“It won’t happen to me”: Pandemic Edition

“Students who can safely leave are urged to do so.”

Kasha Yip, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

(TL;DR at the end.)

You really don’t think a worldwide, society-stopping, economy-crumbling, mass panic-inducing virus would become a big problem in your lifetime, especially not when you’re studying nearly 5 and a half miles away from home for a year. Luckily for us, the coronavirus came to say hello for who knows how long.

So… how do you prepare? What do you do?

Honestly, that’s the question I’m asking myself right now. The past week has been so turbulent with the various updates either from UCSB or about how other countries are doing.

On Tuesday 10th, the Chancellor told us that the rest of Winter quarter (dead/the last week and finals week) and Spring quarter until the end of April were turning into remote instruction. Between then and Thursday 12th, I found out 2 of my finals would be online, my last final would be optional and we could use midterm grades if we wanted (yes), and the musical production I was involved in would be cancelled.

Sure, okay, I have 2 weeks spring break now because my finals end early, and then 4 weeks of home schooling with no commitments because everything is cancelled. Doable. My aunt lives in DC and asked if I wanted to stay with her during this time, but my grandparents are also staying with her so I told her I’d think about it.

On Friday, it came out that there might have been suspected cases in Isla Vista (IV). Some people went to a music festival in San Diego with their friend who just came back from Italy, and they were now self-quarantining. I was definitely not going to stay with my grandparents, and it was probably for the best to stay put here just in case.

Just yesterday, Saturday 14th, the Chancellor updated us that the whole of Spring quarter would be remote instruction. “Students who can safely leave are urged to do so.”

Excuse me? What on earth do I do? I can’t go to DC or go home – I don’t want to have or catch the coronavirus in the airport or on a flight and give it to my family. But what if all my housemates leave and I have to stay here by myself? How depressing and isolating is that? And what if I stay here and then get stuck here, because who knows how this will develop by summer? Should I go and stay with my family when it’s the end of the world? So much overthinking, so many questions…

In a time where it can already feel lonely and away from so many people you care about, not having any choices to do anything and being forced to stay inside and away from people really hits hard. It’s isolating, feels hopeless, and gives you so. much. anxiety.

It’s hard to talk about; everyone’s affected in different ways. Some people have sunk (back) into depression, some people have overwhelming anxiety, some people have immunocompromised friends and family, some people don’t care and think everything has been over-exaggerated.

I definitely did not expect this to happen on my year abroad. There is no way to prepare. There is nothing you can do.

I still don’t know if I should go home or if it’s better for me to remain in IV and just not leave my house. Things are changing so rapidly, and there’s no way to predict what will happen next. At this time, we can only wait and see.

So, yeah, “it won’t happen to me” until it does. But I was thinking more of, you know, an “I broke my leg, and now I have to pay a lung and a kidney to deal with it” type situation, or maybe a “there are campfires and we should evacua—”. Oh wait, that already happened the week of Thanksgiving. Never mind. You know what I mean.

I have no useful information in this post besides to tell you all to practice social distancing and stay safe. I know this has affected everyone around the world, including home students. I don’t know how other students abroad are dealing, or what’s happening with them (I know a girl who has to go back to the UK from Toronto in the next few days), but this is what’s happened in the little old town of Isla Vista this past week.

I’ve tried to keep this as neutral and panic-free as possible, and I’m sure there will be updates along the way. Stay safe everyone! (And don’t let a global pandemic stop you from studying abroad. It’s great apart from this. I promise.)

TL;DR: Pandemic = online classes + ??? + big sad.

Hello to the Golden State

Kasha Yip, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Week 5 has come to an end, and so has my first set of midterms. After 6 weeks of experiencing life on the West Coast, it’s time to share a few of my first impressions of UCSB and the little, neighbouring town of Isla Vista. (I have pretty pictures at the end.)

1. People say “hi” to you on the street.

In England, it’s not a usual occurrence to strike conversations with strangers around you (or at least during the day). Now that I think about, I don’t even smile much at people when I’m going about my day in Manchester, never mind greet a random student I walk past around campus.

But the moment I stepped out of my Lyft in Isla Vista, a random girl walked past me and my suitcases and said “hi”. I’ve come to realise that you can walk or even bike around IV, and people going past might smile at or greet you, or even chime a passing sentence into your conversation.

2. My timetable is so empty…

You need to take a minimum of 12 units a quarter to be considered a full-time student, and at UCSB, that generally means taking minimum 3 modules each quarter.

My current modules only consist of 2 lectures lasting an hour and 15 minutes each a week, which altogether adds up to 7 hours a week of contact time. Compared to my ~16 hours a week at Manchester, I’m practically never in classes. (Note: some modules do come with sections, which are like seminars that complement the lectures, that are around 50 minutes long.)

Don’t let the small amount of contact hours get you excited though…

3. Readings are compulsory.

In Psychology at Manchester, majority of the set readings are supplementary and optional. Though there are some modules that will test on the reading (Social, I’m looking at you), most lecturers will only test on the lecture content.

At UCSB, though, reading is compulsory, and you can bet there will be a question on your exam that delves into an article you were set in Week 2. If you don’t keep up with your readings, you will end up having to at least skim through them the day before your exam.

4. Exams in Week 4 and 90 is an A?!

So Midterms are a thing in the US. It felt like I’d only just started school and then suddenly I was having 2 exams a day after each other 2 weeks ago and then another one just last Thursday. I now have 2 weeks “off” (I have a paper due next Monday and a 500-word blog for Friday) before I have another 2 Midterms and then Finals 3 weeks after that.

From the perspective that 60% is a 2:1 and you’re doing really well, it might seem that getting 90% is impossible. Even further, the equivalent 70%/1st in the UK is not easy to get. But, and I’ll get into it more in a separate blog, I personally think getting a 90 here is easier than getting a 70 at home (for my classes at the moment, at least), so I wouldn’t worry about passing! (I didn’t say don’t revise, though.)

5. Wait, I’m broke.

Food is expensive. Everywhere. But compared to the prices at places like Lidl and Aldi, grocery shopping here is not cheap. My first shop costed $100. Granted, that included necessities such as shampoo, toothpaste, detergent, suncream, etc., but I definitely cried a little inside when I saw the total.

My average shop will cost around $40-50 at the cheaper supermarkets, which is not that expensive considered this is Santa Barbara (rich people) and it’s equivalent to around £30-40. But Aldi gives me my weekly shop for £20 if I’m indulgent. And $50 doesn’t even include snacks. You can understand why this makes me sad.

6. Oh yeah, the beach!

So 5 would have been a nice number to end on, but I couldn’t have gone this whole blog post without talking about the beach. If you’re planning to come to UCSB, it’s probably one of the things you’re most excited for, and I don’t blame you.

Where Campus Lagoon (right) borders Campus Point Beach (left).

Everyone living at UCSB and in IV is within a max 25-minute walk and 10-minute bike ride (if you’re slow) to the beach. I’ve even been lucky enough to live in a house on Del Playa Drive, where my balcony overlooks the ocean.

The view from my balcony! Further in that direction, just around the cliff, will take you to Campus Point Beach, which is actually on the university.

Whether you want to tan, swim, surf, or watch the sunset, the beach is the place to go. It’s beautiful and it’s amazing, and it still doesn’t feel real that it’s my back garden for the year. Just to inspire you (and because I have like 50 pictures of the sunset so far), here are a few pictures. Like, have you even been to IV if you haven’t taken at least one sunset picture?

3rd October
24th October
2nd November

I don’t think I’ll ever not stop mid-cooking to take multiple sunset pictures. Maybe one day I’ll wake up early enough to get a sunrise.

It’s only November, and it feels like everything is going so fast already (thanks, quarter system). But Thanksgiving is coming up soon, and I definitely know what I’m thankful for.