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:

Summer travels, or the reason I need a job

By Rhiannon Jones (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA)

Our time at Illinois had finished. Finals were done with, emotional goodbyes were had and we had a month left on our visas before we got deported from the country. We were heading to the West Coast.

The initial planning wasn’t the laid-back ‘Cali’ lifestyle that the trip itself promised. With seven of us to book flights, hostels, car hire, coaches and entrance tickets for, a month to remember started out more as an exercise in herding cats. Thankfully someone more organised than me was fluent in Google Docs and the phrase “check the spreadsheet’ became a mantra, chanted back at you if you wasted precious planning time with stupid questions. Yelp, Hostel World and AirBnB became our new best friends. The driving spotify playlists were curated months in advance and in our 1am revision session, procrastination came in the form of looking at restaurants four states away.

Our first stop was San Francisco. I’ve never been to California before so stepping off the plane into pleasantly dry heat and palm tree-lined streets was incredible. It had felt like this trip was such a long time coming. Even before I’d left for study abroad I knew I wasn’t just there to study but to explore the States. This was the last big adventure and admittedly the end of my savings. My highlight of our couple of days in San Fran was cycling along the waterfront to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was immensely satisfying to see our seven-man bike convoy roll up to the base of one of the most famous landmarks in the US knowing that we’d worked against gravel and a significant head wind to get there. We also stopped at the Palace of Fine Arts on the way. Not actually a palace but an imagining of a crumbling Roman ruin, and favourite for wedding photographers, meaning that I got some great Instagram material. My main tip for San Francisco (or SF to the cool kids) is to bring a good pair of shoes. As students who were looking at another three weeks of travelling, we walked a lot (maybe too much) in the city famous for its hills. A contrast to the boringly flat Midwest, some roads even had a 40° incline. It meant walking around the corner from our hostel could give glimpses of the most amazing views over the city below but you basically had do leg day to do so.

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SF from the top of a hill, Alcatraz watch tower and a stroll around the Palace of Fine Arts.

We picked up the cars on our last day in in SF and made our way over to the first proper stop on our road trip, Yosemite National Park. ‘Only’ 3 hours away from the city but nestled in mountains higher than anything in the UK, it’s understandably popular with Californians. This gave me a problem though; I might have forgotten during my desperate panic to ship stuff home that I would actually need warm clothes to go hiking in. An issue especially considering we saw snow on our second day. Cobbling together something from the overweight bag I dragged around the country with me, we prepared to hike the ‘strenuous’ climb to Nevada falls. The hike started at 3000ft and climbed another 2000 meaning the view from the top was literally breath taking and looking back at the photos we also got incredibly lucky with the weather. It’s fair to say we’re not exactly gym rats but we still managed the climb in 4 hours. A brief moment was had for the poor pair of sunglasses that got taken back down the hike via a torrent of water hurtling off the side of the cliff face. I would absolutely recommend Yosemite to everyone, regardless of you hiking ability (there’s more gentle ones too!) but go during the week. The weekends get very busy and the paths a little slower to navigate.

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Sunset by the roadside, the spectacular Yosemite falls and the climb to the top.

Coming back down to sea level and warmer weather, we travelled most of the journey south along the Pacific Coast Highway. Unusually for US highways this road actually has bends in it as it follows the coastline and gives continuously beautiful views of the ocean the whole way. We made smaller overnight stops at Monterey and Santa Barbara, to break the two-day journey down, and serve as an opportunity to have some amazing seafood. This lead to our next major stop, Los Angeles, which I would describe it as amazing and weird at the same time. Around the corner from our house was a hipster ice cream shop that allowed us to try flavours like rose water, lavender and olive. In the end I opted for the classic salted caramel. Everything there is incredibly spread out so your only travel option is to take a car and unfortunately they all drive like assholes. Thankfully we had decided to not return our rental cars and so got to see sunset over the city from the Griffith observatory, people working out on Venice Beach and a quick tour around UCLA. I also had a major nerd moment when I realised that we’d driven through the Back to the Future tunnel (smaller in real life than it looks).

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The Pacific Coast Highway, between the Walt Disney concert hall and having a look around UCLA.

The final stop of our road trip was a straight drive from LA into the desert. On our way there we watched the temperature rise and rise as we got closer to the unmistakeable Las Vegas, to handily coincide with Angus’ 21st birthday. We said goodbye to the cars (a more emotional event for some more than others) and took to the strip by foot. The city is ridiculous. Every building is draped with lights and is a monument to ridiculous extravagance. In recovering from the night before we went to an all-you-can-eat sushi place. I actually felt disgusted by how much food we ate, to the point the waitress actually commented on it. It was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten but in hindsight, maybe eating that much fish in the middle of a dessert wasn’t the smartest move. We had an amazing weekend and I like to think we celebrated our friend’s particular milestone in memorable fashion, but don’t think I’m ready to go back again anytime soon.

P.S. To save this blog being longer than it already is (and this was only the first half), some things didn’t make the cut. These photos are the best of the rest

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Chicago theatre during a packed graduation, the Berkeley bear and the Grand Canyon.

 

A Geographer’s Journey to Berkeley

By Peter Rowan (University of California Berkeley)

And suddenly I’m here. UC Berkeley, a global centre of academia; a place of sun, sea and hippy movements; and right next to the beautiful San Francisco. It hardly seemed real this evening as I ate pizza and gazed over Berkeley’s rooftops toward a misty Golden Gate Bridge, framed by a fiery pacific sunset. But here I am.

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Sunset over Berkeley

The time leading up to flight day was rather surreal. I have travelled before, I have worked in in India and Colombia and backpacked around Europe, but this time it’s very different. I am here for much longer, an entire year! And this time I am part of a University community, with academic responsibilities in one of the best (and therefore most challenging) universities in the world. Suffice to say I had a good few butterflies in my belly, and after being left dog-tired after an internship at the European Parliament, it was like walking around in a day dream. But before I knew it I was saying long goodbyes to family and jumping on that 12 hour flight.

Ready to Go!

Ready to Go!

I really love flights, its that limbo, in-between time where one can make the transition from one life to the next. This one was stunning, and really sparked my Geographer’s imagination. I enjoyed panoramic views of Scotland and its Hebrides about two hours before we crossed the Greenland ice sheet. It started with clusters of enormous glaciers, which were soon dwarfed by the gigantic mountain ranges torn apart by cracked glaciers. Yet soon enough all of that was swallowed by the great ice sheet, so bright that I had to close the window shutter. When I reopened it three hours later I was greeted by the endless empty wilderness of the Canadian Northern Territories, potted with turquoise lakes. I gazed out of the window as the Rockies rose up with their snow-capped volcanoes, and just as we crossed into California I spotted forest fires raging on the mountains below. Then soon enough we were descending, and I felt ready to take on the US.

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Volcanoes, Canadian planes and Greenland

Very jet lagged, I took a taxi through San Francisco and over the bay to Berkeley. It is absolutely gorgeous here. Its sunny, really sunny with a mixture of the Modernistic-Spanish Colonial type architecture and a pinewood landscape that makes it feel like a cooler version of Italy. Berkeley has one very cool vibe going on, with guys shooting round on skateboards, turkeys, squirrels and deer wandering round campus, lots of green spaces to chill out in, a row of cafes of very diverse cuisine and of course Jack Kerouac’s old Jazz and Rock haunts just across the bay. And the people? Well they literally bounce with positivity… I have a funny feeling I’m going to love it here.

Though still jet lagged, I am very excited now. I move into my dorms tomorrow, I have my orientation in two days and much more importantly I have my (American) football season pass. It all kicks off in three day’s time with sports and student fairs, Fraternity rushes and classes in a week’s time. I’m planning on going all-out on this US college thing, and I will keep you posted!

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A view of San Francisco and the very shady Alcatraz

 

Manchester beanie takes on North America

By Ros Harwood (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada)

To finish up my blog posts about my year abroad, I have some photos to share giving a snapshot of the five weeks I spent travelling to mark the end of my year abroad. It was a fantastic trip and I ticked off a lot of places I have always wanted to visit! I attempted to mark each place with a Manchester beanie picture. Travel is such a key part of study abroad, make the most of the opportunities!

Canada

Toronto > Rocky Mountains (Banff and Jasper) > Vancouver

Moraine Lake - Lake Louise, Rocky Mountains
Moraine Lake – Lake Louise, Rocky Mountains
Jasper, Rocky Mountains
Jasper, Rocky Mountains
Stanley Park, Vancouver
Stanley Park, Vancouver
Second Beach, Vancouver
Second Beach, Vancouver

USA:

Seattle > Portland > Yosemite & Sierra National Parks > Death Valley > Las Vegas > Phoenix & Grand Canyon, Arizona > San Diego > Los Angeles > Pacific Coast Highway > San Francisco

Pike Place Market, Seattle
Pike Place Market, Seattle
Washington State Rose Garden, Portland
Washington State Rose Garden, Portland

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Yosemite & Sierra National Parks

Las Vegas
Las Vegas
Visiting another Manchester student abroad, Phoenix
Visiting another Manchester student abroad, Phoenix
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Ocean Beach, San Diego
Ocean Beach, San Diego
At the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles
At the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles

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Driving the Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Barbara > Big Sur > Carmel > Monterey, California

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

And that’s a wrap on my year abroad! Coming home has been a small novelty, but quickly got boring. Make the most of it!

Above-Ground at Miramar

By Sam Thoburn (University of California, San Diego, USA)

I write every day, but not very often on this blog. So for that, my many, many readers, I apologise.

The Spring Quarter out here began three weeks ago, and among my new classes is one in travel writing. Since San Diego is a recruitment and command centre for both the American Navy and Air Force, I thought it would be interesting to look into that military history a little. To that end, I have been (and will be) visiting the city’s military cemeteries and writing about them. Here is the first piece I wrote, to be read in the knowledge that Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, just announced that he is deadly serious about reducing water usage across the state:

Above-Ground at Miramar

For such a level place, with so few trees, there is a great deal of birdsong. Is the song that of the Coastal California Gnatcatcher? The informational board installed in front of a fenced-off area of scrub would lead me to believe so: it tells the tale of vernal pools in San Diego County, a kind of seasonal wetland of which 97% are gone, leaving only those at this Miramar Air Force base as habitats for such endangered species as the San Diego Fairy Shrimp and the 4-inch-long Coastal California Gnatcatcher.

That unique fauna sets Miramar apart from other military cemeteries. But just like any of its kind, Miramar has the obligatory marble-white gravestones laid out in rows so perfect that they form straight lines from almost any angle.

Each gravestone bears these rows of information about the dead, engraved very deeply and arranged with as much precision as the stones themselves: name, rank, military branch, wars in which they fought (most commonly, still, Korea and Vietnam), dates of birth and death and sometimes a short tribute from the surviving family. On top of all those, in the uppermost portion of the stone, there is usually a religious symbol from a template; most often, it is some variant of a Christian cross, while the odd one bears the Star of David, and others carry ambiguous symbols like that of a silhouetted man blowing into a bugle or the sideways eight meaning infinity. The range of possible images must be limited to nine or ten, with one chosen from that small collection, which I suppose a family member must pick out. On the opposite side of some of the stones there are memorials for the non-serving military spouse. There is less ceremony to these—no religious symbols – and in fact they are easy to miss if you are not looking for them.

There are the usual graveside adornments – flags and flowers most commonly. Every flower is brightly coloured and alive, which seemed like a strange lack of tarnish for a cemetery until I read on a noticeboard, posted along one edge of the main graveyard plot, that “All floral items will be removed as soon as they become faded and/or unsightly”. Flowers bloom there all year round then, and the grass stays green as well. Every other facility in California must turn off its sprinklers if it is to conserve ever-precious water, but it would be a brave man who ordered the grass of national cemeteries to be left to the whims of the year-round sun. I will know that all hope of salvation from the drought is lost when there is parched grass at Miramar.

The artifice of green grass is clear enough when you move from the eastern to the western side of the entrance gate. This national cemetery only opened in 2010, and though thousands are already interred there, the ground is not nearly full. One or two plots of ground have been prepared on this western side to await those who will pass on in the coming years, but the space is not yet completely developed. Past a certain point, the road that leads around the plots is unpaved, becoming a track through the dirty yellow dust of wild scrubland. I walked over it slowly, heeding as best I could the warning sign by the low administration building (“BEWARE OF RATTLESNAKES”), and wondered how long it would be before this, too, would be sacred memorial ground and true mourners would stand there instead of me.

The Country from the Air

By Sam Thoburn (University of California, San Diego, USA)

San Diego is a long way from most places, and this year in America is precious time to be used diversely, so in the last three months I have flown more often than ever before in my life. And when I fly, I usually fly at night. That hasn’t been a conscious choice, but it has held true for the past few months. A break has come in that pattern now, though, and it has left my nocturnal partiality as nothing at all.

For Christmas and New Year, I was in New England with my parents and my brother. It was a lovely fortnight in a corner of this country I have never seen before, and I tried not to take it all for granted. I was disinclined to leave for home, if I may so call California after three months here. The journey back over the country and into the sun was in unusual daytime, and it was in two stages: Boston-Chicago, Chicago-San Diego.

On the first leg, early in the morning, I saw nothing through thick layers of cloud and sleep. The Midwest and its flat plains of crops were invisible from 34,000 feet, our cruising altitude. I read between naps, the personal screens showing only paid programming after taxying (and not being inclined to pay for Spongebob). Coming in for a soft landing at O’Hare after three hours in the air, we found the product of the cloud cover: heavy rain on the tarmac and slick-hooded runway workers.

The second flight was delayed and I waited at the gate, watching a talking-heads show about Taylor Swift’s career, eating a sandwich that covered my lap in crumbs.

That latter aeroplane was packed. There was some confusion as we boarded; double-booked seats and misprinted tickets for Boise not San Diego and dogs unwilling to leave their seats. I was in the back row (where I like to be, unharried, and not imposing on anybody when I recline my seat) and I had the window seat.

For hours there was nothing to see but the wonderful niveous down that clouds form when seen from above. No longer inclined to sleep, though, I kept looking, waiting for a little more. The first announcement the pilot made in midair warned of imminent turbulence as we passed over Denver. That shook a lot of people awake. I like turbulence; it reminds me, on a long flight, that I am defying physical laws, suspended in the sky unnaturally and wonderfully; it shouldn’t be too easy. But on that five hour flight, I found that that reminder need not be physical. It can come, too, in the view from a small porthole window that you crick your neck to look through.

The clouds thinned out as the plane stopped shaking, and I saw Colorado below. I have never been to Colorado, so my only expectation was to look down on snowy mountains. And it must be that from such a distance, such an impersonal height, stereotypes are made, because all I saw were mountain clusters peaked in glowing white: the Rockies.

Mountains became rarer as we moved along, and instead there was more level ground. A plateau hundreds of miles long, a vast once-brown mesa, dusted in snow. State lines not being visible from the air, and my US geography being rudimentary, I took the sight of snow to mean that we were still over Colorado.

The plateau dropped away into a sheer river gorge, shepherding water down from more mountains in the far background. I could see not only its great depth, told in long shadows at its most impressive point, but its origin upriver, too, as a shallow cut in the rock. On the high ground between the forked branches of canyons, there were squares of I cannot imagine what crop laid out in perfect squares and inlaid with concentric circles of winter furrow. These fields too were white in places.”We’re almost there,” the pilot said then, “and if you are lucky enough to be on the right-hand side of the plane, you’ll have a wonderful view of the Grand Canyon this afternoon. They had snow here just last week.” Arizona, then.

We followed the course of rail and road lines—forced across the country in a strangely straight line, with nothing to navigate around—until they stopped or turned at sharp angles to keep from falling into that ravine. I have never stood on that precipice myself and taken in the view for myself, and perhaps my foreignness showed; all my mind could conjure, as we crossed over the edge and I first faced that gaping monument, was that the rock I saw was as red as Manchester brick.

Weekend Trips to Santa Cruz

By Joshua Bradley-Bevan (University of California, Berkeley, USA)

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This was written on November 19th.

Now that my midterms are finished, I have been taking life a bit easier. As soon as I was done I went to Santa Cruz for the weekend to go surfing with a group of guys from the Surfing Club. This was an awesome weekend away from Berkeley, we set off in the afternoon and headed straight for the beach as soon as we arrived. It was nice to relax from the recently stressful week, and afterwards we stopped off at Chipotle to grab a quick burrito before heading to the booked campsite.

Throughout the night we attempted to go on a night hike and when I returned, I found two raccoons chomping away on my strawberry Pop-Tarts! But I soon got over that, and in the morning we went to a spot called ‘the hook’ to go surfing again. We got food from a place called Burger., (that’s Burger with a full stop at the end). Suprisingly, they sell good burgers. Then we finally headed back to Berkeley. During term time I usually end up going to Pacifica, which is in the picture above; it is in a nice cove with beautiful scenery and mountains in the background. The beach is also usually pretty full of people, although sometimes the place is foggy as it’s in the Bay Area after all.

I have also been spending a lot of time at the fraternity and getting involved with some of the events going on there. At the moment the house is being refurnished and upgraded due to alumni spending money on the place making it look nicer; there is now a nice big shield on the front of the house, along with the greek letters for PhiKappaPsi too, which looks impressive. The pledging process is nearly over and last weekend I went with the Ski and Snowboard team to go camping at Big Basin Redwoods State Park, which was a lot of fun. There were about 50 of us that ended up going and it was actually quite close to Santa Cruz. We ordered about 20 pizzas and in the morning we cooked bacon and chocolate which was an odd combination…

I’m planning to travel a bit farther than Santa Cruz soon, as I feel I haven’t explored as much as I would have liked to so far. As of a few hours ago, I just booked a flight to Calgary in Canada on the 17th December (which is also the date of my last final exam) to visit a friend, which leaves me about two weeks to somehow make my way back to San Francisco… which I will start planning for at some point!

Distraction From Midterms

By Joshua Bradley-Bevan (University of California Berkeley, USA)

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It has been exactly two months since I landed in the States, and I find myself finally writing my second post. This is mainly due to the fact that I have midterm examinations coming up and writing about what I have been up to is way more fun than going over physics problems.

At the end of September I secured a research position with my particle physics lecturer, so on Wednesdays and Thursdays I take the bus up the hill to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) to do physics things. It was a bit of a pain sorting out my government ID badge due to being a foreigner. Health insurance was another issue as I had to prove my insurance covered stuff like being blown up or growing a third arm from exposure to high radiation… the usual, of course.

I’m working on something called Neutrino Oscillations, which involves the transformation of different neutrinos to another, (there are electron, tau and muon neutrinos). More information can be found here for anyone that is interested. So far though, I have been learning how to program in python and becoming familiar with ROOT (data analysing software) to study the data that is coming from the Daya Bay reactor in China.

As of two weeks ago, I now have a surfboard! Currently I am using a 7’6” board to hopefully progress as I haven’t been surfing since the beginning of summer. Recently, I went to Pacifica with another exchange student who’s from Norway, then a week later I went surfing with one of the brothers from the fraternity which I’m still in the pledging process of.

Deciding to join a fraternity is one of the most fun experiences I’ve had so far. It’s connected me to people with similar interests and I’m sure that a lot of the brothers will become lifelong friends. It turns out that another exchange student from Manchester studying physics pledged with the same fraternity two years ago. I met Lars at a study abroad meeting and talked to him on the bus about studying abroad in general, but I never had any idea that he joined a fraternity, let alone the one that I ended up pledging with (Phi Kappa Psi). On top of that, each new member gets assigned a ‘big brother’ and it turns out that Lars and I have the same big brother… I don’t even know what the chances of that happening are, but there are about thirty fraternities and then probably fifty potential candidates for a big brother, so probably quite slim.

One of the fun additional courses I’m doing is something called Berkeley Connect. We essentially meet up for an hour a week to talk about physics related topics and eat free food which changes each week; we’ve had pizza, burritos, Chinese food… the great thing is that this counts for one academic unit.

Although it has been two months, the time has flown by quickly and I am now deciding what to do for the first two weeks of winter break. For the last two weeks, I should be going to Tahoe for two weeks to snowboard with the Ski and Snowboard Team here at Berkeley. This upcoming week will probably be the most intense week so far as I have three midterms: Electrodynamics, Quantum Mechanics and Particle Physics. It looks like I will be taking my first midterm in less than ten hours, so hopefully all goes well!

(Posted on October 20th)

A Month at UCSD

By Sam Thoburn (University of California, San Diego, USA)

I wrote my first entry for this blog weeks ago, when I had only been here for a day or two. When I wrote it, I was spending nights on the floor of my half a room and feeling, perhaps unsurprisingly, terrible. Aside from the barren nightly arrangements, every time I noticed that a turn of phrase or a product in the supermarket was even slightly different from what I know it to be at home, my assumption was that this was a change for the worse. I maintained rather longer than I should have the arrogance of the traveller, who laments with every mouthful the fact that Special K just isn’t the same in America. I am very glad that the blog I wrote at that time was not published, because it would only give you a bad impression of the place where I now live, when in truth the problems were my own. Perhaps if I had read the pertinent Study Abroad literature more closely, the first trials of my year abroad would not have affected me so much – I was not the first to feel that way, nor will I be the last. And so here, after almost a month in the country, is what I have to say.

There is one inescapable thing about being in America that I took to as soon as I arrived, and that is the feeling, every time I open my mouth, that I am foreign. At home near London or in Manchester, my accent is reassuringly dull and commonplace, seemingly without a region. Here, though, my voice is unique enough and close enough to Queen’s English that people are inclined to like hearing you speak. In the first week I was here, the campus was half-asleep: it was International Orientation Week and all of the local students had yet to arrive. Among those that were here already, I gravitated, as we all do, to those with whom I shared the most, and so my first friends were English and Irish students in exactly the same position as myself. The accents we have, when heard in San Diego, are unifying and bonding, and every time you hear one it is reassuring.

Once the campus filled with students from all over California and other states, the scale of the place and the communities it supports struck me. It is nothing like Manchester, I can tell you that much. (In fact, yesterday was the first day since I arrived that I wore jeans. Every other day has been the height of summer. After a few weeks of that, believe me when I say that rain sounds like a distant and wonderful thing.) I can walk from the bottom of the campus to the top in twenty minutes, but most don’t; skateboards, scooters and bicycles of all kinds will run any pedestrian down if they are not looking in every direction at the same time.

These American students had their own Welcome Week which, as far as I could tell, bore no resemblance to my Fresher’s experience in Fallowfield. For one thing, it was more or less an entirely sober week. Most importantly, though, and alien to me as a student in Manchester, the emphasis is placed more upon school spirit—every other person you walk past on campus is wearing a UCSD T-shirt or jumper or baseball cap. There is a two-storey bookshop, but more than half of its shelves are given over to official UCSD stationery, clothing and souvenirs. In that sense, the week is a complete success.

After a little while, I began to appreciate the prevalence of frozen yoghurt and fruit smoothie shops here where I live, just north of San Diego and east of La Jolla. In the third week I also managed to leave the discomfort of my little sleeping bag behind when I won a free mattress on the flip of a coin. In these weeks, FaceTime has become a huge part of my life, as have considerations of the eight hour time difference – the notion that, a third of the time, I am living on a different day to all my family never seems normal.

I am not even coming close to recounting the month entirely, or even its highlights, and I think that I will stop trying for now. That is how it is bound to be: a month on your own in a new country gives you a lot to write about.

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.