A Year of Firsts

I’ve been in a blogging coma for almost a year. Apparently the first year of postgraduate studies, with a teaching assistantship, will do that to you. When I published my last post I was awaiting visa confirmation from the US embassy. This vital document has since allowed me to begin my journey as a public history graduate student at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. My initial year in grad school has been fantastic, with many new people, experiences, and challenges. Describing it in one blog post would be rambly and way too long. But, I thought I’d focus on the range of “firsts” I’ve had so far, which I hope will offer a glimpse into my postgrad life in the past year.

First Exhibition 

In my first semester, I took the “Museums of North America” class. Here, my fellow students and I co-curated two exhibits for the Branigan Cultural Center, a small local museum. The exhibitions focused on the history of the Branigan Cultural Center and insight into the career of a local agriculturalist, Fabián García. The research, drafting, editing, and presentation of our materials was a huge learning curve. We had to compromise and collaborate, within our own working groups and with a partner institution. Which images or artifacts would we use? How would we make the narratives interesting? How would we display the information?

I applied for public history rather than a “traditional” history programme for exactly these kind of experiences. I wanted to see what it meant to be a scholar on the ground, and gain a glimpse into the careers available to trained, professional public historians. My studies at NMSU so far have already exposed me to the potential of museums, archives, education, preservation, local history, digital technology, social media and many more fascinating prospects. I can’t wait to explore them further.

First Lecture and Seminar

Evidently I have attended lectures and seminars during my undergraduate degree. However, my teaching assistantship entails several roles helping two professors in my department. I grade papers, help them fact-check footnotes in their upcoming publications (see below!), hand out evaluations etc.

Perhaps the most interesting tasks have been to cover seminars or lectures if the professor cannot lead them. I’ve worked with education before, in the Norwich Castle Museum, but undergraduates are a whole different kettle of fish. Facilitating discussion is a fine art. You have to give information without dictating interpretation. You have to ask questions without bewildering students, but also ensure that you aren’t extracting obvious/yes/no/one-word responses. Also, heading over to the lecture hall or seminar room 20 minutes early and fumbling around with any technology you need to use is absolutely vital. Looking like a tech neanderthal doesn’t exactly inspire confidence with other students, especially if you’re only a year or two older than them, or, on the flip side, decades younger than them (there are a lot of “nontraditional” students here at NMSU).

First Mention in a (soon to be) Published Book

As I said above, I helped one of my professors, Dr. Peter Kopp, fact-check and comb through the footnotes in his book on the history of hops in the Pacific NW. My efforts mean that I will be mentioned in the acknowledgements section at the start of the book, and I feel proud to have contributed to an academic text. Dr. Kopp also drafted his ex-graduate assistant, Derek, to help towards the end we had so much to do. It was an eye-opening experience with challenging moments, but also lots of discussions and lessons that really helped me grow as a student scholar.

The process showed me how invested you have to be when starting to write in a given field, and the massive volume of solid primary research that should underpin it. It also reiterated the value of organized notes/evidence! When the sources are easy to access, it makes life a hell of a lot easier. There were times when Dr Kopp’s office looked like a tornado had hit it, but I like to think that the confirmations, alterations, and additions the process added made the text better and more comprehensive overall.

First Handegg Game

And by that, my dear American readers, I mean American football. Which really doesn’t use a ball, or feet, at all. Grrr.

At UCSB I never had the chance to see the ol’ pigskin tossed around, because they didn’t have a team. However, NMSU does- the Aggies. They may be terrible, but I was glad and pleasantly surprised to see them win TWICE at the beginning of their season. At this stage, I enjoyed the spectacle but didn’t really understand what was going on. American football seemed so disjointed, stop-start. And the worst part for me was that a terrible play looked exactly the same as a highly successful one. Whether you gained 1 or 11 yards, I’m sorry, but it still looked like a glorified bundle where some helmeted-lump falls over or smashes into another helmeted-lump. As you can tell, my first American football games didn’t exactly remove my disdain for the sport.

Now, I realise my initial judgments were a tad harsh. I wanted to understand a major all-American sport and its associated culture better. Another grad student, who I became very good friends with, started inviting me to Cleveland Browns games. I decided that watching it on television in a sports bar with a pint or eight might make the learning curve less steep. Over time I began to appreciate the tactics and complexity of the plays that went on behind the game. I did feel bad for my buddy though. It appears that the Browns don’t win that often… Which he seemed despairingly resigned to.

Playing American football games on consoles was more helpful than watching it in the bar though. When you have the ability to control players, pick plays, and ask questions of people who know the game MUCH better than you, you learn faster.

Eventually, I even began actively looking at news coverage for that damn Deflategate scandal with Tom Brady. Comparing sports cheating to perhaps one of the worst presidential exploitations of power is absurd, but I actually cared that he wasn’t getting enough punishment and had such a crappy attitude to what he did. Which is a major advance from my early forays into the world of handegg.

First Trip to Mexico

I took my first two trips south of the border to Ciudad Juárez in the past few weeks. I went with good friends I’ve come to know in the past year. The first trip was more touristy. We went to the cathedral, wandered around the plaza, browsed the stalls and shops. The second trip was a night out clubbing. As some of you may be aware, Juárez has been in the limelight in the past few years as a major narcotrafficking hotspot, with very high associated levels of crime and violence. However, gains have been made in the city, and gradual recovery is in progress.

My trips to Mexico capture two important aspects to my first year living in Las Cruces. Firstly, the people I’ve met here have really made my experience. Hanging out and going on adventures with a group of people who share the same interests (be that history, craft beer, or the self-induced torture associated with being passionate sport fans) makes adapting to a new environment immeasurably easier and more enjoyable. Secondly, living in the borderland is a rich experience. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by so many diverse cultures and groups. Understanding and appreciating this, by listening and learning, have been an important part of living in Las Cruces.

First Car

I lived throughout most of this year without wheels. It sucked. Hard. The USA is most definitely a car culture.  Luckily, students and professors within my department were very understanding. They readily offered lifts if I needed them, say for groceries or the ride over to social events. However, a few weeks ago, one of my professors sorted out another vehicle, so his 1995 Toyota Corolla became available, at a very reasonable price. It blows cold air and gets good miles per gallon, which were the two highest priorities for me (because I’m a student scraping by and I live in the desert, respectively).

I have chosen to name him Blaine. For any Stephen King fans that have read The Dark Tower Series (my favourite series of all time), you may be familiar with the psychotic, pink, demon-possessed train of the same name. Well, my car was once red, but the desert sun has not been kind to his skin, so he’s now faded to a reddy-pink. I felt the name Blaine was fitting!

Still, the lack of transport during my first year here was a real issue, especially in Las Cruces. It has pretty awful public transport. To make matters worse, its spread out and a large city, even if it has a small city mentality. Now I have the freedom to get groceries as and when I need them, rather than trying to buy smart and make the supplies last 2/3 weeks so I didn’t bug my kind lift-givers. I don’t have to pay delivery fees if I have a Fifa night with the lads, because one of the best pizza joints in town is within a 5 minute drive ($6.50 for a medium pizza with two toppings, great sauce and base?!?!).

I know many people my age have had their own cars for years and this probably sounds like a very delayed revelation. But the independence and convenience of a car is great. Even balancing the financial responsibilities a useful experience, because you have to budget well and maintain a significant investment sitting in your drive. Blaine may be a banger, but he’s my banger.

Other Honourable Mentions

I have enjoyed some other firsts that I feel deserve a brief mention.

  • First 50 cent taco: You will judge all other purchases against these magnificent abominations, and contemplate them by their equivalent cost in tacos. “$5 for a Starbucks coffee.”… “Mate, that’s ten tacos…”
  • First Co-habitation with Cockroaches: Because the desert is why. Become friends with the maintenance staff, file the work order, and suck it up buttercup.
  • First Drink of $300 whiskey: When the generous “Dad” figure within your group of friends decides to graduate with a smooth and silky bang.
  • First TV Purchase: Not quite as monumental as Blaine, but its still pretty sweet to have bought my own television. This of course led to an Xbox One and many, many lost hours.

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!!!)

Recipes for a Fulfilling Summer

It’s been a while since my last blog post. As I have now begun the latter half of my last quarter at UCSB, I feel it’s time to get off my butt and do something about this heinous crime of neglect. I’ll admit, I have been having an absolutely terrific time at UCSB, and I have numerous mixed feelings about approaching the end of it.

I’m not sure I’m ready to write extensively on all of them (or any of them for that matter…). When I come to terms with it, I’ll be sure to relate them as well as I can. I think any of my readers who are from my home university, and are about to go on the year abroad as well; or are looking into education abroad in general from wherever, the end of your time abroad is an unavoidable prospect. An unpleasant, unavoidable prospect.

By no means should it hang over your head from the get-go, of course. Seizing the opportunities that arise, and creating opportunities for yourself, are far more important. This should not be forgotten when you embark upon a year abroad.

Instead, for the moment, I’d rather talk about how people generally understand that huge block of potential we call the Summer Holidays, back home in the UK. This is because it is something I am also contemplating at this time of the quarter. I don’t know how you all feel, but planning for Summer is a pain. There is always so much you could do, yet those holidays have a habit of just slipping right by you. It’s depressing, but I always feel I could make more of Summer.

Acknowledging that makes me want to rectify this situation for 2013. Therefore, here are two polar opposite ways of approaching the Summer holidays, in recipe form. There are many other recipes out there, and who knows, I may write others if these are successful. Both have their distinctive merits. However, it may well be the case that a fusion of the two would be highly satisfactory too. Bon appetit!

The Solidly Sensible Summer

Ingredients:

  • A hunk of work experience and/or an internship
  • Lashings of reliable income
  • Stacks of savings
  • A couple of CV-enriching strings to your bows

Preparation:

  • Begin seeking employment or other beneficial work experience early, and leave applications to mature very early on, well-ahead of Summer.

Directions:

  • Upon successfully garnering a relevant internship and/or employment, engage with said task enthusiastically and confidently, culminating in a rich, useful experience.
  • If possible, draw income from the sumptuous experience, and place said finances into a secure place, a bank perhaps.
  • Deftly draw the most beneficial of these experiences from the overall whole, and construct into CV-enriching points, ready to add to your future job applications at a later date.
  • Meanwhile, maintain the deposited funds as much as possible during the Summer. Ageing these will be of use to you in the future, when petrol costs keeps rising and you realise numerous other expenditures loom on the horizon: such as books for that final year of university, or your Xbox Live membership which needs renewing in September. Preparedness is next to awesomeness, don’t forget.

Cooking time:

Several hours per day. Generally, work experience and internships will weigh in heavily against your free time. For all of those early Friday mornings at the office, there’s a Student Night at Lola Lo’s on Thursday that may have to be foregone.

Entire cooking process may well take up the entire Summer.

Temperature:

Socially-speaking- Very low to Low at most times. However, bursts of high heat will be required to maintain your sanity, potentially.

Notes:

The dedication and commitment required for this Summer recipe are not inconsiderable. Please do not undertake lightly. However, the end product is a highly rewarding dish, and should not be dismissed lightly.

Credit: http://www.commercekitchen.com/

The Socially Sizzling Summer

Ingredients:

  • Dozens of social events
  • A pile of petrol receipts
  • Numerous nights of debauchery
  • A couple of festivals
  • A large amount of sand
  • A generous overdraft
  • Several television series to catch up on (NB: Brand or type is unimportant here, but this recipe would highly recommend Breaking Bad, The Wire, Homeland, or The Walking dead).
  • A handful of lazy days, filled with very little at all.

Preparation:

  • Before finishing your last term at university, ensure you have all the necessary people lined up to contact, as soon as that last exam finishes.
  • It may well be the case that this recipe will require a steady in-flow of cash to fund it. Select either enriched pre-existing savings, or a secure a summer job, to help fund your activities. When selecting the job, ideally it shall be flexible, well-paid, enjoyable, varied and require relatively few hours of work on weekends. IE no job that existed for a young student ever.

Directions:

  • This recipe can largely be improvised, and quantities of the ingredients are usually dependent on the personal preferences of the Chef. Personal discretion is recommended here. This recipe tends to require minimal direction, and can quite often snowball delightfully of it’s own accord. 
  • During the cooking process maintain an open mind and schedule. Unexpected developments or social opportunities may arise at any given time.

Cooking Time:

Between 2-5 days per week, depending on the number of servings required. Depending on the size of said dishes, individual cooking times may vary. Here is a list of suggested cooking times for individual dishes:

  1. “A quiet one down the pub”: 2-4 hours, depending on how long you have to wait for that-one-friend to buy the rounds, who reliably never does.
  2. “Beach trip”: 4-7 hours, depending on several variables such as:
    – Temperature
    – Presence of rain (always a factor in any recipe for Summer in Britain)
    – Sunbathing tolerance
    – Supply of beers
    – Did you remember the frisbee?
  3. “Mildly-Disastrous Camping Trip to Washed-Out British Seaside Town”: 3 days to a week.

Notes:

Do not neglect the Socially Sizzling Summer for too long at any one time. The Sizzle may well just… fizzle out. Input is required, and often you may need to seek outside input. Sous chefs and other friends should be wielded effectively to propagate a fertile environment for social events to proliferate.

While an enjoyable dish, the Socially Sizzling Summer may well be devoured very quickly. Moreover, negative repercussions of this dish have been know to include the following:

  • Significant debt
  • Hangovers
  • Sunburn
  • Lost possessions at festivals
  • Parental frustration
  • Loss of brain cells
  • Did I mention debt?

However, please bear in mind that this dish may well bear some delicious fruits as well, including:

  • Unforgettable experiences
  • Touching the hand of that singer as they jump down into the crowd in front of the main stage
  • Brilliantly perceptive and insightful conversations in takeaways at 4 am, which you may or may not be able to recapture
  • Rekindling your love for Pinkman
  • Enjoying a cold pint on a summer’s evening, next to the BBQ 

Credit: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8155/7215313684_8608af2fc3_z.jpg

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?

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!