The American dream

As the bouncer let us into the venue we had to squeeze past many a grinding American student to reach the dance floor. Here the DJ was playing the usual American hip-hop which is the only thing that California students seem to listen to. Finally we got to the bar where we could grab a drink; a beer served in a red plastic cup.

This was the only drink on offer as we were not at a swanky nightclub downtown but at a house party in the student district of Santa Barbara. However to a Warwick Student who was not used to seeing paid bouncers, hired DJs and a proper bar set up in the kitchen at a house party, I felt like I was actually in a club. Even the dance floor in this enormous house was bigger than the one that Smack has to offer!

It was the Easter holidays and I had left all the revision and essays behind, and flown away to the sunny state of California. I was lucky enough to have sofas to sleep on in three different cities as I had friends who were studying in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego for a year. The fortnight spent in the US taught me that Californian student life has so much to offer and everything is done on a larger scale compared to us lot in England. The student houses are huge, the parties are huge, the sports games are huge and the campuses enormous.

I also came to the realisation that there were many cultural differences between American and English students. Even when it comes to dancing: risqué grinding seems to be obligatory in most places which is rather comical to an outsider.

The drinking culture differs hugely too. Even though us Brits apparently have a common binge drinking addiction, it seemed to me that these California students had a really dangerous relationship with booze. Underage drinking is such a taboo in America and so many do not have a single drink until they actually turn twenty-one. They then seem to get ridiculously drunk all the time.

In Santa Barbara, our stay coincided with an annual event named ‘Flotopia.’ Here I saw the extent to which some students took their drinking. This amazing event consisted of a large beach, ten-thousand students, home-made rafts, lots of drink and lots of music. On the cliffs that towered over the beach there were houses and on the roofs students were actually drunkenly dancing. Also people were getting drunk on rafts, they had made themselves, in the middle of the sea. I saw many paramedics carry off drunken American students who had been just lying in the sand, not able to even sit up. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time at the event, it was just that some of the drinking habits of the Americans did surprise me.

Los Angeles was not so much a party place for students like Santa Barbara but it still had so much to offer. The UCLA campus is only a forty-minute bus journey from Hollywood. Here, famous attractions are aplenty, such as ‘Grauman’s Chinese Theatre,’ but there are also many cheap vintage shops perfect for any broke student. Venice beach is also a must visit for anyone staying in LA.

The pathway along the beach resembles an even more hippie version of Camden Market where you can buy insect jewellery, tie-dye clothing, African artwork, Obama t-shirts and so much more. You can also visit Muscle Beach which includes an outside gym. Here many famous extroverted actors and body builders, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, can work-out in front of passers-by. Also you can’t mention America without mentioning the food and in LA there were amazing places where you could pick up a great alternative snack. One place which we visited again and again was called ‘Diddy Reise.’ Instead of serving a normal sandwich using bread, this place served ‘cookiewiches’ which used two cookies as the slices of bread and ice-cream as the filling.

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San Diego was the last stop on our trip, and the University here definitely had the most amazing campus. The library looked like something out of Star Trek and the facilities would put Warwick University to shame. Within San Diego there are many attractions for students such as the San Diego Zoo, famous for its panda population as well as its mention in ‘Anchorman’.

However San Diego is also exceedingly close to the Mexican border and many students go over to drink, especially if they are underage. However as it was becoming increasingly dangerous for Americans to stay in Mexico overnight (due to the increasing violence fuelled by drugs) we decided to just go for lunch. Crossing the border was a phenomenal experience and we were lucky to have experienced this, as it was only two weeks after that the swine flu outbreaks became prevalent.

As you walk along the short bridge between the two borders you leave a modern, busy, clean, wealthy San Diego and enter a desolate and poor landscape. The prices also plummet as you can have a meal in a Mexican restaurant for about half the price compared to an American restaurant just five minutes back over the border. The experience was quite surreal.

My ‘little’ Easter break to get away from final year work and to see my friends also became quite a culturally educational trip. As my friends were at UCLA, UCSB and UCSD I got to mix with students who were experiencing a completely different university life to me, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However it did surprise me that students from some of the top Universities in America lacked such basic general knowledge. One student from San Diego even thought that Paris was the capital of England!

After being a Californian student shadow for a fortnight I can say that I will definitely miss the Californian food and weather as well as the amazing facilities that the Universities have to offer. However the facilities are of course only available because of the extortionate fees American students have to pay, and so I am grateful that in England we have a much fairer system.


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