Viva Las Vegas

I turned 21 as of the 13th of December. Unfortunately, I had an 8am exam on the day itself, which seemed horrendously unjust. Nevertheless, after 11 weeks of being under-age all over again, not even being able to plonk my butt down in a pub to have a quiet pint… not that I’m bitter and twisted about this, of course… I wanted to celebrate being able to drink legally in style. What better way, when this side of the world, than Sin City itself?

The plan was as follows:

  1. Complete the Unspeakable Birthday Exam.
  2. Finish up packing.
  3. Say a few good-byes to other residents at Tropicana del Norte.
  4. Wait for my suite-mate Charlie to finish his midday exam.
  5. Drive to Los Angeles.
  6. Get the Greyhound bus to Las Vegas.
  7. Check-in at the Treasure Island Resort and Casino.
  8. Tear it up, generally and whole-heartedly, for 3 nights.

As I’m sure you’re aware, there is a general rule with Sin City: what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. However, for your reading pleasure, I am going to relate some of what happened. Enjoy:

  • The Underbelly of the Land of the Free- Greyhound Bus Service

After a decent drive down to LA with Charlie, we drove through the industrial, and incredibly dangerous Charlie assured Giles and me, part of LA which was home to the Greyhound Bus Station. He dropped us off, and Giles and I entered the grey (fitting), low, building. GIles checked in his bags, and as we had made good time on the way down from Santa Barbara, we had a couple of hours sitting around in the station. 

This was a surreal experience, I’ll be honest. We saw some incredibly strange people during this time. Most of the people were just minding their own business, snoozing on the benches or furiously focusing on their phones or mp3 players. However, there was the occasional person shuffling around, chatting to themselves, people who seemed to have the strangest collections of recyclable materials on their person instead of luggage, and generally sketchy looking people. It was like something out of J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. In a similar manner to J. D. Salinger’s most famous novel, it was comparably disillusioning and perhaps not depressing, but it was definitely sobering.

At this point, I want to relate quite an interesting part of my journey. I hadn’t brought a hold-all or gym bag with me for the first term, for long weekends away and travelling etc. As a result, I borrowed a large US army backpack from my suite mate Vinh, who’s involved with the military and cadets back in his home town. Minding my own business and placing this bag at my feet seemed to successfully deflect most of the wandering mutterers or other odd patrons of the bus station. Interestingly, it did get some worried looks from some of the sketchier characters in the station. Moreover, as I walked around, I noticed several people nodding at me, or moving to clear my path as I walked over to the coffee shop. I want to clearly emphasise at this point that I did nothing to perpetuate the seeming assumption I was military, as this would have been highly disrespectful and utterly unacceptable.

Most people should have realised I wasn’t American as soon as I opened my Queen’s-English-speaking gob, let alone US military. However, you have to bear in mind, in that kind of setting, you don’t often just chat to random strangers, and Giles and I kept ourselves to ourselves and spoke to each other mostly. The assumption I was military extended to the staff, and as I got on the coach, I was taken aside to have my bag inspected and to be scanned with a metal detector. Being used to the high security of Heathrow and LAX, I was bracing myself to have all my possessions upturned and rifled through. Yet, I was asked “Do you have your firearm on you?”, to which I responded with a slightly surprised but firm “No”, partly because there was an assumption that I had one in the “your”. I then expected the search of my bag to be more thorough as I assumed the staff would want to make very sure of this…. yet, all he did was open the zip to the top of my bag, cast a cursory glance into it, shine a torch into it as if to double-check there were no firearms resting on top of my clothes (where I would logically smuggle a weapon onto the bus… insert sarcasm here), and grimly nod at me and then towards the door to the bus.

This odd experience continued on the bus- a woman who looked decidedly touristy was sitting across from her travel partner, and had set herself up with her bags on one seat, taking the other chair herself, as was her friend. She had quite a good seat, near the front, away from the toilet at the back of the bus, and I was about to pass her. She saw me coming, leaned across and spoke animatedly to her friend and grabbed her arm, then nodded towards me… I was about to walk past them and head further back on the bus, but she tapped me on the shoulder, and pulled my arm and brought me back to her seat. She then moved her possessions, and insisted I sat in her seat! I don’t know if she spoke English because I was trying to tell her I couldn’t take her seat, but she either didn’t understand me or chose not to listen. Eventually I just shrugged my shoulders, threw Giles a puzzled look, and sat down.

I do not know to what extent any of these experiences were linked to the military bag on my back, stamped in black with “US”; but at the time, I definitely felt some kind of correlation. I text Vinh and related some of it to him, and he put it down to the respect US citizens have for the military. He suggested people see a uniform or whatever, and instantly their respect is won. Evidently, I am not military, but even this accidentally extended to a British, American Studies student when I wore a piece of military garb. I’m still getting my head round it, but whether or not there was a correlation between my experience and the bag on my back, I still admire the respect that Vinh refers too. Not, I regretfully acknowledge, that this would be true in all cases for all US citizens. I’m sure respect for the military isn’t universal, even in the military-industrial complex addled U. S. of A.

  • A Lucky Turn

After more than six hours on the bus, a sandstorm along the way, and that moment when you bank a corner on the Interstate Highway 5, and Las Vegas appears out of no-where, sprawled out below with no rhyme nor reason, we arrived in Sin City. The lights were dazzling as we drove through the city, and my chin rested on my chest as I watched it all pass by the window of the bus. Giles and I pulled into the bus station at about 1.30 am, and took a taxi to our hotel at the Treasure Island Resort.

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We arrived at the hotel, and in a sleep-derived, zombie-like and wide-eyed state, we headed into the reception to check in. When I made the booking online, I had just selected non-smoking by default. However, the receptionist asked us to confirm if we still wanted non-smoking or would like to switch to a smoking room. I asked Giles, as I hadn’t even considered this when booking, and he smokes. He said switch if it was no bother. So I asked the receptionist if we could swap as it didn’t bother me either way. He confirmed we could… but told us the only smoking rooms left were on the top floor… the VIP floor… Would we mind switching here?!?!


Slightly nervously, but excitedly, I asked how much it would cost to upgrade…

“Nothing, sir. The upgrade would be free of charge…”

Viva Las Vegas, baby! 

This was an as good start as any I could have possibly imagined to our Vegas shenanigans. Giles and I had stupid grins as we made our way across the casino floor and towards our special elevator, where we had to use our key to reach the top floor. The Canary was going to be flying high this week- metaphorically, and literally in our 36th floor nest!

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Sorry for the poor quality, but it was 2 am and we had been travelling for about 12 hours… give us a break!

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Panorama from our window, looking out over Vegas towards the mountains in the distance. Not bad.

In fact, we were so happy, our exhaustion fell away and we freshened up, changed and went back down to the casino for a initiation drink and gamble.

I had been building up to this moment for weeks. I cannot verbalise how maddening it is to be under-age all over again. I hated not being able to buy booze, go to a pub or club for those first ten weeks of term. So I had my drivers licence, my passport just in case, and I pulled up a stool at the main bar on the Treasure Island casino floor… and I ordered pints for the two of us. (No ID request yet, must be coming soon Ben…). The barman nodded and moved off to pull the pints… (No ID request yet, must be coming soon Ben…) He brought them over to us, swiped his keycard in the till and worked out the total and relayed it to me (No ID request yet, must be coming soon Ben…). I frowned, looked to my left at Giles who was smirking and shrugging… and cautiously handedo ver the cash. Still no bloody ID request! What an anticlimax! 10 weeks, and all I wanted to do was smugly whip out my drivers licence, in the midst of SIn CIty, and finally have my status as a legal drinker confirmed to me all over again. It clearly wasn’t meant to be… maybe it was the beard….?

  • Sin City Unleashed

I couldn’t possibly go into all the gory details of the next couple of days. There was muchos alcohol, muchos gambling and muchos revelry, let’s put it that way. But here are is a list of some of the shenanigans we experienced:

  1. Gambled in the main casinos- Caesar’s, the Flamingo, the Bellagio, etc.
  2. Had an All-American dinner at Denny’s (I had never been before, and this wasn’t specifically Vegas orientated as they’re all over the states, but it was still an eating experience!)
  3. We rode the roller coaster at New York, New York! This is a roller coaster that runs THROUGH a hotel, out of it,up above it’s roof (offering dazzling views of the Strip) before your flung down a huge descent and around a loop-the-loop and the rest of it is thrilling!
  4. We went clubbing in the Bellagio and blagged our way onto the guestlist for Bank, for a mere $10 tip each, instead of paying the usual $30-40 entry fee. Score! This was an insane night out, and was perhaps the best, classiest and generally most incredible club I have ever visited. Stunning dancing girls up on platforms, brilliant music, and a great atmosphere. This more than compensated for the $12 bottles of beer…..
  5. I’ll let some of the photos do the talking:

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Caesar’s Palace, where the guys in The Hangover eventually found Doug on the roof.

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The Bellagio, looking incredibly swanky.

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The Venetian.

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We got lost and found ourselves in Paris… Not. The mock Eiffel Tower outside the Paris casino testifies to the extravagance of Las Vegas perfectly.

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Las Vegas at night. I wish I had more night photos, but I was reluctant to take my camera out at night for various reasons. Mostly because it’s too bulky, but also I was utterly sloshed a lot of the time at night (and afternoon), so it wouldn’t have been in my poor camera’s best interests to include it on our nights out.

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Giles and me at the entrance to the Bellagio. Check out the flowery ceiling. We gawped at that for far too long, now I look back on it.
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And yes, I did lie on the floor and take a photo of it from below, I didn’t care what security made of it- too good to miss!

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Giles and me in front of the Bellagio Christmas tree. At least it wasn’t over the top or anything… I’ve never seen so many baubles (that’s not a euphemism, steady)! Very festive nonetheless.

  • We found Doug…

I wish this were a joke, but we literally found a bloke called Doug. As in a guy of the same name that the characters in The Hangover are looking for. It was a moment of pure brilliance.

After we went clubbing in the Bellagio, we made our way back to Treasure Island, via Caesar’s Palace. Giles insisted there was an amazing ceiling I needed to check out, and we searched all over the casino for it… however, we were somewhat worse for wear, and casinos with all the lights and their sea of fruit machines, can be a bit disconcerting. Moreover, it is difficult to find points of reference. Essentially, what I’m dancing round, is we got lost. Badly Lost. We ended up barrelling out of a side entrance to Caesar’s, which was clearly the wrong exit, and were in a drop off area which was partitioned off from access… we hurriedly made our way back onto the Strip and were probably hysterically laughing the whole way.

Within minutes of being back on the Strip, we bumped into a group of girls who were also out celebrating a 21st birthday. The birthday girl, Audra, had three friends, and her Mum with her, who also had a friend there to keep her company as well…. but in addition, they had acquired a drunken bloke who had lost his group of friends… Doug. Despite being 3/4 am in the morning, Giles and I looked at each other shrugged our shoulders, made the familiar announcement of “When in Vegas…” (our motto for the weekend and general excuse for all of our outrageous behaviour not mentioned in this post), and proceeded to head out again with our new group. It was one of the best nights of my life: it had started with watching rodeo in Gilley’s; it included muchos gambling; perhaps the best nightclub I have ever visited in my life so far; and ended up completely rejuvenating itself as a night out, with the after party taken back to our room, Grey Goose vodka in tow. Wow.

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Our gaggle and the Grey Goose Vodka (I am so sorry, that was awful, but I couldn’t resist that line…)

That’s Doug in the background with his shirt off. Doug was… well… barking. But he made for a good laugh.

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Oh yes, and this definitely happened…

It was definitely a memorable way to turn 21.

  • The Return Journey: What a Difference a Day (or three) Makes

The return journey was no-where near as weird as the journey towards Vegas. We were on an Express service at an ungodly hour (8.30 am, but after our last night, this relatively decent hour became unbearable). The bus was newer, had more leg room, and was generally more pleasant (less psychos). Plus, it was more direct, so we were back in smoggy LA in about 5 hours 30 minutes. Not bad.

I left Giles and Charlie at Union Station, as they left for Beverly Hills so Giles could rest a couple of days before flying home from LAX. I hadn’t known for sure Vegas would be happening, so had booked my return flight for the Christmas break from Santa Barbara airport. As a result, I got the train from LA back to Santa Barbara (considering the return bus journey from LA to Vegas had cost £57, the single train ticket from LA to SB- a 2 hour car ride- had cost $32?! Bit overpriced.) I got back to SB late at night, fell into the first taxi I encountered, and went back to Tropicana Del Norte so I could unpack, crash on my bed, and watch Breaking Bad until I fell asleep.

  • Summary

Overall, I had an absolutely phenomenal 21st birthday weekend.

I experienced (endured, some more critical than I might say) American public transport, and rode the Amtrak and Greyhound for the first time.

I not only received a free upgrade, but a free upgrade to the VIP floor.

I gambled seriously for the first time. By this I mean gambling more advanced than the 2p machines at Southwold.

I rode a roller coaster that comes out of a building.

I saw the dazzling lights of Vegas.

I bought my first legal drink in the USA (even if with less ceremony than I had hoped for).

I met some great people.

We found Doug…

Overall, Sin City provided me with some life memories, that I’ll probably be bugging my friends with for far longer than they will want me to. However, I do realise that I was very fortuitous to even be able to celebrate my 21st birthday in such a manner. As a result, I tried to make the very most of the opportunity. But boy oh boy, we didn’t half do it in style, and that’s all I could have asked for.

Nevertheless, the final point I’d like to make is that the whole experience was emotionally and physically draining. The intensity of it all means that I probably couldn’t have coped with more than 4/5 days there. Moreover, getting in at 4/5 am in the morning each day physically knackers you, so I doubt I could have actually managed it anyway! Some people I know who have been have said they wouldn’t want to go back- once was enough. However, I disagree. With a city like Las Vegas, I don’t care how experienced or world-wise you think you are, it’s a learning curve for everybody. You learn the protocol for new situations, you adapt to an intense style of living, you brace yourself to spend a lot of money, and generally you have to be pragmatic. As a result, I personally would love to go back, and experience it all over again, bearing in mind all that I learned the first time round. Knowing the ropes just a little bit more would make the second time round even better. But not any time soon, I do admit….

…. maybe my 25th?


Finals in the US

Well this is the first of several, long-overdue posts about the end to my first term at UCSB. I figured that I should work chronologically, so here are some thoughts on the examination process this side of the Pond. I am actually writing this in Santa Barbara Airport- I arrived ridiculously early, and it’s strangely deserted. However, I have the view of the mountains to keep me company, so it’s not so unbearable.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the system here, or haven’t read one of my posts before, the University of California Santa Barbara uses the Quarter System. There are three ten weeks terms, and you change classes for each. Therefore, all your studying, participation, midterms and finals all take place in this relatively short period of time. As a result, the quarters can go by very quickly, and I can personally testify to this. My first quarter has flown by.

However, I have to be brutally honest, the examination methods seem…. favourable for students? I’m not sure if that is an adequate description, but perhaps if I list some of the examination types I have either experienced or heard about, you might get my drift. For all the UK readers out there, keep in mind that this is like-for-like as a third year student..

  1. Multiple Choice:
    We have these in the UK, of course, but no-where near as frequently. Sometimes entire finals can be 50 multiple choice papers. I guess the downside to these questions is that I have heard they can have misleading answers to choose from, or they can be absurdly specific. If a lecturer mentioned what seemed like and aside during the quarter, these seemingly insignificant facts could well form a part of a multiple choice question. Nevertheless, most people I have spoken to have found these quite easy.
  2. Fill-in-the-blanks:
    60% of my American Literature mid-term AND finals were based on this. It required pure memorisation- authours, titles, and basic images or themes in poems or short novel extracts. 40% were essay questions, but even in the final, this consisted of two 1 page essay responses. I had three hours to complete this exam, I doubled the essay response required with 4 pages of essays (any less would have been ridiculous, take my word for it), I took my time and read the questions thoroughly etc, and I still finished in under half the allocated time. I haven’t been examined with such short essay responses expected since high school, and even some of those like my History GCSE were longer than this…
  3. “Take-Home Essays”:
    Now this really was alien. This was an assigned list of questions…. which you chose between… had to respond to from home…. by an assigned date… just like any other essay you might have for homework… except it has a “Take-Home” attached to the name… Why not just call it an essay? I had two classes that had no finals, but the major assessment method in each, as it were, consisted of two 12-15 page essays. That’s fine, I get it. I didn’t have a “Take-Home Essay”, but the only minute difference I can see is the time frame. These essays are set quite late in the quarter (compared to the major ones I had to do) so you have a smaller turnaround to complete them, but they do tend to be shorter: 5 or so pages. 5 pages double-spaced, I should add….
  4. Presentations:
    Ok, so this wasn’t an actual Final examination method for me, so to speak, but it formed part of an attempt to get “extra credit”. Personally, I haven’t really experienced opportunities for additional marks or credit in the UK, so I was interested to see how this system panned out in the States. In one of my classes, you could gain extra credit by reviewing the recent Lincoln movie… I didn’t take the Professor up on this, and elected for another option: presenting the thesis of my long essay. I was able to do this in two of my classes. I had to present my arguments/s, explain some of my sources, discuss any problems I was facing in writing it (the presentation came before the deadline, obviously) and invite any comments or questions from other members of the class. The idea was we could get some feedback and respond to this before the deadline, and in theory this was a great idea. However, when you have various members of the class, looking at wildly different topics, all at different stages of writing the writing process, the results could be mixed to say the least.

Overall, I have to admit that the experience of finals in the US tends to reinforce my conclusion on the general comparison between the education systems across the Pond. In the US, you have a larger, denser volume of work (comparatively, in the 10 week period), which you get through quicker, but it tends to be easier. In the UK, your assessments are less densely packed, but harder and generally longer in length (in terms of essays, exams, etc.) Moreover, the marking system is different: to attain top marks in the US, an A+, you have to be hitting 95%+ in the exams. To get a First in the UK, the percentage is technically lower, 70+ marks secured out of 100. Nonetheless, I feel that receiving a First in the UK is as hard as getting an A+ in the States, if not harder, because the expectations and requirements you have to meet to get a First are very high, even if you only get a red”70″ at the top of your paper, and not a “96”.

I am not necessarily passing judgement or drawing any conclusions on which system is “better” or “harder”… I’ll leave that up to you readers. However, I hope in reading this post, you can understand some of the differences, similarities and comparisons that I have experienced first-hand. If this helps you draw your own conclusions, or offers an interesting affirmation or contrast to your own experience, then all the better.

(Featured Image courtesy of


Halloween Hysteria

I knew Halloween was big stateside, but Santa Barbara/Isla Vista has to be an extreme example of Halloween Hysteria. People from a one hundred mile radius flock here to experience the craziness of Del Playa and to party hard. The celebrations began last Thursday, the 25th of October, and will probably last until next Sunday, the 4th of November. We hardly celebrate Halloween back home in England, so this was always going to be an interesting experience for me.

The actual day itself is lost amidst this period, and the weekends seem to be the main periods of celebration. Sadly, I actually missed the festivities yesterday evening as I had an 8am midterm this morning. Criminal or what? I was a bit gutted as I had wanted to celebrate the day itself, whilst I was in the US. However, my schedule conspired against me, as did illness. Damn priorities.

But I do find myself asking the question: what is behind the celebrations? What are we honouring with our costumes, parties, games, food and decorations? Halloween is said to have originated in the Celtic festival of Samhain, where people would light fires and wear outfits to ward off roaming ghosts. There are numerous other historical origins thrown around, but to me it just seems like a modern development of vague past celebrations.

Still, there is no avoiding the fact that Americans go about celebrating Halloween with gusto. The efforts put into costumes and decorating are huge.

For example, I was lucky enough to go on a trip to Disneyland, organised by Tropicana Del Norte, on the 26th of October. It was heavily subsidised, and entry and travel set me back a mere $30!? Value for money or what?? The entrance fee alone can be $90 and up, so I’ve heard, so it was a fantastic opportunity. Moreover, it was their special Halloween celebration period, so the park was decorated and the rides had been altered with this theme in mind.

The most striking aspect of the experience was how much effort the families had put into dressing up. There was a family of four dressed as Kiss: spandex, platforms and all. Staff were also in costume. My favourite example had to be a family dressed up as Guantanamo Bay zombies– two parents, a young child, and a baby in a pram. However, they had made fake iron bars to put across the pram so it looked like the baby was in prison. 10 out of 10 for effort there! This all contributed to quite an atmospheric experience, when combined with the lighting, spooky music and artificial fog.

I admit, I had been a bit cynical as to what I was going to get out of the trip. I knew the rides were going to be enjoyable, but I also knew the queues would be long and it would be absolutely rammed full of people (both of which were true). However, I mentioned that the atmosphere was great, and I really enjoyed the experience of walking around the park: the rides and performances just added to it all.

Here are some photos from the trip. My camera’s night mode sucks, so some of these have been pinched from my suite-mate, the Great Dane, Emil Tang Ravnkilde Nielsen. (NB: I will not be typing that name out in full every time)

The Disney Castle, lit up and looking spooky (Emil)

The Nightmare Before Christmas was a key source of inspiration for the decorations, music and performances of the park.

The parade (Emil).

Undead Barbershop Quartet (Emil)

The Haunted Mansion.

The Great Dane himself, as Popeye, dancing with Pirate Goofy. You can’t make this stuff up. (Emil)

The Brits abroad- Giles and me being muppets, as per usual (Emil)

Having the trip to Disneyland was a good alternative to just getting dressed up, and going out to get wasted. However…. that part was still fun too. Even if I was sick and couldn’t really drink (but did, as you do). I had two nights out over the Halloween weekend before the day itself, and dressed up as an army guy and Alex from A Clockwork Orange respectively. It was fun, and there were SO many people out on DP.

Army Guy and the Beer Monster. What classy blokes.

Alex and Jesus. Yes I wore eye makeup. Yes it freaked me out when my patient next-door neighbour applied it. (Imogen’s photo)

Nevertheless, it wasn’t all about going out and getting drunk. I did take part in some traditional, All-American Halloween festivities, such as pumpkin carving. This was organised by our Resident Adviser, Alex Markovich. He sorted out enough pumpkins for each of his ground floor rooms to make 2 pumpkins, and he sorted the cutting and scraping equipment as well. Good man. This is just another example of our residential building wanting it’s residents to have a good time with their time spent here. This has been a key part of my year abroad so far, and having those chances there is excellent.

All these photos below have been taken from the Topicana Del Norte Facebook page.

John Sokol, Me, Alex Markovich.

So all in all, I have taken part in, and enjoyed several elements of the American Halloween Hysteria. Even if I missed the day itself, I don’t mind so much as there’s been plenty to do in and around it…..

….. and let’s not forget, there’s still this weekend to come too!

Wish me luck!

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!