Not many people have heard about University of California, Santa Barbara; the student paradise on the southern Californian coast. Of the nine UC campuses, when it comes to the deciding between them, UCSB could be considered a wild card. And rightly so: UCSB (whose mantra is ‘U Can Study Buzzed’) has been voted the top party school in the US. According to the urban dictionary, it is ‘an almost too-good-to-be-true place that combines excellent academics with a vibrant social atmosphere and perfect weather. It is also the only university in the United States that owns its own beach.’
Yes. Student houses are perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean under the Californian sun. One complaint among the inhabitants of Isla Vista (the student community located next to campus) is that the ocean is often too loud for them to hear their TV playing. It’s a hard life. Truly…how can you study inside when the ocean is rolling on your doorstep, dotted with surfers who are enjoying their afternoons regardless of the pile of schoolwork they left at home? Its all about time management – at least that’s what I believe am doing with my days here.
Student life is redefined here, not only because the ‘American Way’ is a whole new culture to adjust to, but also Isla Vista functions as its own unique student-led mecca. Recently dubbed as America’s ‘richest slum’, the streets are lined by a mish-mash of colourful beach-houses crammed full of students, averaging 3-5 people per room. Between the tall palm trees are the slacking power lines, which may be under extra stain due to the pair of new Nike’s that dangle in the middle. Daily, students dress in gym kit while walking to Starbucks after class for a skinny double vanilla chai latte with almond milk, a shot of chocolate, and cream on top. Counter to the American supercar culture, beach-cruisers,‘fixie’ bikes, skate boards, and the odd roller blades dominate the streets of Isla Vista.
All this and more is what makes this place so beautiful: there is no other place like it, and we are the lucky ones to call it home. It has an overwhelming sense of community that unites this surprisingly diverse community. There are constant efforts to keep the town safe and clean. It’s not unusual to receive Facebook invites to street cleanups, or have lost keys and student cards posed on the community’s Facebook page. Californian’s are known to be some of the friendliest in America, and getting a high-five from a strangers or winding up in conversations with the cashier are just part of everyday life here.
University life is more engaging than the academics you believe to have signed yourself up for. People are involved with UCSB on multiple different levels, be it sport teams, societies, working on campus, or just attending the UCSB hosted concerts thrown for the students. There is something for everyone to get more out of their university experience; if a Jack Johnson Welcome Concert doesn’t sound appealing, there are continuous Arts and Lectures talks from inspiring speakers, free movies played at the IV theatre, and the list goes on. ‘School spirit’ is something that can’t be underrated in the US, and nowhere is that more apparent than in school sports. UCSB may not have a football team, but it makes a big deal to gather the ‘Gauchos’ (UCSB’s nickname) dressed in their blue and gold gear. It was a spectacle to attend one such ‘soccer’ game where Ole, (the school mascot) ran up and down the field rallying the cheers from the chanting audience. Just when the chanting and banners were not intimidating enough, students began flinging frozen tortillas onto the field– a Gaucho tradition for when goals are scored.
If you’re not on the sports team, there is the infamous ‘excursion club’. This club is a student run ‘adventure group’ that hordes all kinds of beach equipment, organises daily activities in the surrounding area, and sets up weekend trips around the rest of California. To understand why many Californians’ have not, and probably never will, leave the state, you have to see what it has to offer with your own eyes. From the Dr Seuss trees that reside in Joshua Tree National Park, to the rolling Napa Valley wine country, cruising along the Big Sur coastline, a night out in Los Angeles, hiking in Yosemite National Park, or hanging out in San Francisco (‘everybody’s favourite city’), a year barely cuts it to truly appreciate all that this sunny state has to offer.
So what is a year abroad in America like? Correction, as this is not America, this is California (those who live here will be quite clear of the difference). And nowhere is more California than Santa Barbara.