Upon coming to America, Michael Kennedy was surprised by the disparity in the quality of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“KFC is far better in England, it’s better than every other fast food chain here,” he said.
Kennedy, a freshman computer science major on the University of Dallas men’s basketball team, hails from Surrey, England. He was recruited to come to UD after being discovered through a scouting website.
“I had a profile on this website called NCSA, and the coach found me there and said, ‘Oh yeah, I quite like you. Come through,’” said Kennedy. “And I was like, ‘I can do that.’ So I applied and now I’m here.”
Kennedy could have gone to most any university in England due to his high scores on his A levels, but it was basketball that motivated him to seek an American education.
“[Playing in the U.S.] was like the whole goal, the whole dream. I’ve only been playing basketball, well, properly, since 9th grade.”
As school sports and university sports other than football — that’s soccer, not American football — are quite small in England, Kennedy played on a club team: the Surrey Rams.
“I’m from right on the boundary of South London and Surrey. The top of my road is in London but I live in Surrey. I go to school and do most everything in London though,” he said.
Despite the overall decent public transport, Kennedy’s daily commute back in England was “awkward.” He had to walk half an hour to the bus stop and take the bus to school. That demanded a 6:50 wakeup, despite school beginning at 8:30.
In order to get to his club for training, it was a 45 minute drive. Every weekend, he had to drive sometimes four hours to get to basketball games.
“Games could be as far as the top of England, the roads back there are really awkward and bad, so it’s hard to get places,” he said.
Why did he start playing? In one month, Kennedy shot up from 5’7” to 6’2” and figured he might as well use the height. He currently towers at 6’8” and predicts he’ll be played as a power forward on UD’s team.
“I’m not quite heavy enough to be a post,” he joked.
Since the sport isn’t too popular in England, he had quite an advantage being so tall. He averaged about 30 points a game and consistently had strong stats. His club ranked 8th in the country, spanning England and Wales, and they won the Surrey league cup.
The men’s basketball season begins with team training on Oct. 15 and their first game is Nov. 12, so Kennedy has some time to ease into his first semester at UD. He’s taking the usual Core classes, Lit Trad I, Phil and Eth, as well as Calculus I. As a computer science major, he’s also taking Intro to Computer Science, which is his favorite class.
His favorite teacher is Dr. Robert Hochberg, associate professor of computer science, who took good care of him when he visited as a prospective student from the UK.
The culture change has been quite a shock, said Kennedy. “Everyone is a lot friendlier, everyone stops and talks. Loads of people know my name here, people here are a lot friendlier than in England.”
He was in Grapevine with his mum and a total stranger stopped them just to talk. “In South London, if someone does that, you think you’re going to get robbed!” he said. “It’s a little bit strange, bit of a culture shock. People don’t really make small talk in England.”
He also gets a lot of comments on his very prominent accent. “The girl’s basketball team, they love it and they love making fun of it,” he said. “They constantly mimic it. Now it’s just a funny habit.”
“Everyone’s like, you know, thinks it’s weird that I have an accent. But to me, everyone here has an accent.”
Kennedy has two siblings, a younger brother and older sister. In England, that’s considered a really big family — but not here in America, he noted, and certainly not at UD.
He also was surprised by the difference in quality of food.
“Everything here is like, the same, but feels more unhealthy. Everything here, all the fast food places, are just more greasy, more unhealthy.”
His teammates are attempting to give Kennedy a grand tour of fast food chains unique to the U.S., such as Whataburger and Taco Bell. He was especially disappointed by American Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The overall experience has been underwhelming, he said, and nothing has really “wowed” him, except Chick-Fil-A.
International chains are, in general, significantly worse in America, apparently.
“McDonald’s is huge everywhere, worldwide,” he said, “but from what I’ve heard the one in America is the worst.”
“The Hungarian one is the best,” he said.
Kennedy is French on his mother’s side and a quarter Irish on his father’s side. Due to being half French, he was able to get an EU passport and thus have greater ease traveling Europe than most of his fellow countrymen. After Brexit in 2020, most English citizens have found it difficult to travel amidst COVID-19 regulations and other travel restrictions.
Across the pond, they take A levels at the end of high school, ‘college’ to them, and then move onto what we call college and they specifically call ‘university.’ For his A levels, which are similar to AP classes, Kennedy took almost all STEM calles: maths, physics and computer science.
He also took history because it interested him, and said that he was grateful he did because he had to learn how to write essays. That skill certainly comes in handy amidst the many Core classes at UD.
So why come to a Division III school? And why choose one that is known far better for its rigorous academics than its athletic program?
“I care about both,” said Kennedy. “I’m a bit of an anomaly, education and basketball are both important to me.”
Of course, I had to ask about the Royal Family. Turns out they’re pretty similar to our Kardashians.
“They’re not well loved, in England,” he said. “They’re very scandalous.”
The Queen’s passing was certainly mourned, but Kennedy said he heard more about the event in America than most people seemed to care in the UK.
In England, they’ve been generally unaffected by the war in Ukraine, but the gas — or ‘petrol’ — prices are ridiculously high. Kennedy estimated prices equate to about 8 dollars a gallon.
Kennedy is attempting to bring some aspects of his country to America, mainly by music. His favorite genres are unique to England, such as UK drill and UK grime — basically rap with heavy London accents. His favorite UK artists are Skepta and Stormzy, but said he likes A Boogie wit da Hoodie quite a lot.
“I also didn’t think country music was serious,” he said. In England they really only know “Sweet Home Alabama” and mostly play it for laughs.
His girlfriend, who is originally from Lithuania, is a big fan of Harry Potter. Kennedy is decidedly “neutral” on the series, which has to be some kind of betrayal to his country.
His favorite shows are the same as most Americans, namely Stranger Things and Peaky Blinders. His mother is a huge fan of the Great British Bake Off, so he watches that often as well. People are usually surprised to hear that, growing up, he watched Disney shows such as Phineas and Ferb.
There are, however, quite a few American things that he confessed to have little knowledge of.
“I’ve never watched a baseball game,” he said. “I’ve never watched ice hockey, I’ve seen probably two games of American football on TV.” He also admitted he has no idea what a game of lacrosse would even look like.
He brought an electric kettle for his dorm room and has received many questions about its function and purpose. Freshman boys seem to care little for teatime, unfortunately.
Kennedy’s ideal cup of tea is English breakfast tea, skip the sugar, and add “just enough milk so that it’s not too milky.” He also enjoys green tea and earl gray.
Back home, everyone uses electric kettles, and will maybe break out a whistling stovetop kettle on the weekend. It really is poor form to microwave water for tea, he said.
He hopes to get a job in the field of computer science and continue playing basketball however he can.
“I’m really happy to be here,” said Kennedy. “I’m glad I came to America.”