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!

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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.