Things that you appreciate more at the end of an Undergraduate Degree

I feel bad that I’ve gone through another 6 month blogging hiatus. However, in that time I have written 18,000 words of assessed essays, sat 3 exams constituting 20% of my degree within 3 days… and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Warwick. Cut me some slack! Still, I wanted to get back on the blogging wagon, so here I am, even if it has taken me a few weeks of hitting the reset switch since my final exam to get around to doing it. This post is all about things which I have come to appreciate more now that my undergraduate degree is over. They are either things I missed because I was away at university, or, long for now that I am back home in Norfolk and removed from The Bubble. Personally, I have been glad to have certain things back in my life. But, simultaneously, I feel there are things I enjoyed at university, perhaps without realising it, that I am missing already. As I said, they are all things I appreciate more at the end of my degree. Things I appreciate having back

  • Reading for pleasure 

When you’re in the study zone, revising for hours of the day, trudging through notes and scribbling onto flashcards indefinitely, is it surprising when reading for pleasure takes a backseat? For me it certainly did. I’d been pouring over words all day, I didn’t want to add more onto my plate for these past few months! Moreover, it isn’t just the weariness of reading all day that put me off the pursuit of fiction in my spare time… it’s the way you think about what you read which put me off as well. Studying for humanities essays and exams, you critically analyse sources as a fundamental part of your higher education. At the end of my exams, I tried reading to wind down soon after. But I found no enjoyment or relaxation therein. I was over-thinking and critically interpreting the novels. My brain hadn’t switched back from exam/essay mode. And it sucked. It killed the reading experience for me. Gradually reading for pleasure came back to me. I don’t know what triggered it, but it probably came with activities which helped put a distance between me and my exams: watching crap TV, heading to the pub, going on long bike rides and eagerly returning to exercise. Since the end of my exams I have read hungrily, and it has felt amazing to read for pleasure once again.

  • Access to a dishwasher

Living with 12 people and sharing a kitchen with them hasn’t changed much since first year (I lived in the same campus accommodation in final year as I did as a fresher… made for some very strange deja vu moments). People don’t clean up after themselves, leave dirty dishes in the sink for days on end, and shared spaces deteriorate very quickly with only 2/3 inconsiderate people in a group of 12. As a bit of a clean freak, I found this particularly hard. But whatever- it’s over now, and I feel that I kept myself (relatively) in check… Although some of my housemates may disagree. Borderline psychotic Facebook group posts aside… I think I kept it together pretty well! Anyway, getting back home and having access to that magical machine known as a dishwasher was fantastic. No dreading the end of a meal because you have to stand and wash all the utensils, pots and pans. Honestly, they make life so much simpler and it’s easy to take this everyday appliance for granted.

  • Being back in the countryside

This is a matter of personal taste, of course. But as a guy from the sticks, I certainly missed big open spaces, rural quiet, and being so close to the beach. I know rural life isn’t for everyone, and living nearer to urban areas has its benefits as well… But at several times during my final year at Warwick I longed for the big skies, fresh air, scenery, and quiet that comes with living in rural East Norfolk. Even in Norwich, you’re never more than 10-15 minutes from fields and countryside! Best of both worlds if you ask me. And the beaches. Seriously, Norfolk’s beaches are so underrated. Holkham, Wells, Winterton, Sea Palling all have golden soft sand, beautiful dunes and all the makings of a sterling beach holiday destination. I think coming back from uni after my final exams made me appreciate home even more. Side note: The Telegraph recently named Noroflk the classiest county to live in! I’m glad my home county is being taken a bit more seriously, and receiving more positive, balanced press. I may be biased but I think it’s deserved!

  • Access to a car

When studying at Warwick, it was impractical and unnecessary for me to have a car. I share my Mum’s car anyway (haven’t needed my own, so never saw the point in buying one for the sake of it), so couldn’t bring it even if I desperately wanted to. However, linked to the above point about being back in the countryside, you certainly need a vehicle here to get around and enjoy things. But the ability to head off and visit friends, places or the city, in private transport, on your own time, is great to have back. I don’t really mind buses, but you have to plan your time better, and it isn’t as flexible. Moreover, especially in Noroflk, there are just some places you cannot get to because there are no public transport options which reach them! Or, they exist, but they’re so convoluted and time-consuming the impracticality makes them nigh on impossible anyway.

Things I miss having 

  • Omnipresent coffee vendors

Instant coffee does a job. But then again, so does ITV’s coverage of the World Cup… But it’s not the real mccoy. Give me coffees based on espressos and the glory of the BBC any day of the week. On campus, I was never more than a 5 minute walk from a cafe which sold proper coffee. In the foray of dissertation writing and exam revision, I came to depend slightly on the boost a strong cup of coffee in one form or another. Still, I took it for granted. Now I am back home, in a village with no coffee shops of any description, and there is an espresso cup-shaped hole in my life. Admittedly, where there’s a will there’s a way, and some of the nearby pubs or cafes must serve proper coffee. But, with the ease and low cost of campus coffee, they don’t really compare.

  • Gym access

I need fitness in my life in one form or another, and the gym is my preferred outlet for physical exercise by a long stretch. On campus I lived within sight of a very decent gym facility, had access at an extremely reasonable student rate, and enjoyed a diverse range of equipment and free weights to support whatever fitness regime I chose. Now I am back home, I do so miss the equipment required for squats, deadlifts, bench presses and so on. I looked into gym membership here but I balked at £25-40 monthly membership fees, limited equipment, and up to 40 minute drives to even reach them. I most definitely took the university gym for granted, and miss having access to it. The silver lining is I have altered my workout routine, and I am focusing on classic bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups and dips. It’s very beneficial to change it up with exercise routines every few weeks, so in a way the lack of a gym has forced my hand here, but to my own benefit. I will be writing a separate post all about this shortly, because I really have felt the bodyweight shift has been a positive change.

  • Student Immersion

I love my family and friends back home, and the following does not detract from that at all. BUT, as a student you get used to living and working on campus, surrounded by thousands of people who are working towards similar goals as you, that are like-minded and approach life in comparable ways to you. This is not to say that there are not people like this back home, of course there are. There just isn’t a comparable concentration or volume of these people. Again, this is possibly due to living in the sticks. But as a student, I love being surrounded by other students. Being able to drift unexpectedly to a pub on a Tuesday afternoon, and for it to still have a decent amount of people and hubub going on despite the random timing makes the experience that much better. Bumping into a classmate in Tesco’s and nattering as you do your grocery shopping makes the essential but dull activity much more bearable. I’m ever so grateful to be home, but I do miss the student community.

All is not lost…. Overall, there are several things that I have come to appreciate more now that I have finished my undergraduate degree. I’m sure there are many more that I could talk about, but these were the things which came to my mind first. But, as to the things I miss having as part of student life… I’m not losing them completely, just because I’m done at Warwick. Since my last blog post I applied for post graduate study and funding in the USA. I am very pleased and excited to be undertaking an MA in Public History at New Mexico State University! This is subject to a Visa meeting at the US embassy but hopefully that will go smoothly. Otherwise everything else is pretty much in place! I cannot wait to undertake this next step, further my education, get to know a new area and new people, and study abroad all over again.

Prepare yourself USA, the Wandering Canary is coming back!

(^ Visa pending, haha!!!)

Things which make Final Year more bearable

It has been far too long. However, I began this blog as a means of recording my year abroad, and the experiences I had or observations I made in California. Since coming back to England, it has been very difficult to adjust my understanding of this blog to a new context, what I have come to call “The Post-Year Abroad Hangover”. Returning after such a phenomenal experience was always going to be hard. There are so many people and things that I miss in the Golden State. This is only compounded by how challenging the Final Year  of university is.

However, rather than get bogged down in these sobering thoughts, I decided it would be more positive and healthy to look at some of the things which, for me at least, are making Final Year just that little bit more bearable.

Hopefully, if there are any other finalists out there feeling a little blue, who happen to read this, it might make them feel a little bit more positive too.

Here are the things which, for me, make Final Year that much more bearable:

A Huge Wall Planner

DSC_0907

This faces me as I sit at my desk in my room. It’s big, it’s right in my face, and it’s almost impossible to ignore. Which is perfect. It really helps me to visualise the coming weeks, know what lies ahead, and prepare accordingly. I would recommend buying one of these to any university student, not just final years. You can get really cheap ones from Amazon or other online stores. I paid a little bit more, but the planner was larger, which is what I was looking for.

Photos, lots of photos (and a flag…)

DSC_0908

I have surrounded said wall planner with photos or postcards of my family, friends, and places I have visited. When I’m buried in some horrendously dense (or scientific, which is perhaps even more vile for a history student) political theory or petty historiographical disagreement, it’s lovely to be able to look up from it all, see these images, and smile. Never fails to lighten my mood. (Note how the Beverly Hills postcard is upside down- could not be a more fitting summary of my time spent there!)

DSC_0913 I have a picture of Ashley right by my side too, who also never fails to make me smile. But enough of the soppyness. On a less mushy note, I also have a customised mousemat with a picture of my cat on it as well. Anya is far too plump to ever catch a real mouse, unless it’s nearly dead anyway. So I would like to think this is a small consolation for her, in her woefully inadequate huntress skills. DSC_0915Before I left California, I got all my wonderful friends to sign a state flag, which now hangs on my wall (shhh, don’t tell my Resident Tutor or Warwick Accommodation…) Credit for this idea goes to Ashley, who did the same thing after her year in Brasil. Hers is much more packed than mine! It’s not a photo, but the messages are special to me. Things like this are great for lightening the burden of the Final Year, especially after a year abroad.

Communication Apps

Seriously, having a smart phone really is a wonderful blessing. Useful apps allow me to communicate with my girlfriend, my friends scattered across the globe, and those who aren’t, in dynamic ways. Here is my list of must-download communication apps:

  • Whatsapp: text internationally send voice recordings and pictures for free (at least for the first year of use anyway).
  • Viber: similar to the above, but it actually lets you make calls too, as long as you have internet.
  • Google Hangouts: again, a messaging platform that allows you to send photos for free, engage in group conversations, and to make video calls.
  • Snapchat: fun and entertaining means of sending pictures, which can be as silly or sublime as you choose to make them. The possibilities are vast.
  • Skype: does it really need a description? A lifesaver in terms of free communication, whether that be national or international.

Healthy Eating + Regular Exercise = Happy Finalist

I know everyone bangs on about how beneficial a good diet and regular exercise is. But in your final year, you NEED a means of de-stressing and you MUST stay healthy. Still, I know that exercise isn’t for everyone, and in some cases, it can actually stress people out rather than alleviate it. But if this is the case, perhaps you haven’t found the right type of exercise for you? Try a new sport, take a zumba class, get off the bus two stops early, whatever it is. Having some form of exercise in your life really helps. It can provide a welcome break between study sessions, it helps you sleep, and benefits your long term health.

Same goes for a healthy diet. Why not break up the afternoon of studying with a cereal bar and a glass of water? This will stave off hunger until dinner, and allow you to stay in the library that little bit longer. Or maybe a mug of green tea and a banana? Energising, anti-oxidising, and cancer fighting, all in one snack!

On the subject of healthy eating…

Cous-Cous

Bear with me on this one. Students seem to default to pizza, Pot Noodles, or pasta as a quick and easy meal. Which they are, I’m not denying this. However, cous-cous is very quick to make, much healthier, and very tasty as well. Boil the kettle, crumble half a stock cube into a bowl of cous-cous. Add the boiling water. Bang, the carb section of your meal is sorted. And no naughty potatoes or pasta in sight. No saucepans to wash up either. Which is always a bonus. Combine it with a simple vegetable mix with a tin of tomatoes; houmous; or perhaps a tin of tuna and some sweet chilli sauce: voila, you have a very satisfying meal! Or, put it in a tupperware and hey presto: you have a healthy lunch without boring sandwiches as well.

Source: BBC Good Food

Cooking CAN be a chore. But with simple, fast, tasty components like cous-cous, meal preparation doesn’t have to be another dreaded task.

Living on Campus

I know this isn’t for everyone. Returning to campus and reliving first year couldn’t be more off-putting for some. But for me, this was an excellent option. I was relieved to have the opportunity to organise campus accommodation during my year abroad. It meant I didn’t have to coordinate renting a property from thousands of miles away, potentially without ever even visiting it. Plus it means I don’t have to get the bus to campus everyday. I can roll out of bed and be at the gym, the library, or any given lecture or seminar within a ten minute walk. If a book I REALLY need becomes available at a strange hour, I can get to the library and secure it much sooner, and with less hassle, than if I lived a 20-30 minute bus ride away.

During final year you have a lot to prioritise and many tasks to be juggling. For me, proximity to campus has made achieving all of this much easier, and for that reason I am very glad I chose to live on campus for my final year.

CARPE DIEM

Don’t forget, your final year of university has huge potential to be, wait for it, ENJOYABLE. University offers a wealth of activities, societies, events and social potential. Take a trip hiking the Three Peaks. Go to a beer festival. Play 5-a-side football. Not only are these opportunities prolific, they can actually be pretty cheap. Societies subsidise trips, universities host events for free, you have a rail card for one more year (at least)! As long as you keep a good balance between work and play, and don’t lose sight of your degree- the potential to “go out with a bang” are fantastic!

There IS Light at the End of the Tunnel

The Future is scary. Job prospects are bleak, CV writing is a mysterious art, and the KFC Graduate Scheme might not offer you the comfort you’re seeking. This is unavoidably true.

However, The Future is also exciting. When I feel crushed by the weight of the impending real world, or existentially pessimistic at the thought of a career, I remind myself that things don’t need to be as bleak as I’m making them out to be.

It’s a new phase of your life. You get to take charge of the future in new ways. People do get jobs after university, and keeping in touch with my friends who have already graduated serves as an excellent reminder of this fact. Whether you go on to post-graduate studies, a flurry of internshhips, travel, a job, or whatever: you’ve completed and achieved something. And that’s worth remembering.

Still, if you don’t want to be as abstract and wishy-washy as that, then be more grounded. Think: come June 2014, you might have sat your LAST EVER EXAM. Think: as you hand in your dissertation, you may NEVER HAVE TO WRITE AN ESSAY AGAIN. You might never need to footnote again! And if they aren’t somewhat exciting prospects, I don’t know what are.

So overall, I just want to say: don’t let Final Year get you down. It is tough. There is a lot to do. But if it’s getting to you, pause. Take a breath. Try and see things differently. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but I genuinely believe there are lots of things that can make your Final Year more bearable. Who knows. You could even say enjoyable.

Weather-Based Achilles’ Heels

I realise that a weather-based post is perhaps the most stereotypically clichéd blog post a Brit could possibly write on a year abroad, but I just couldn’t resist this.

All British citizens know that we are terrible at dealing with snow. The London Underground shudders to a halt, buses spontaneously conk out, the trains refuse to poke their heads out of the station, schools close due to broken heating systems, and you could probably start steering to the left about a mile before a curve and still make the turn, only you’d be taking it backwards. I think it was a few years ago that Suffolk ran out of grit for the roads because they hadn’t stockpiled enough to last the winter- proving that our local governments even struggle to successfully guide us through snowy conditions!

Of course, that is not to say that there aren’t many people throughout Britain who are well-prepared for snowy weather conditions, perhaps in places where that type of weather is more common (Scotland, mountainous regions of England, and hilly districts in Wales). However, I would be fairly confident in saying those people are in the minority percentage-wise in the UK.

This has been reinforced to me throughout the past week as I have been receiving emails from my family, seeing statuses posted by my friends on Facebook, and catching the occasional weather report on the BBC website; reminding me of how cold, snowy and wintry it can get back home. It’s somewhat hard too picture with the last few days of weather in Santa Barbara, because as of this morning/yesterday, the weather was suitable for sun-bathing, and I even got burned over the weekend! That was a strange experience, given my usual expectations of January!! Still, hearing about heavy snowfall back home did make me miss snowball fights and all the other fun stuff that comes with snow.

However, what makes matters worse is that we Brits see how well other countries like Germany, Poland, Sweden, Norway and Americans deal with snow. Chained tires, huge great vehicles which clear the roads, central heating systems which won’t freeze, etc. It’s not fun to be flailing around like a turtle on it’s shell while the rest of Europe (who regularly deal with snowy conditions) chuckles into their fur-lined gloves at how useless we are with snow.

snow meme 2Point proven.

Source: http://www.memecenter.com/fun/1068667/rmx-heavy-snow

Nevertheless. my time in California so far has demonstrated that we are not the only ones who are particularly rubbish at dealing with a weather event. Mid-to-southern Californians appear to SUCK at dealing with the rain. I cannot speak for northern Californians, and apparently the weather changes noticeably as you get closer to San Francisco and above. Therefore I would expect the ability to improve the further north you travel up the Highway 101. However, based on my own experiences in and around Santa Barbara, which perhaps says more about the student population more than anything, but I have noticed it among other people too, is that the rain is their Achilles’ Heel.

People seem reluctant to go out of their homes when it is raining persistently. I have overheard numerous students genuinely contemplating not going to class because it is raining. We’re talking about a bike ride onto campus of under five minutes here, and STILL people seriously consider that tremendous distance if it is drizzling harder than a fine mist.

Moreover, the roads seem to flood very easily around here, and the surface water that collects lingers for a long time. I don’t know if that is to do with their design, the road maintenance or another factor, but aquaplaning and the implications for cyclists must be quite serious here.

Before I’m accused of trying to deflect German/Norwegian/Swedish attention away from Britain by saying “You think we suck, you should see those Californians flail around in the rain!”, that is not what I’m trying to say at all. In fact, my girlfriend is dubious about these comparative blog posts full stop. She spent a year abroad in Brazil, and also wrote a blog while she was over there. Her argument is that you should treat your time abroad as a separate experience, and enjoy it of its own merit. Which I concur with, to an extent, she definitely has a point. Years abroad are so memorable and enjoyable BECAUSE they can be so removed from your previous experience, they enrich your cultural awareness, and of course, situate you in a completely different place to where you call home. I think she disapproves of what she sees as me haughtily sniffing at things as I make comparisons, which is not what I’m trying to do at all.

However, as a comparative studies student, I have to look at several different disciplines of study (history, politics and literature chiefly), and numerous regions (the Americas). As a result, I can’t help the tendency to be making comparisons in my head, critically evaluating trends and patterns, contemplating cultural anomalies, similarities and differences. It’s what I do, and I enjoy it. (… Sorry baby.)

Therefore, the observation that emerges from these two interesting aspects to Britain and California (they both have a weather-based Achilles’ heel), is that despite our extremely high levels of development; the money, resources and technology available to us, isn’t it amusing that such prominent Western societies still struggle with bad weather?

Football Observations

College work has been snowballing recently, and I haven’t had much opportunity to sit and write another blog post. However, with the work ethic at UCSB, you work hard in the week and party at the weekend, go hiking, socialise, go to the beach, whatever your imagination and funds permit really. Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely accurate at the moment. The prospects of entire days to just crack on with the history book I have to read, the first Spanish test I have to prepare for, or the first essay I have to write for my Public History class, on top of my required reading, are too sensible to avoid I’m afraid. People who just see UCSB as a party school couldn’t be more wrong. As much as people party hard here, they’ve also had to work hard and attain good results to get here. I’m glad to be at a college that has the best of both worlds. Nevertheless, I thought I’d take some time out from that and write about a matter very close to my heart. Football.

For any American readers, by this I refer to the sport where you actually use your feet more than once in every 10-15 plays. And no, I will NOT use the “S” word in this blog (except in the tags, reluctantly). Exponentially more offensive than his four-letter counterpart, I feel myself wince a little bit inside every time this small language barrier forces my hand and makes me use it.

I have been to two UCSB football games, played some “scrimmages” (kickabouts for English readers) and taken part in my first intramural game. Based on those, there are a few things I have noticed about the beautiful game stateside.

  1. I have been pleasantly surprised at the attendance for our first team UCSB football games. There must be a good few thousand fans at our home games. This is much higher attendance than the average university game back home. Admittedly, I am a firm believer in away fans demonstrating just how fervent fans are as well as home fans. Back home, it’s all well and good having a near 30,000 capacity, and not being able to sell all your tickets for away games *cough* West Brom *cough* However, I do not think there are as many opportunities or instances of a large contingent of UCSB students travelling away. I suppose this is to do with travelling all over the country/state when school is on. However, the attendance at UCSB home games is unavoidably admirable.
  2. Moreover, the fans are very fervent and have a charming tradition: throughout the match fans throw tortillas onto the pitch! This is because our mascot is a gaucho and logically food being thrown onto the pitch is the best way to celebrate a goal being scored… clearly. Either way, it’s very funny and gives the UCSB fans some character which I’m sure is quite memorable for visiting teams.

Tortillas on the pitch.

Our mascot, the UCSB Gaucho.

4. Now, as much as the team spirit is great here, the chants are abysmal. I have heard maybe 3/4 songs at the games. One of the most common has to be “OLE, ole, ole, ole…. GAUCHOS, GAUCHOS.” Simple but clear I suppose. More complicated, tuneful (relatively speaking, obviously, an English football crowd is never truly melodious) chants have yet to surface this side of the Pond.

5.  I have never seen any, but apparently at football games here, you have fans from opposing teams sitting together, with no separation whatsoever?!?! This would be suicidal back home. I find this quite hard to understand, but after speaking to other UCSB students, it quickly became clear that there aren’t such violent relationships between sports fans in the USA compared to England, particularly for football fans. English readers: can you imagine the Manchester United vs Manchester City / Liverpool vs Manchester United / Tottenham vs Arsenal  games with both sets of fans sitting together?! It would be an absolute bloodbath.

6.  The style of football here is quite different too. I would say, generally, there is a tendency for attacking players to try and walk the ball into the goal. They seem to be trying to score the goal of the season with every run. Which, as is to be expected with such individualistic style in an inherently team-based game, doesn’t often pan out. Quite often the vocal Canary fan inside me is screaming “PASS THE BLOODY BALL YOU MUPPET!” However, as I’m among the home fans and critical encouragement doesn’t seem as common among fans here, I have to swallow my words, wince, but keep my trap shut.

7. If there is a draw at the end of 90 minutes for the primary UCSB team, here they have an extra two halves of 10 minutes. This isn’t reserved for special situations, like in a European tournament or the World Cup-type event, this is just how everyday UCSB games work. I spoke to one UCSB fan near me at the first game, after expressing wonderment to Giles, and the American student told me that he felt that Americans don’t like tie games. If teams have played through 90 minutes, and you still don’t know who is the better team, they would rather continuing play until you can eventually establish the victor. I had to smirk to myself, as the rules seem to have been changed, purely because some Americans can’t deal with a game where there are no winners or losers. Talk about American Exceptionalism!

8. Finally, fans over here take a much more relaxed approach to viewing the beautiful game. People will wander in and out throughout the game, some staying for the entirety, others catching just one half, others arriving 20/40/60 minutes into the game. My personal opinion would be that if you’re there to support your team, and support them properly, you need to be there for the full entirety of the game, through thick and thin. None of this, “Oh we’re 3-1 down at 79 minutes, we might as well head to the car to get a head start on the other fans leaving the game.”

In summary, I am enjoying the football scene over here. However, I have to keep checking myself, and reminding myself that I have been an avid football fan and season ticket holder for going on 14 years now. What I’m used to is very different from the reality over here. Moreover, England is one of the true homes of the beautiful game, with a rich culture of football. It’s very hard to beat, and unfortunately America just isn’t a superpower in this instance. Nevertheless, it is interesting to visit another country where football is a minor sport when compared to baseball, basketball, hockey and, of course, AMERICAN Football. Still, I am pleased that there is at least some football culture here, and not a bad one at that.

Shocking Spanish and Savoury Muffins

Classes are warming up and reaching full swing. Assignments and reading are developing. I’m acclimatising more and more everyday. It would appear my year abroad is gestating nicely.

I am thoroughly enjoying my classes, particularly my Public History module. It deals with how history is produced differently for academic purposes and for public consumption. It deals with museums, representation and a host of other issues that essentially look at alternative careers for historians. How might the National Park Service benefit from a historian that can research the various interest groups that lay claim to an area of forest it seeks to develop? To what extent do historians have to accommodate the memories of “witnesses”, and how can the museum’s intent and the witnesses’ sentiment be mediated into a satisfactory exhibit? This has to be my favourite class so far, it’s fascinating. Combined with my previous experience volunteering and working within the Norwich Castle Museum and Gallery, I find myself becoming more and more interested in this kind of field as a potential career. I’m not saying “Wow, I came to California and I have already found my dream job!”, which is ridiculous as the range of public history careers available are broad and diverse, merely that I have found something which really interests me and I am motivated to study for.

On the other hand, I have found the Spanish element to my education quite difficult. The American approach seems to be that from advanced beginner/ intermediate ability onwards, classes should be taught solely in Spanish. Back at Warwick, my teaching was largely English-based, and focused A LOT on grammar. This is fine when I need to put across basic sentiment, talk about the past/future, or whatever, but my vocabulary and ability to understand fluently spoken Spanish is a bit limited. Saying that, I have found my ability to understand developing exponentially quicker by immersing myself in the language. I still miss some vocabulary, and more intricate and developed statements; but generally I find myself comprehending the lessons and what is required of me. I just hope my spoken Spanish will catch up to my listening, as I pick up more and more vocabulary.

Speaking about not understanding certain things, I encountered my first ever savoury muffin yesterday. I was having a coffee with a friend who purchased a Bacon and Cheese muffin. Bacon and cheese… in a stereotypically sweet cake. It boggled my mind. We were at a new cafe called Chrushcakes, and they are big on cakes and what not, so I expected a diverse amount of SWEETS available, some light lunches perhaps, salads and sandwiches. But a bacon and cheese muffin!? That was weird.

The fact the muffin tasted pretty damn good was even weirder.

Welcome to UCSB

It has taken me longer than I intended to get round to this post, because there has been so much going on in my first week at Tropicana Del Norte, I haven’t just sat at my laptop for an extended period of time. However, as I wait for a Skype chat with my parents and sister, who’s leaving for her first year of uni tomorrow, I felt it was time to try and capture just a fraction of the amazing time I am having here in Isla Vista.

After my first few days in Anacapa Hall, I moved into TDN a week ago today, on the 23rd of September. Before that, I crashed on Imogen’s sofa (one of the other Warwick students here at UCSB) on the night of the 22nd. Getting to know Del Playa (DP) first-hand, with a house to stay in, even just for that couple of days, was really beneficial. I can imagine getting to know DP from scratch can be pretty overwhelming. Essentially it’s the party central for UCSB students, and is the main component to the night life here. The disconcerting thing is how people will just pile onto DP, “party-hop” from house to house, and many people just leave their doors open to people wandering in. I cannot imagine doing that back home, but it’s a lot of fun. House parties are the name of the game here, as it permits under-age drinking.  Speaking of which, due to the alcohol-related laws:

A) I’ve reverted back to that teenage phase where drinking is off limits, but here the consequences for me getting caught by police are much greater than the mere slap on the wrist I’d be likely to get in England. However, as I have been drinking for a few years, the crucial difference between now and the teenage phase is that it used to be kind of exciting for drinking to be off limits. Now it’s just a pain in the backside.

B) There is nothing more appealing than the idea of being able to have a cold Budweiser on the gorgeous beaches here, but public drinking is off limits. Which is frustrating.

Nevertheless, it has been like being a Fresher all over again, in a way, which I like. A lot. Getting to know loads of people, having far too many people packed into your room and chatting with them, going out to get nachos at 3am, signing up for sports clubs you will probably never join, and lots more standard Fresher-esque behaviour.

Re-freshed all over again!

But there have been other, non party-related elements to my first week which I have really enjoyed.

  • I’m not going to lie to you here- having a British accent. It’s a great conversation starter or ice-breaker, and can be greeted with a lot of… enthusiasm.
  • The people who live in my apartment are all really friendly, great guys. We get along fine and I have been very lucky to land among a good bunch of blokes.
  • Sharing a room with Giles has been an easy changeover, which is a good result too. Except for my annoyingly early starts (even though I got into bed at 4.30 last night, I still ended up waking up at like 7.30: my body clock hates me), which Giles is very good about- ie he sleeps through them- living together has been a breeze so far.
  • Playing football again, at intramural (casual) level. I had my first training sessions a few days ago, and am playing my first “pick-up game” at 4.30 today. Cannot wait.
  • Getting to know a whole new gym, with new machines, cable equipment, and other bits and pieces which make my inner Gym Monkey very happy.
  • Finding my way round campus, and finding unexpected areas or buildings.
  • Finally going to some classes so I have a vague idea about how the academic side of things will pan out.
  • Cycling around on Dante, my new bike, which I have been loaned by TDN. International students can get a loan bike for free here, which is a fantastic idea. Giles got one too, and his is named Seabiscuit. It feels great to cycle so often, and it must be having a knock-on effect for my fitness which is always an added bonus.

Dante, the Inferno.

Seabiscuit, Scourge of the Seven Seas.

  • Adopting a Betta Fish as an apartment. They don’t play well with others, and will eat other fish if put in the same bowl. So we have named our killer Betta fish Goliath!

Meet Goliath, the baddest fish you’re likely to meet. Well. Sort of.

  • Cheap food at take-outs, restaurants etc. Yesterday I went on a beach trip with some of my apartment buddies, and headed further afield to Santa Barbara beach. Afterwards, when we had built up an appetite, we headed to this amazing Mexican restaurant. The set-up was very basic, but plates of tacos or meat dishes served with tortillas were about $2.50-$.50 each. Interms of value, it was very good, but in terms of taste, it was excellent.
  • Did I mention the beaches?

 

  • Cruising along a sunny highway in a car full of new mates, mountains off in the distance, all the windows down, blasting out music such as this:

  • Hilarious American attempts at British accents. Some have been pretty decent… others have been horrendously bad.

Apart from all these wonderful things, there are a few differences with living here that I have to be wary of. These aren’t bad things, by any stretch of the imagination, but are just factors in the way of life I’ve stepped into that I need to consider.

  • You become wary of police all over again. Not only as I’m under-age  but because I cycle to most places. This include parties on nights out, and you have to be extremely careful about BUI tickets- Biking Under the Influence. These tickets cost a bomb, can get you into a hell of a lot of trouble, and I for one don’t want to risk my visa status because I was a bit tiddly on a bike. So I can bike to places, but it is wise to then walk my bike when I come back after the copious amounts of booze that will undoubtedly have been consumed. As a result, I think you have to develop what I call a “Podar”- police radar. You keep an eye out at intersections, tone everything down if police are walking along DP, and NEVER, EVER, sit on the curb. You’re asking for a night in the drunk tank if you do that.
  • As much as I love the unlimited fizzy drinks and ice cream available at my cafeteria, these two bonuses are representative of the larger issue of how easy it would be to eat massive meals, 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. I get all my meals covered here at TDN, and can make as many visits to the canteen as I’d like. The food here has been pretty good all told, but whereas at uni in England, I’d make do with a bowl of Special K and a banana for breakfast, here it is very easy to just have cooked breakfast everyday, for example. Admittedly, this is just a question of willpower, and from now on I will try and limit myself to a big dinner, lighter lunch and a healthier option for breakfast. But it’s just so easy, particularly after a heavy night out, to say to yourself “Well I need the energy to get through tomorrow, might as well load up at breakfast!!”
  • As my lobster-esque room mate is realising today, you have to be careful with the sun. Even just walking around between classes contributes to any sunburn you accumulate, and being wary of it doesn’t come naturally to pasty English boys such as Giles and myself.

So, as you can probably tell, I am having an absolutely incredible time, and am loving every minute I’m spending here. I know it sounds corny, but I do feel so lucky to be here, and it’s only just beginning!

Let the good times keep rolling!

Cultural Observations #1

So, I’ve spent exactly a week in California, and I am having the most fantastic time. I will do another post on my first seven days, but first of all I just wanted to note down the most glaring cultural differences between here and back home:

  1. Drivers are so much more cautious of pedestrians around Isla Vista (IV). Combined with the willingness of students here to just mosey along the street, cars often will just crawl along the streets or come to complete stops. In England, if you want to wander along the streets and cross the roads as casually as they do here, good luck to you.
  2. In contrast, if you try to cycle along a main road, out of town, you become an inconvenience and really have to have your wits about you. It’s technically illegal in California to cycle with headphones in, and it has quickly become apparent that this is with good reason. I never used to do it anyway, but you’d be silly to attempt it here.
  3. Medical marijuana cards. Completely alien. The idea you can go into a doctor’s surgery, and quite readily get one of these (if you say the right symptoms, which are quite well-known) ; then go into a special chemist and walk out with weed, is crazy.
  4. Handles” of spirits. Bottles of spirits that are so big they need a handle. 1.75 litres often sells for $19.99, or about £12.40.Crazy, right?!?! This has an impact on the drinking culture, and while I’d still say that UK student drinking culture is more of a binge drinking culture, the way you do shots from sober over here is weird. And pretty grim to be honest.
  5. The weather. Knocks the spots off miserable the typical September gloom in the UK. That’s a pretty obvious one, but is so enjoyable, I still think it deserved a mention. This isn’t a cultural observation per se, but there are obviously implications that come with better weather- more tanned people, different clothing is worn, it’s not so frowned upon for guys to walk around shirtless etc.
  6. Increased prevalence of joggers. While Warwick is a pretty athletic university, and many people go to the gym/take part in sports or are in sports clubs, there seem to be a higher proportion of people who will go jogging in this area. But with coastline rails and mountain views like ours, who wouldn’t?!
  7. SO many skateboarders. It’s like a constant Avril Lavigne video or something.
  8. Socks and sandals are morally acceptable, as are socks and flip flops (?!?!) The former is wrong, and the latter seems ridiculous and impractical at best, but I have witnessed both on several occasions. Moreover, high sport socks and shorts are also fair game. These are cultural anomalies that I just can’t swallow.
  9. Group involvement. Being involved in a sports team, or a member of some kind of club, is strongly emphasised here. In England, if you don’t want to be in a society at university, or play for a sports team, that’s all cool and your personal choice. However, so far at UCSB, I’m pretty sure I haven’t met one person who isn’t involved in some kind of club/sports team/extra activity. There must be some UCSB students who don’t get involved, but I have yet to meet them.
  10. Alcohol provision at parties. The attitude here seems to be that if you put on a house party, you buy a significant amount of booze for your guests. The idea being that the favour is returned to you when you stumble into the next random party along Del Playa (DP). In England, you bring your own, and safeguard your stash like a fiend. There are times when hosts will provide booze in England, but in terms of the general behaviour of students, I would say the feeling that we are so broke, you should look out for yourself is stronger.
  11. You don’t address your lecturers by their first names. Giles, my room mate, found this out the awkward way, and actually received an email where the professor corrected him on this pretty thoroughly. At Warwick, we always use first names with our seminar tutors, lecturers or other university employees. I think this is good because it shows a mutual respect. Here it feels a bit… like I’m back in  primary school or something. I realise that there should be respect for your teachers, elders, adults, whatever; but this seems a bit petty to me.
  12. Freshman’s entry into UCSB is vastly different to Freshers entering Warwick. At Warwick, it was abundantly clear that our first two weeks were what I’d call “alco-centric”: largely focused on getting wasted. Here, due to the lower drinking age (which, I feel, warrants a whole separate post, it’s infuriating), the activities available for Freshman are geared away from this. Obviously this does not stop Freshman walking down to DP and getting munted there. It just means that there are no organised equivalents of a Student Union night out, or society socials that entail mass consumption of booze on a grand scale.

That’s all I can think of so far, and none of them have been particularly jarring (except the socks and sandals perhaps). I’ll be writing in more detail about my first week soon, but I just wanted to get these down first. I start classes tomorrow, the first of which begins at 8am. This seems obscenely early, but I guess it shouldn’t. The earliest class I have had at Warwick was 9am, and that felt unpleasant. But the absurd thing is, I’m quite willing to get my butt out of bed and down they gym by 7am…. ironic huh? So, wish me luck with my early start tomorrow, I’m sure it won’t be so bad!