Greta – arriving in L.A.

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HollywoodThis is now my third week in Los Angeles and second week at UCLA and already I have fallen in love with life over here! I decided to come to L.A. a week before my classes started in order to have time to familiarise myself with my new home and also take the opportunity to explore a bit and do touristy things whilst I had the time. I’d booked myself into a youth hostel near Hollywood and can now strongly recommend staying at a youth hostel to future exchange students who want to travel a bit before starting at university; not only was it incredibly cheap ($20 per night), but also it meant that I wasn’t sat in a hotel room by myself feeling homesick. Sharing a room with four other girls, who arrived on the same day as me and were also foreigners, I was instantly able to make friends with other people who wanted to explore L.A. as well. A particularly fun and memorable day was our first full day there, when we visited the Hollywood Walk of Fame and then climbed Mount Hollywood at sunset, to the Griffith Observatory, where we shared the most breath-taking views of L.A. On top of being a great place to meet other people, the hostel’s staff were very friendly and offered useful advice about places I should visit/avoid, cheap stores etc. In fact, when it came to leaving the hostel at the end of the week I was sad to leave because I’d had some great times with the new friends I’d made there, and who I plan to keep in contact with when I return to England.

That first week also enabled me to ease myself into American life, not least getting to grips with L.A.’s complex public transport system. Arriving early also gave me the opportunity to meet up with my future roommate, Azin, and get to know her a bit before we moved-in. At first the idea of sharing a room with a complete stranger didn’t appeal to me at all, probably because I’ve watched too many American films where the roommates are polar opposites, hate each other and end up drawing a dividing line down the middle of the room. So, after my attempts to Facebook-stalk my future roomie had got me nowhere, I was glad to receive a friendly email from her asking if I wanted to go for coffee. We met up and I was relieved to find that not only was she really friendly and easy-going, but we had quite a lot in common and so I knew that sharing a room was going to be fun, rather than awkward or difficult. The extra week also meant I could meet up with Laila, another student from Kent studying at UCLA, meaning I already had two friends before I arrived on campus.

Two days before I was due to move into my university apartment I received an email from UCLA saying that it hadn’t actually finished being built, so I’d be living on campus instead Campusfor the first week. It turned out that living on campus for the first week was actually a good thing because I didn’t have to worry about cooking meals, I could easily explore campus and also it was easier for me to meet freshmen and other international students, who were just as new to everything as I was. As I approached campus on move-in day I was immediately struck by just how big it was compared to campuses I’ve been to in England – to give you a rough idea, there are over ten libraries, five swimming pools, and an entire hospital on campus! Not only the size shocked me however, it was also beautiful to look at – a mix of modern buildings, which looked more like trendy hotels than university buildings, and older architecture, which in places resembled Hogwarts.
The welcome students who met me were all really helpful and friendly, taking the time to help me move all my stuff to my room, answer my questions and point out to me where things were on campus. “Welcome week” itself wasn’t too different from freshers’ week at Kent except for the fact that it wasn’t so largely centred on drinking and clubbing (because of the twenty-one age limit on alcohol). On Monday there was a massive activities fair where I allowed myself to be persuaded with freebies into signing up for pretty much everything, including a rap society and “Random Acts of Kindness” club. It was also at this fair that I confessed I had never had a PJB (peanut butter jelly sandwich) in my life, creating absolute shock and sadness among my American peers who then forced me to try one, watching me like proud parents as I took my first major step towards becoming an American.

The next day was Volunteer Day, which I’d signed up for thinking it would be interesting Paintingand also a good way to meet other students, since 7,000 of us were taking part. I’m slightly ashamed to say that the best part of the day for me was probably riding on the big yellow school bus which we took to our project site. We spent the day painting colourful murals in the dull playground of a primary school in “The Valley”, which was really fun. Working directly in the sun for hours it got a bit hot and sweaty and when I asked anyone if they wanted to use some deodorant I got the weirdest looks and wondered what I had said that was apparently so wrong. When I brought my deodorant spray out of my bag I realised that this was my first experience (there have been several more since) of misunderstanding between me and Americans – it turned out that because they only have roll-on deodorant here, they thought I was suggesting we all share one sweaty roll-on stick and hence the strange looks. By the end of the day I had made lots of new friends, including some fellow Brits. I would definitely advise any future exchange students reading this to take part in as many social events as possible during Welcome Week, and afterwards, because that’s how you’ll meet loads of new people (with similar interests) and also, by staying busy, you won’t have time to feel homesick.
I’ve only had one complete week of classes so far but already I can say that the change to the American classroom hasn’t been as drastic as I thought it would be in terms of lecture-style, class sizes or course structure, except I have slightly more contact time (mainly lectures; I only have seminars for one module). Having said that, I was shocked (and slightly terrified) to learn that 60% is a C- grade here, which is much more stringent than the grade system I am used to at Kent. Also, there is a significantly more demanding workload, although I think these last two differences are perhaps specific to my particular university rather than American universities as a whole. Although it is hard work – and this is only week one – I have found it very enjoyable, perhaps because it is so challenging. All my courses are on topics which fascinate me and so, with lecturers who are all so passionate about their subjects and clearly experts in their fields, I’ve actually left most of my classes impatient to learn more. Hopefully this stays the same for the rest of the quarter…


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