New Zealand’s leniency was nothing compared to what France displayed while she was exchange student in Angouleme, France when she was 16.
“Oh, in France, no one cares,” said Wilkes. “We had a 14-year-old come into the bar with us, like, not getting ID’d. They look at the drinking laws as, like, guidelines.”
In French culture, they teach their children to drink with self-control by making sure they eat food, drink water, and know their limits. Because of these social norms, Wilkes believes they’re is less of likely to binge-drink like Americans, because the French have had alcohol their entire lives.
“Here in America, because they can’t have alcohol, just like they go nuts,” said Wilkes. “They drink tons, and that’s when there are issues,” explain Wilkes. “People are at house parties, and it’s illegal. They are scared they are going to get caught, so they drink as much as they can. It’s almost self-fulling, because America’s so harsh on alcohol that it makes it that much worse.”
(UPDATED Feb. 21, 2023: Check out these recent stats about college drinking.)
Infographic by Madison Sloan.