SeaSalt Chronicles 4: Let There Be Light
New year, new quarter and a new life back at UCSB. Last quarter ended in a lot of tears because two of my friends were leaving us. I went back home to London for Christmas and now I’m back ready to spend the next 6 months in California. On my previous entries I spoke about my trips around the south coast but never actually of UCSB and my routine going to university here. Also, how different the Americans and their educational system is compared to the UK.
The University of California Santa Barbara is actually a bit further north away from Santa Barbara itself. The nearest city is Goleta, and the nearest town to the campus is Isla Vista (IV). The UCSB campus is superb. It has some really great installations and the buildings have a pretty outlook – apart from the chairs you sit in the class, they are pretty old-fashioned with the side table you use to write. I must say, I’m quite surprised that the Americans still use the old school chalk and whiteboards. I mean with the amount of money colleges make, how come they are still so technologically underdeveloped in classroom material?
Apart from that, cycling is a big thing in Santa Barbara. I personally cycle every day to classes and there is inclusively a bike lane all around the campus for the cycling traffic – watch out! Cyclists get priority over pedestrians so they never stop. At the university centre, there’s this tall tower called Storke Tower, a landmark at UCSB used to support KCSB radio station. The largest bell from the tower carries the university motto “Let there be Light.” Close to the tower, there’s a rectangular pond with a self-sustaining aquatic ecosystem – charming place! But my favourite place on campus is when you take the stairs from Uni Cent down to a lagoon and you keep walking down the line to Campus Point where there’s a small beach. On your left-hand side, you can see the beautiful white coast of Santa Barbara and if you follow the stairs on your right-hand side, you’ll end up at the cliffs. I love watching the sunset at the cliffs and it’s absolutely mesmerising when the orange skyline meets the purple horizon becoming one. It’s a place for absolutely contemplation and silence.
From Tropicana Gardens, where I live, if you take the left from the parking lot and you keep straight, you’ll also end up at the beach. On the first day I was back in California from the winter break, I cycled to Del Playa just to see the sunset. I felt the urge to go back here to see the constellations looking up to the bright sky while the tide kept coming high towards the stairs where I was standing. I was wrapped up in the breeze of the sea, and it felt so soothing, feeling the wind on my neck. I felt at peace.
To go to Isla Vista from Tropicana parking lot, you turn down to your left and you’ll reach IV – a small town with little shops and fast food places such as Free Birds, a popular spot for Mexican food among the students (even though I’d suggest you go somewhere else if you actually want to experience real traditional Mexican food).
UCSB has a reputation for its parties. On the weekends, Isla Vista and Del Playa get super crowded with parties lasting all weekend long. There’re these houses down Del Playa along the coast leaning over the cliffs, that’s where most parties take place. The first rule of these parties, be careful with police patrols around the area if you don’t want to be caught, stay close together with your group and do not seat on the curb.
You might be asking, what is my experience with the Americans and how has it been so far? Well, let’s just say that in general, the American mentality is about showing off – not what you have but instead, the way you want people to perceive you, which clearly is not the real you. Don’t get me wrong, Americans, especially Californians are super kind and warm but there’s always a feeling that something is off when you’re around them, that it’s too good to be true. I hang out with a couple of American friends and I feel that, like the British, it takes time to get to know them, as in truly know them. Just because they’re all super nice and make you feel super comfortable around them doesn’t mean that they like you nor that they’re letting you in. It’s just the way they are and that’s good because it doesn’t make you feel awkward in any way. But once you try to get a bit closer to them, you begin to realise that there’s this permanent mask they wear and a veil between you and them. When finally they drop the mask and the veil disappears, you’re left with the dark side of the Americans – a bit like the film Coraline. Things are not what they always seem and it’s right. I think this is why a lot of people, especially in their teens and early twenties cover up this mask with a lot of alcohol, drugs and weed – a massive problem among young people in America. The social pressure and competitiveness to always be presentable and active and show your best self to the world often lead people to seek for these kinds of things to be able to deal with the social pressure around them. So I’d say most Americans are actually pretty insecure and don’t really know what they’re doing. Then again, which one of us really do?
On an academic point of view, I absolutely enjoy the American way of teaching. It’s much more practical and for an English major like myself, pretty inspiring. Unlike in the UK, professors don’t spend most of the lecture reading from their notes or slides. They actually make an effort to interact with the students, to speak to you and touch your soul, to make you as passionate about what they’re teaching you as they are. It’s very refreshing and makes me feel very motivated, and I enjoy myself more while studying. Also, it’s way easier to get higher grades in America than in the UK. You just have to meet their criteria, state the facts and what they want you to say and boom you got an A. In the UK, grading essays is more subjective, I feel each professor has his/her own way of grading assignments. However, it makes you think outside of the box, pushes you harder. It gives you more freedom to express yourself and your opinions because professors value and are interested in what you have to say and I like that more. As an EAP student, I can take classes in other fields or areas that I’m interested in, it doesn’t have to be all about my major. This is very enriching as it gives me a scope of other possibilities as well as an insightful perspective on other areas that I am interested in and expand my horizons.
I’m super excited to be back in Santa Barbara, and I can’t wait to start a whole new season of adventures and more stories to tell – so stay tuned!
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