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!

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Early morning photos

As I promised yesterday, I went out early this morning to catch some photos of the coast at sunrise. My body clock has been messed up, so yesterday evening, my 6pm nap turned into 5/6 hours of solid sleep. Not cool, given I’d planned to go out and have my first brewski at Imogen’s house (look at me speaking the lingo). That meant I was awake at midnight, and was for a good couple of hours. Calvin was in the same boat, but unluckily for him, he had an exam at 9am to look forward to. Long and short of it is, here are some early morning photos off the coast of IV. I haven’t touched any of these photos with editing software, by the way. The light and the camera were all I needed today. It would have felt wrong to change these. Enjoy.

Anacapa Hall, my home for a few days.

The beaches have a lot of seaweed, but I couldn’t really give a hoot.

I kind of like the glare in this one, I know photography connoisseurs will sneer. Let ’em.

Sunrise over the mountains that are just set back off the coast all along this stretch of the American coast.

However: Mountains = Tectonic Plates. Tectonic plates = earthquakes. Earthquakes = Tsunamis. Just don’t tell my Mum.

Campus Point.

This is where I first got goosebumps on my jog yesterday morning. I was struggling to compute such an amazing running route.

Pier, sunrise, boat. Clichéd but what can you do.

I saw my first pelican yesterday. Actually, I saw three with Imogen, flying in formation, like a squadron or something. This was as close as I could get to any this morning, with full zoom on. Before taking this photo, there had been about treble this amount of pelicans, but most of them flew away. These guys must be the hard ones that have nerves of steel, as far as birds go.

Talking of firsts, here’s the first racoon I have ever encountered. This little critter was positively brazen compared to the pelicans, I was about 2 feet away from him when I took this. They’re bigger than you expect them to be, must be the rich pickings in IV. This one was the size of a small-ish dog.

Another one of the sunrise, sorry. But just look at it…

The Canary has Landed

I started writing this blog post at 6am today, because travelling has messed with my body clock, and I get up pretty early anyway. I am actually writing this whilst waiting for the sun to come up, so I can go for my first laid-back jog, to get the lay of the land.

[Edit]

I have just been for said jog, and it was absolutely stunning. I jogged along the coast, round our lagoon (yes, you heard correctly, our L A G O O N!) and up to check out Tropicana Del Norte. At one point I literally had goosebumps, as I ran through a palm tree-lined path, looking out as the sun rose over the Pacific, it was that beautiful. I will be going out again tomorrow morning, but with my camera, I promise. 

Travelling alone for the first time was a pretty surreal experience. I knew what I was doing, as I travelled to Texas with a mate of mine, without adults, and that had been a very smooth experience. The same was true for this journey. I twiddled my thumbs a lot at airports. I looked at expensive cameras, Ray-Bans and whiskies in the duty free, that I knew I couldn’t afford. Bought a breakfast I could afford, but still felt like I was being mugged all the same. I heard a baby crying over my new noise-cancellation, bass enhanced earphones; and felt more impressed than angry. I watched about 5/6 films on the transatlantic flight. I made limited conversation with the lady next to me on this flight. I met my first two young Californian couples at LAX, who insisted on trying to push me through a massive queue when they learned I had a connection flight. This last one was kind of embarrassing. I truly was the bashful Brit, faced with these loud, but well-meaning, interested and cool Californians. Bless ’em.

However, the most memorable part of my journey had to be on the last stage, during the flight between LAX and Santa Barbara- a short 30 minute flight, where the taxiing to the runway felt longer than the flight itself. The plane was tiny. As I walked up to it form the boarding gate, it did cross my mind whether or not we passengers would have to peddle this tin can plane for take-off. One piece of carry-on luggage had to be strapped into a window seat as there was not enough space to hold it in the overhead compartment. I volunteered to move seats, and as a result, ended up sitting next to W Mitchell. He was sitting in the front row as he had a wheelchair, but I did not know the extent of his injuries. This ex-Marine had not only been in a motorbike accident that left him with 65% burns on his body, he had also lost the ability to walk in a plane accident 4 years later. He is an author, speaker and motivator; who travels around offering advice and encouragement about how to move forward, personally and in a business-sense. But, like I said, I did not know this at the time. What made an impression on me was how friendly he was, talking to me about what I was going to be doing in Santa Barbara, giving me interesting information about the areas we flew past on the way north along the coast towards Santa Barbara, and telling me about his numerous travels around Europe and the UK. He even gave me a lift to the Anacapa Residence Hall from the airport so I wouldn’t have to get a taxi. His hospitality, friendliness and conversation were more than welcome, and I was grateful to have such a pleasant experience for my first extended interaction with anybody on my year abroad. A good start.

(There is an appropriate Stephen King quote that I wanted to add in here, from 11.22.63 but I have left the notebook where I wrote it down back in England. I will try and edit it in at a later date).

I arrived at Anacapa, got my key, and met my room mate for the next couple of days. His name is Calvin, and he’s originally from Hong Kong, but went to high school in Austin, TX. He is coming in as a Freshman and is as psyched, if not more so (but I doubt that), than me. He’s off on his orientation at the moment- the international students who are here for four years have an earlier start than us EAP students (Education Abroad Programme). Mine begins on the 24th of September. I just can’t wait for all those let’s-sit-round-in-a-circle-and-say-our-names-and-an-interesting-fact-about-ourselves. If you missed me pressing the “Sarcasm button” there, here it is in black and white. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to meet new people, interact with my classes, flirt with waitresses etc etc etc, but those activities are…well… lame. Still, I guess they break through the “What shall I say? Shall I speak first?”-type barrier.

Anyway, I unpacked the essentials to see me through the 3 days I’d be spending at the Student Hotel, showered ,and then went for some dinner with Calvin. We plumped (pun intended- read on and you’ll see what I mean) for a pizza restaurant in IV (Isla Vista). It was great, but I made a rookie error with the size of pizza that I ordered. The individual was an 8″ and they had plates on the wall so you could see the size. Looking at the individual size, I was probably making this face :

http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/yao-ming-face-bitch-please

However, next to the medium it said that it served 2-3 people. Looking at the wall plate, the pizza didn’t look so big. I thought to myself: “Me man. Me eat medium size pizza at very least. If not large. HOO HA HA.” I ordered, bought a “soda” (God I’ve missed unlimited refills, with the small exception of UK Nandos and Pizza Huts, we don’t have that), and sat down, awaiting my BBQ Chicken pizza. I was a fool. It arrived, and there must have been half a bloody chicken on it, and a Cathedral City-sized block worth of cheese on it. It was topped properly, and put many pizza-serving restaurants in the UK to shame with their frugal distribution of toppings. I had fallen into the trap of forgetting just how big portions are stateside. I am woefully ashamed to admit that I only ate half, and took the rest home in a doggy bag (another thing we don’t really do, as I explained to Calvin, who looked at me with bemusement when I told him this). In my memory, this is what the pizza looked like:

Source: http://melbournepizzadelivery.com.au/

This is a slight over-exaggeration, but you get my drift. Lesson learned: take what you thought you could eat in the UK, and either two thirds or half this, and that’s the size meal you can eat in the US.

After the meal, I waddled back with Calvin, and finally at just after 10pm local time, after 26 hours of wakefulness (I can’t sleep on planes) I went to bed. As I mentioned, my body clock isn’t quite right yet, but I managed to sleep till 5.30, which isn’t too far off. The jog was refreshing and beautiful, so I may have to factor in more jogging/cycling along the coast into my fitness regime. Who knows.

Later today I will be meeting at least one of the girls who is also from Warwick University and studying at UCSB, Imogen. We have been in contact over the summer, and she moved into a house on DP (Del Playa, the street closest to the beach, and coincidentally the “Party street”) a while back. I am looking forward to meeting her and her housemates, and being shown around. I’d say I don’t like feeling like a newbie Freshman, but I’d honestly be lying. I’m enjoying marvelling at the gorgeous scenery, amazing campus, whilst trying to compute what my All-American year abroad experience will be like! It’s a good feeling.

So, apart from having my pizza-based masculinity significantly reduced, I have had an excellent journey, and start to my year abroad. Long may it continue.