I’ve been in California for just over a month now but I thought I would backtrack to the beginning: my September arrival. I am lucky enough to have family friends who live in Oakland, California, so I was able to stay with them for the first week. This helped enormously with getting acclimatised to Californian time (8hrs behind the U.K), setting up an American bank account and getting a sim card, all essential things for a year abroad.
Staying with family friends also gave me the opportunity to experience family and school orientated activities for example, I was able to go to freshman high school volleyball matches, middle school Saturday soccer matches, and see a high-school American football game, complete with the high school band. We also took part in East Bay’s 5k run! My family friends often laughed at me when I would be so excited at certain things they said or did, because for them this was normal life, whereas for me this was ‘soooo American’, and I had only seen those things on social media/films.
During my week in Oakland, I also got the opportunity to visit Angel Island, an island that was used as a military base in order to keep California protected from Spanish explorers in the late 1890s, and provided protection from the Japanese during WW2. The island was also where Asian immigrants would have to report to, due to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 (banned from entering America) was passed – an event I was truly shocked to hear happened. As well as its interesting history, Angel Island provides for some amazing views of the Bay Bridge, the San Fransisco skyline and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.
My second week was spent moving into the Domes, my chosen housing for the year. Numerous University of California campus’ have cooperative housing initiatives, which aim to be socially inclusive, promote social justice, and often have a particular focus, the domes focus is community and sustainable agricultural practise. I think I will do a whole separate blog post on the domes because they are such a unique housing and community scheme. Moving in was a little stressful, but that is to be expected when you move anywhere new.
I have found it a little hard to make friends here, because of how late classes start, many people had still not moved in, societies weren’t running and there was not a lot to do as the university was coming out of summer mode. However I did have orientation with other international exchange students, and I have made friends, a couple are from the U.K and one is from Sweden, but actually studies in the U.K as well. We bonded over being in the same situation, and have spent time together exploring downtown Davis and the campus. Unlike Manchester, Davis really is a college town, so when there aren’t students around it is not hip-and-happening. On the other hand, it is really pretty and quaint and am I excited to see how it changes when all the students arrive, I really feel I will be able to get to know Davis well and feel at home here!
I decided to wait to post this till I had had my first full week of classes, in order to give an academic perspective… so here it is:
Due to the American schooling system, students have a large scope of subjects, meaning people can take pretty much any course (despite prerequisites), this means that there are biological sciences majors in my anthropology classes. This can be interesting as people from different academic disciplines can bring different viewpoints to discussions, however this can also mean that we take up a lot of time going over the basics “what is ethnography? what do anthropologists really do?” etc, two years into an straight anthropology degree can be a little tedious.
There is a lot more emphasis on group working and group learning than I have experienced in the U.K. In one of my classes this quarter we are having to create presentations with other class members, almost in a workshop style, about our weekly readings, and global health institutions. People also study together (in Starbucks or Peets Coffee), in fact they find it really funny that people in the U.K study alone!
In classes students are also much more willing to openly discuss, answer questions, and ask question. This might be partly because in many classes a percentage of your grade is specifically for class participation. Another reason could be because of the pricing of university here, people are really wanting to get their money’s worth! All this discussion and question asking is a great way to share ideas and get clarifications, but it can slow the class down.
Overall I am enjoying my time here, the quarter system is very quick – I have my classes twice a week, so I’ve already had 7 of each class, compared to back home where I would only have had 3. This is also feels like there is not as much free time, because it’s always onto the next reading!