As two English girls, both named Emily, landing at LAX more than three months ago, we had no idea what lay before us. Weâ€™d left England, said goodbye to family and friends, and flown West to start a year abroad in Santa Barbara. Happily, our experiences here have been amazing- we drink daily wheatgrass shots, rave about the benefits of tofu, appreciate every sunset we can and go running along the beach in the sunshine.
The differences are huge. Yet there are also seemingly universal similarities- problems with boys, formations of friendship groups, the university lifestyle of partying too much and eating badly, desperate attempts to crash over-filled classes.
We pride ourselves in having achieved the Californian look- we confess to having bought Uggs, we have acquired some pretty cool beanie hats and our blonde hair has been bleached blonder by the sun. Yet the problem lies when we open our mouth. Usually greeted by â€œOh I dig your accentâ€ or â€œyouâ€™re accent is so cute,” the way we spoke started as an excellent talking point and didnâ€™t exactly hinder us on the flirtation front either. Who could imagine the extent to which two English-speaking nations could differ? Garbage and rubbish, eggplant and aubergine, restrooms and loos, is it soccer or football? And perhaps more dangerously, when we say that we are â€œtaking the piss,” please please do not take this literally, we are joking, mocking, trying, and more than likely failing, to be funny. Gradually, we are becoming ever so slightly sick of this extreme preoccupation with our English inflection â€¦the novelty has worn off and our accents mean that we canâ€™t even order a coffee without getting into a conversation about where weâ€™re from and what weâ€™re doing here. Nonetheless, we will no doubt miss the Californian penchant for extreme friendliness when our visas expire and the glum baristas in any London Starbucks look dazed and confused upon our request for a tall hazelnut latte with soy milk at 140 degrees. Its simple enough-we are just not used to people being so nice to us.
Having achieved the Californian look, we are taking steps to get into the lifestyle. From a young age it is instilled into any British kid to run outside and play as soon as a lone ray of sunlight emerges from behind the blanket of perpetual grey cloud. As a result we suffer from â€œgood weather guiltâ€ and the thought of sitting inside on a sunny day is too much for our young consciences to bear. Running and swimming regimes vary in their constancy but generally we are all far more proactive and spend much more time outside. Unlike in England, a rainy day here is generally welcomed by us as an excuse to stay in and take a break from our new action packed lifestyles. The type of days where you watch DVDâ€™s back to back under a duvet with a box of chocolates just donâ€™t seem to exist in a place where the sun is shining and the skies are blue.
Top of the English girls list of things to do whilst at Santa Barbara has always been to learn to surf. Wetsuits have been bought and resolutions madeâ€¦.we just havenâ€™t made it into the water quite yet.
We must do so soon though. Friends back in England have a vision of us riding the waves with beautiful surfer boys whilst dolphins frolic in the background. Keeping in touch via emails and Skype, the most frequent questions relate to love lives, a fascination with what frats and sororities are actually like, and whether we really do drink out of red plastic cups. Strange but true, these are the images we are confronted with from that great American export: â€˜The High School Movieâ€™.
The matter of love livesâ€¦.a truly interesting cross-cultural issue that has been fascinating to observe. Weâ€™ve been baffled, bemused, impressed, excited and a whole host of other emotions regarding Santa Barbara boys. Weâ€™ve been told they want to â€œhang out but not hang out,” weâ€™ve learnt what making out is and that DP parties really arenâ€™t for the faint hearted or naive.
This was probably best exemplified by the bizarre experience that was Halloween. Across the pond Halloween exists, but to nowhere near the same scale. Yes we dress up, but we dress up as ghosts, and devils, vampires and witches not as Victoriaâ€™s Secret models and never ever has there been a one in and one out system on a fancy dress shop. The 31st of October took on a whole new meaning as we watched gorillas and go go dancers pressed up against fridges, Tinkerbell and Peter Pan propping up the keg while a giant banana tried and failed to stay standing. Surreal and overwhelming Halloween most certainly was, but it also gave us three of the greatest nights weâ€™ve had in IV so far.
Whilst UCSB and our home universities at times seem worlds apart the basic realities of college life apply on both sides of the Atlantic. Students will always struggle to balance that old adage â€“ â€˜work hard, play hardâ€™. Girls and boys will probably never really understand each other fully and if at any time you are given the chance to travel abroad for a year, do not turn it down. It may well turn out to be some of the best twelve months youâ€™ll ever have.