Christmas Time Away from California

By Elizabeth Hardy (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA).

Well, I seemed to have blinked and my first quarter is over and done with, wondering where on earth a third of my time in the states has gone. It’s been a while, so I’ll give a recap of what has been happening on the west coast.

Thanksgiving and Black Friday were, certainly, an experience. I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend in my house to visit her family in North California (near San Francisco) for Thanksgiving, so we took the 8 hour journey from Santa Barbara to experience the other side of California life. I found North California to be different but just as beautiful in comparison to my Southern California home, albeit a little colder! Thanksgiving itself was all-American – Turkey, potatoes and just about everything else you could imagine from a feast. With a few hours to recover from our food comas, Midnight struck. This meant one thing – time to hit the shops.


The famous San Francisco trams.

Black Friday was an experience like no other. People were running and pushing, and there was chaos. Needless to say, I loved it. If you are in America during the Thanksgiving period, this is an event not to be missed – if only for the meal we ate at Denny’s close to 4am.

Less than a week after the shopping extravaganza, it was time for finals and the fun of thanksgiving was but a dim memory. As I have mentioned academic differences before, I will not go into too much detail but there were some striking elements. For example, my experience of exams in Manchester means I am used to preparing for exams several weeks before, creating revision notes and working at a much slower pace. This means by the night before an exam I will finish studying at 6 or 7 – the attitude being “If I don’t know it by now, I never will.” The attitude of students at UCSB could not be more different. There appears to be a culture of not studying for a specific exam until a few days before, but then studying intensively or ‘cramming’, getting little sleep and learning as much as possible overnight. Of course there are exceptions to this, but there certainly is a noticeable trend. I am also not saying one way is better than the other, but it was a shock after two years of studying in a particular way at Manchester. Study leave is also a myth to American students; classes continue right up until exam time. This means you have to plan your time much better!

With finals finished and the smell of freedom in the air, it was time for celebrations and inevitably, to say goodbye (if only for a short time). Since coming back to England to spend time with loved ones, I’ve found it interesting how it is not only jetlag that has affected me. So far I have been home a week, and the adjustment period has been longer than I initially expected. This isn’t to say I haven’t missed England – baked beans and marmite have been often in my thoughts this past month. However, it’s been interesting to see the ways in which I have adapted to Californian life so quickly. I am looking forward to returning – bring back the sunshine!

Happy New Year, everyone.

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