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.

Final Road Trip and Goodbyes:

I have now been home for over 3 months and I thought I would write about my thoughts on leaving Case Western and my road trip around California.

The last few weeks of term were extremely stressful with trying to pack up my belongings, say my goodbyes, plan a road trip and submit all my final work. Luckily, I did not have any finals to take and I decided to leave the campus early and meet up with friends from Manchester to travel around the East Coast. But this did mean that saying goodbye to all the great people I had met felt very rushed.

As I am writing this post it is orientation week at Case Western. It feels so surreal to see everyone enjoying themselves on campus and me no longer being there. I think it has finally hit me that year abroad is over – all be it 3 months later.

One of the highlights of my year abroad was all the travelling I did and for the final trip I packed in as much as possible. Starting in Santa Barbara I travelled to LA, San Francisco, Monterey Bay, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.

It is nearly impossible to capture all these incredible places and moments but I did manage to record some of the best ones on my phone. Although I have practically no skills in video editing, here is a video of my travels:

5 things I’ve learnt since returning to Manchester.

By Lizzy Hardy (The University of California, Santa Barbara, USA)

I’ve now been back at home for nine months, and I’m in my last semester of a degree that seems to have lasted forever. A lot has changed since I studied abroad at UCSB – I’ve moved in to a flat all by myself, I’ve got a place to study law next year, and I’ve got myself a part-time job at the International Programmes Office. My very final thing to wrap up my study abroad experience is to write this final blog about my reflections on coming back to Manchester after spending a year away. Here they are:

1. Reverse-culture shock is definitely a thing. You’ve been away, you’ve had the most amazing year of your life. But now, you are home. You have to return to normal. This is more difficult than I ever expected, but it does get easier. I found that talking to other study abroad students helps a lot. They will be experiencing the same things as you.
2. If you’ve been away for a year, you will now have a new cohort of fellow students. Try and take the opportunity to make new friends. They aren’t as scary as you might think.
3. Now you’ve been a tourist in a new place for 6 -12 months, you will see Manchester in a completely new light. Make the most of coming back! Do not see it as the end of something great, but the beginning of a new phase in your life. Try and see all those things in Manchester that you always promised you would.
4. Use what you learned abroad as a unique advantage. Most people in your degree will have learned very similar things and taken very similar modules. Not you. You’ve gone abroad and done something totally different. Make this work in your favour! Use the quirky course you took to give a different perspective on your dissertation, or visit the Careers Service and figure out how to use the time you spent abroad to improve your employability.
5. Stay in touch with people. Sometimes putting the effort in across time zones can be tricky, but it’ll be worth it. Plus, you’ll always have a couch to crash on if you ever go back.

That’s all for now.

Lizzie.

Finally home!

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

It seems bizarre to be reading all the blogs of the students heading out for a year of fun abroad. I have now been home a month and life is (somewhat) getting back to normal. The only thing that reminds me the past year hasn’t been some crazy dream is knowing that I have changed. I am different; we all are different from our experiences. We are shaken up to a point that we cannot be put back together in the same way. We are challenged on how we have lived our lives so far. This is good for us. It forces us to grow.

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Hanging out at the Grand Canyon

There is such a heavy focus on the experience of living in a foreign country that the period of coming home is often overlooked, I feel. This is important. I was so nervous about coming home and being miserable after such a memorable year. It seemed that my return to England would inevitably seem unexciting and anti-climatic. This has, in fact, been far from the truth. I have spent a month at home reflecting on my year abroad and this is my conclusion – studying abroad has re-energised me and refocused my plans for the next few years. More importantly, it has inspired me and given me a confidence boost that I wasn’t even aware I was in need of. The point is simple; if I can live in a foreign country on my own and have such a great time, what else can I do? Just that little push to get out of my comfort zone and there it is! A whole world out there waiting.

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Lake Tahoe

This is not to say post-California blues have not occurred. When you are as enthusiastic about an experience, it is only natural to bore people of tales with “When I was in California….” and there are still days when I miss my friends and a place that (for some stretch of time) was called home. I certainly miss the sunshine and the 24 hour company. But the world is not as large as it once was, and Skype, Facebook and iPhones have all helped to bridge the gap and make that distance seem just a little bit smaller.

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Las Vegas

My final piece of advice is this; do not fear moving from ‘home’. What is ‘home’, so it turns out, is utterly transient. It is not a place, but more a messy combination of the right place, time, and most importantly, the right people. ‘Home’ will change as you do. My roots will always be in the place I grew up, but my home will be wherever I choose. This is a freedom, and one to be enjoyed. Love, Lizzie.

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Not One More: The 23/5 Isla Vista Shootings

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

“And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.” – Maya Angelou

 

I thought a lot about writing this blog entry. My experience at UCSB has been fantastic; but I certainly feel to not include the following would be an injustice to giving a truthful account of my time here.

 

On May 23rd, at approximately 9:30, Elliot Rodger began driving around my neighborhood and started randomly shooting at students. This is all I will say about him; I will not speculate on his mental health or personal details for fear of glorifying his name.

 

Instead, we should know of the people who died; Chris Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katherine Cooper, George Chen, Weihan Wang, and Cheng Hong. I hope that these will be the names we remember.

 

It has been a difficult few days. Due to the nature of the tight-knit college community, the victims are only ever a few degrees of separation away. I personally knew two people who were shot, and I know many other people who knew the victims. It has been an interesting time to be a foreigner in the midst of various debates about US culture – particularly that of gun culture, the treatment of mental health patients and a culture of misogyny and sexism versus feminism. These debates are necessary; and will continue into the following weeks and months. It has also been a difficult time to be a foreign student, and the battle with homesickness was a hard one in the following 48 hours. Several memorial services have been held, and classes were cancelled for the school to have a day of reflection and mourning. The school itself has been fantastic, and has provided a huge amount of support to both students and faculty members.

 

When tragedy strikes it is impossible not to reflect. The past few days have certainly been a time of personal reflection. I have noticed that despite the horrors of Friday night, I keep hearing of stories that show the courage and compassion of my fellow students. These stories are small comforts. They are lights that shine in the darkness. They remind me that where there is suffering and heartbreak there is also love, and hope, and strength. The courage of the students who ran to help others demonstrates what I know to be true; where there is evil, there too will be goodness.

 

We will never forget what happened to the poor victims of 23/5. But I will never forget the heroes of 23/5, either. I do not regret my choice of exchange school at all. Whilst of course I wish the events of the past weekend had not happened, I have had and will continue to have a fantastic experience at UCSB. My experience has not been a constant high. It has been better. It has been wholesome. This is what you are not told about studying abroad – you will learn more about yourself just by sitting outside of your comfort zone than you could ever imagine. Change is hard, but usually good.

 

Lizzie.

 

…what “big freeze”?

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

Needless to say, the cold weather has not hit Santa Barbara. In fact, most people were celebrating when it rained this past weekend – it has been the first big rainfall I have seen in the five months I have been here.

Life here has recently been very, VERY busy. It seems Study Abroad is an opportunity to get involved in just about everything…. so that is just what I’ve been doing. Since I arrived back in January I’ve volunteered at Santa Barbara Film Festival, signed up to run my first 5K, started life drawing classes, got an internship and been getting a bit more involved with my co-operative house as the social chair.

My classes this quarter have been really interesting. Whilst my Anthropology classes at Manchester are often theoretical, there is a much larger focus here on a more practical approach to Anthropology. This means sometimes I will have a class where my professor will talk us through their fieldwork photos, or ask questions about we would like to learn about in the syllabus. This different academic system takes a lot of getting used to, but it is refreshing.

My love for the co-operative houses is growing the longer I stay in California. They are an entirely different, (and sometimes challenging) way of living, but I now cannot imagine returning to living with the average 4 or 5 people that is so common in Manchester. After learning how to share my space, chores and responsibilities with 30 other people, there will certainly be a readjustment period.

Time seems to go far quicker whilst operating on a term, and not a semester, system. My second quarter here at UCSB is nearly done and finals are once again looming. I am however looking to my holiday, the well-known ‘Spring Break’.  My parents are joining me for a road trip around the main sites in California, and it will be a great opportunity to see some great landscapes, such as Big Sur, Lake Tahoe and Death Valley. Photos to follow.

That’s all for now.

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.

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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.

Learning how to learn.

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

Happy belated Haloween!

With midterms finally done and dusted, I guess it’s as good a time as any to tell you all about the different between the UK and US academic systems.

So, let’s start with midterms. They sort of do-what-it-says-on-the-tin. I.e., an exam halfway through each module, just to see how you’re getting on. This highlights one of the main differences I have found – that there is far more of an emphasis on continual assessment in the states than in Manchester. For example, in one class I have had 3 scheduled tests, 3 unscheduled tests, a midterm and a final. This essentially equals out to a test on the material every week – so there is no time for slacking or missing even one class! The upside of this is that there is far less weight placed on one final exam, so if you do have a bad day, then it isn’t the end of the world.

Terms at UC are quick. Unlike Manchester’s 15 week (2 semester) terms, Santa Barbara has 4 quarters (with summer quarter being like a summer school) which means that the time whizzes by. I can’t believe that I am already the first way through my first term! This means you have very little time to get used to the system – so making the most of the support system is important. The professors here have office hours too, and just like in Manchester, graduate students act as teaching assistants and are a great resource.

The final big difference I’ve noticed is the way that students consider and emphasise their subject specialisms. In the UK, if you study Maths, you are a ‘Maths person’. This means all you do is Maths. In the US, you are expected to have a far ore rounded education. This means not only that you take classes from a wider range of subjects (notably your major and minors), but also that courses themselves are more inter-disciplinary. In my example, I study Anthropology. And yet, in several courses I have had to study elements of Archaeology, Geology, Biology, Chemistry, Economics and Maths. Whilst this was initially intimidating as I haven’t studied science or Maths since GCSE level, it has served as a fantastic opportunity to remind myself I am still capable of academic endeavours outside of Anthropology.

With every challenge these changes have presented, I am learning more about myself and how Study Abroad is slowly changing me and making me a more capable, independent person. Hooray!

That’s the boring bit over – next time, I will update on all the exciting Californian things I’ve been doing recently (including Haloween and Disneyland!)

Lizzie.

And finally…

By Elizabeth Hardy.

So, more or less everyone has left for their exciting year abroad. And after patiently waiting for months watching other people have fun, it is my turn to go. And leaving the airport just a week ago, I had no idea of the crazy (but amazing) experience this week’s upheaval would be for me.

To help me organize my thoughts, I think I’ll make a list. These are the things that have struck me most about California in my first week:

  1. Size. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is bigger here. Be prepared for food to be about 4 meals worth. The good thing I have learnt is that it is totally acceptable to ask for a doggy bag/box to take the food home with you. Take-away food is really cheap as well, so you can get a few meals in one for not much.
  2. Speaking of size, the roads. Coming into Santa Barbara via Los Angeles is certainly an experience. The roads are huge, and of course everyone drives on the odd (I won’t say ‘wrong’) side of the road. It is expected that you will learn this fast, otherwise you will be squashed by a huge truck that nearly everyone seems to own.
  3. This is not London. People in Santa Barbara, often complete strangers, are happy to help out. I am so grateful I took advantage of this – being completely new in a foreign country is frightening and often very disorientating. Luckily I managed to find several people very quickly to help me, and for that I am thankful.
  4. The academic system. It is very different to how we study in the UK – mainly because class participation is not only recommended but necessary to get a good grade, and because there is a huge emphasis here on continuous assessment. For example, in one of my classes there are 3 scheduled tests and 4 unscheduled tests during the 10 week quarter. Whilst the tests will be bite-sized compared to what UK students are used to, you also have to be on your academic game all the time. I’ll make sure to post more on the academic system when I’ve had more time to understand it!
  5. Fraternities and Sororities. They exist. They are almost exactly like in films. I am yet to discover much about them but from what I can gather they are indeed as bizarre as they look.
  6. The sun. It shines, all the time. Yay!

For the people that have managed to read this far, I’ll give you a little information about the University itself. UCSB (University of California Santa Barbara) is based about a 2 hour drive north of LA, on the coast. And when I say on the coast, I mean this in the most literal term – the University owns it’s own lagoon and beach. This is a regular haunt for students and is quieter than you would imagine, particularly considering the amazing sunsets.

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The University Beach

Most students live just outside of campus, in a place called Isla Vista (IV). IV is pretty well known as a party town, particularly nearer the beach although there are some quieter spots. The benefit of living in IV (as I do) is that it is very close to campus, which is so much bigger than Manchester. Try to imagine University spanning from University place to the end of curry mile and you’re just about there.

In terms of accommodation, I live in co-operative housing. This is essentially a cheaper way of living with other people, where chores and cooking are shared. If you are interested in how this works, I myself am still learning so it would be beneficial to direct you to the website: www.sbcoop.org. All I can say is, I have met some fantastic people so far and I am very excited to see how the relationships I am starting to forge develop over the upcoming year. I am insanely excited for the upcoming year in general!

That’s all for now folks.

Lizzie.