Incredible Blog Post by Staci West of Lattes & Lipstick! Definitely worth a read
Reading about human rights and seeing the images are two completely different experiences. The Human Rights, Human Wrongs exhibit covers 1945 to the early 90s “featuring more than 200 original press prints.”
I didn’t know what to expect but the warning signs by the stairs told me it wasn’t for the faint of heart. The atmosphere changes very quickly after leaving the ground floor cafe towards the exhibit. The journey to the exhibit is set by a timeline in the stairwell to set the scene for the images to come.
Standing in just the entranceway I was completely silenced. I’ve read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) multiple times, I’ve picked it apart and read between the lines to better apply international law, but seeing the letters in black and white made me speechless.
A lot of my research focuses on Article 4, “freedom from slavery,” and a…
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Six months, one week, two countries, four states, 11 flights, 16 cities, one spring break, five finals, 500(ish) parties, countless shots, three bottles of Squirt, one room-A-three-man rave, three Presidents, five frat houses, 100 froyos, 101 jamba juices, 200 dodgy bus journeys, five British keg stands, 14 DU jackets, six hairbraids, two geckos, 240 red cups, seven s’mores, 12 wine bags, 1.5 hours intoxicated feeding time at the Dining Commons, two campfires, four Wawa coffees, one Best Supporting Actress award, one epic concert and two overweight suitcases later…
And let me tell you something. It’s pretty bloody weird.
I mentioned in an earlier post, Easter Adventures Down the 101, my distinct lack of homesickness throughout my time in San Jose. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones- I certainly consider myself so- I enjoyed myself so much experiencing California and American college life that I didn’t once have the time to genuinely, desperately miss anything from home too much.
I remember thinking, briefly, how big America is, but aside from this I like to think I took it all in my stride, acknowledging, accepting and learning to love the changes in lifestyle, from the transport to the food, and, of course, the weather.
The problem with acclimatizing so smoothly to the Californian sunshine- and all that comes with it- is that when you return home back to a grey and gloomy Londontown, the culture shock really packs a punch in a way I, for one, never expected it to.
These are just a few of the examples of the culture shock you can expect upon returning to England:
The Green Men on the traffic lights are so so green. Unnervingly so, as if they’ve just drank a whole bottle of green highlighter fluid. The change in traffic-light-man colour from England to America is minimal, barely noticeable, to the extent that you still call it ‘The Green Man’ even though the thing flashing at you is quite clearly white. Coming back to England however, the first green man that I saw seemed so vivid in colour that I completely missed my chance to cross the road because I was so hypnotised by the emerald pigment.
Everyone sounds so British. Well duh right? I’m in Britain. I don’t know what I was expecting but I couldn’t help but laugh on being surrounded by Englishmen, walking down the street saying things like “cheers” and “mate” and “let’s pop to Cafe Nero’s round the corner, have a catch up and a cuppa tea and a bite to eat, I’m rather peckish.” I hadn’t heard that in a very long time.
I can once more use 3G, everywhere and anywhere. No longer am I confined to Starbucks or Westfields or university secure-logon wifi in order to send a quick snapchat or check my facebook. This isn’t necessarily a good thing, it annoys me when people are too attached to their phones and oblivious to everything else, but after six months of having to sign in and click the ridiculously small terms and conditions checkbox in order to read my emails, I felt it necessary to take advantage of this new found freedom.
I have a PIN code, apparently. I know – what’s that for? I’m so used to nonchalantly handing over my credit card and scrawling a barely legible signature on the receipt that when I paid for something the other day and was actually handed the card machine, I looked up in askance. What do you want me to do with this?
“If you could please enter your PIN madam”
Shit. What’s a pin? Oh a PIN. You actually want me to press buttons? What on earth is my PIN code, can’t I just sign something? Oh lord it’s the wrong number apparently. Well this is embarrassing.
Is along the lines of what went through my head.
The good thing about all this, because there’s always a silver lining, is that I feel like a child rediscovering all the things I love about England, and London in particular.
For instance, never have I been more excited to sit at the front top seat on a double decker bus.
The past couple of weeks have flown by in a whirlwind of travelling, tourism and reunions. After returning from LA and saying goodbye to my friends, I went almost immediately back down south to Orange County, to stay with a really good friend who I’d lived with in Roehampton. Megan studied abroad in London in the spring semester last year, so it was amazing to catch up with her and meet her friends, as well as reminisce about our time in London.
Visiting Megan, I finally got to have my true “The OC” experience, as she showed me all around Newport and we spent a glorious day basking in the sun and sand on beautiful beaches.
After Orange County, I flew back to San Jose for a few days, mostly to bite the bullet and say goodbye to the University, the City and my American friends. It was pretty emotional, as until this moment I think I half expected to be staying for good; that Alice and Becky would come back from a holiday in England and we’d spend the fall semester at San Jose, going to tailgates and football games, experiencing American Halloween and Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately however, my third year at Roehampton is looming and all that comes with it; graduation and dissertations and final exams are shadows in the not-so-far-away future. So I said a tearful goodbye to California and flew to the final leg of my adventure.
My friend Staci is another one who I met through study abroad. Staci studied abroad at Roehampton during my first ever term at the university, and fell in love with London just as much as I did with California. I feel so lucky to have friends like Megan and Staci, who completely understand what it’s like to jump into a whole new world and love every second of it. Staci understood immediately when I said things like; “well mostly I’m sad to be leaving, but then guilty because I’m sad but equally happy and excited in an anxious kind of way.”
Which is a pretty standard emotion for anyone who has studied abroad.
Staci has been my amazing tour guide of the East side of America, specifically Philadelphia, Washington DC and, of course, New York. The East side is much more similar to England than California is, so I decided it was a good sort of transition period so that I wouldn’t be in as much shock when I returned home.
Staci and I kicked off our travels with a weekend in New York, which was absolutely amazing. We made our way around the city on foot, which is my preferred method of transport in most cities as it allows you really see how a place links up, and means you can stumble across things that you wouldn’t have seen if you just dot about on the metro. For example, there’s a beautiful English shop in Greenwich Village called Tea and Symphony, where I got unusually excited over a box of Jaffa Cakes. It has a tearoom attached, where we initiated phase one of the transition period by spending a good two hours drinking Yorkshire Tea from an Alice in Wonderland teapot.
We also frequented the usual tourist hotspots, Times Square, Rockefeller, The Empire State (to name a few). I would urge anyone visiting New York to go and see the 9/11 Ground Zero memorial. It’s absolutely beautiful and such a humbling place.
We rewarded all our exercise by visiting Broadway Bites, an international food market along Broadway which sold the most delicious street food from pretty much every country cuisine imaginable. Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwich Anyone?
We followed New York with a day each in Washington DC and Philadelphia. The Capital city is a really interesting place to visit. We started out at the Capitol Building, then walked down the National Mall to the Washington Monument, then along to The White House. It was a boiling hot day, so we stopped for a few hours in the National History museum, which I would always recommend.
Philadelphia is an equally interesting place in terms of history and culture. If you go to Philly, definitely take the time to go to the Eastern State Penitentiary, and listen to the audio guides- it’s worth the money (and they do student discounts) and it’s absolutely fascinating. Philadelphia allowed me to experience phase two of my transition- greenery. Unlike New York, and even Washington, Philadelphia has acres of land dedicated to grass and parks and trees, and because it’s nowhere near as dry as California, things actually grow. It made me genuinely excited to go back to Yorkshire.
Nonetheless, both Staci and I greatly looked forward to Phase Three of my transition, which occurred pretty much every evening. Phase Three generally involved going home, getting into bed, curling up with some snacks (you can’t go to Philadelphia without experiencing a) WaWa’s, b) Rita’s Ice Water and c) Philly Soft Pretzels) and watching Made in Chelsea.
I’m not even ashamed.
Based on my own experiences in California, but with many possible variations.
1) Getting a random piercing, or a tattoo, or dying your hair a funky colour, for no apparent reason.
It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with where you’re living but pretty much sums up the ‘yolo’ attitude that you acquire when living abroad for a semester.
2) Becoming accustomed to American portion sizes
and having a genuine concern that when you go back home you’ll constantly think they’ve given you the kiddie size at restaurants
3) Wearing flowers in your hair on the beach
and feeling the most cool and fashionable you have ever been since you wore sparkly jeans to the year three disco. You’re basically Beyonce.
4) Completely failing at taking an ‘after dinner walk’ around the block
In England this consists of a pleasant walk through the snicket and across the cricket ground, possibly along to see the crocuses on the stray. In America you’re more likely to end up avoiding people on pledge row having run away from the crazy homeless people who congregate by the church.
5) Getting extortionate levels of FOMO (fear of missing out)
to the extent that you’re rendered into a state of perpetual grumpiness whenever your friends even talk about a party you weren’t at.
6) Walking around in flip flops 24/7, regardless of your outfit
It’s so hot your feet just feel claustrophobic in anything else
7) Letting yourself go a little bit after Spring Break
Why would you spend your last few weeks going to the gym and/or worrying about homework when you could be soaking up the California sunshine at the pool with free ice cream sandwiches?!
8) Making plans at a party and genuinely not knowing the next day whether or not they were serious
You’ve had so many new experiences and said yes to so many opportunities since coming abroad, why should this one be any different?
9) Booking a load of holidays to Disneyland/Hollywood/Orange County but then being so skint that you refuse to buy plastic spoons and end up drinking cereal out of a paper cup for breakfast
10) Being too scared to stay in a daf hotel so moving into the Frat house across the road when your accommodation contract ends
Brit, meet Keg, Keg, meet the Brits.
Be prepared: Studying abroad will change you. Mostly for the better. And if not? Well, it’s totally worth it.
Let go of the little distractions
Hold close to the ones that you love
Cause we won’t all be here this time next year
So while you can, take a picture of us ~Frank Turner: Polaroid Picture~
A couple of weeks ago my friend Becky and I decided to organize a day out. We usually come as a three out here in California, nicknamed the English Muffins, the Minions, the Brits, occasionally the Hobbits, due to the fact that we are all about 5ft tall. This day however, our third Muffin, Alice, was out celebrating the end of school with some classmates. Adamant to survive a whole day of being apart, doing something other than sitting by the pool drinking our body weight in Jamba Juice whilst Alice was off enjoying herself, Becky and I hunted for something fun to do or see.
This is why, one bright Sunday morning, we packed our bags, popped to Safeway for a picnic and headed to the very end of the line on the tram to Alum Rock Park.
A bit like a mini Yosemite, Alum Rock Park is a stunning national park in the mountains of San Jose. Not very many people (that we spoke to) had heard about it, but it’s a completely beautiful place full of hikes, trails, wildlife and breathtaking views.
Becky and I spent a good couple of hours weaving in and out of the mountain tops on the “Quick Trail” (which is quite inaptly signposted; turns out Quick trail is short for The Todd Quick Trail which is one of the longest in the park). If you’re prepared for a bit of a walk however, I would highly recommend it. The Quick trail took us to the highest point of the park, where you can see for miles over a stunning landscape of San Jose.
We hobbled back to the tram at the end of the day, exhausted and blistered but satisfied that we had spent the day adding to our collection of mental snapshots of California. These are the moments that we never want to forget because they’re so amazing or beautiful or stupidly funny. Like sitting on a beach at night toasting s’mores on a campfire- or absolutely tanking your first ever kegstand at a house party.
There have been a significant amount of ‘polaroid picture’ opportunities recently, mostly because school is officially done so we’re finishing our time in America as we began it- as a constant holiday. Last week in particular, was our long awaited trip to the south of California, including Los Angeles, Anaheim, and, of course…
The Happiest Place on Earth. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s actually true. Disneyland is the only place in the world where it’s not just acceptable, but a requirement to become seven years old again. Nothing can possibly make you happier than running around a world full of princesses and cartoon characters, trying on minnie mouse ears and spending the day being thrown around on rollercoasters. The California Disney isn’t a very big one, it can be covered in a day, maybe two if you want to get a park hopper ticket to California Adventures next door. The Cars ride in California Adventures is worth the wait, and Indiana Jones in Disney is always a classic. Definitely go to the Colour Show and stay for the Nighttime firework display. Watching those, all of a sudden I was no longer the 22 year old who had moved by herself to America, I was the 5 year old little girl who demanded that her reception teacher call her Esmerelda (from the Hunchback of Notre Dame).
From Disney, we took a shuttle taxi to Hollywood Boulevard, where we stayed for the remainder of our holiday. Unlike Disney, Hollywood is a place I would definitely recommend saving until you’re grownup, as I can’t imagine I would have appreciated it as much as a child. Having stumbled accross the Hollywood Walk of Fame five minutes away from our hotel, we decided to recover from all the excitement of Disneyland by relaxing in an open top tour bus which took us around the celebrity houses in Beverly Hills. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it was really fun and our tour guide was a fantastic entertainer. It’s easy to get swept up into the buzz of star spotting, peering up random driveways and gawping at billion dollar gated communities in the hope of seeing this actress or that singer. However, if you stop and think about it, it’s really pretty creepy. I don’t doubt that some stars love the attention, and ask for the constant barrage of papparazzi, but some people are simply famous because they are good at their jobs. We drove past rows of pristine lawns and basketball hoops attached to garage doors which can never have been used because if a celebrity let their child out to play in their own front garden they’d be bombarded with photographs from a random bus load of tourists. Rodeo Drive was a nice area to walk around however, and it was nice to look in the expensive shops even if we couldn’t afford to buy anything! One thing i’d definitely recommend is to go to the top of the Griffiths Observatory- it’s completely free and offers great views of both Los Angeles and, of course, the Hollywood sign.
3) Santa Monica/Venice Beach
LA is a weird place, particularly for tourists I feel. One minute you’re getting snaps of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at a movie premier (yes, that actually happened), the next you’re sat on a bus with the old man with a glass eye, the gang member who’s doing a cheeky bit of facebook perving and the crazy man in a fez who’s trying to sell you rings whilst picking at his golden teeth. Unfortunately, the dodgy bus journey was a necessity for us to get to the 3rd and 4th major destinations in our vacation; Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Travelling aside, those two days were without a doubt among the best of my life. Totally chilled atmosphere, beautiful hot weather and amazing beaches, it was the epitome of what you expect the Cali lifestyle to be. Venice beach is a bit like a Camden Market equivalent on beach, with people selling henna tattoos and touristy trinkets as guys skateboard along by the side of the sand. Santa Monica, aside from the Pier itself, was calmer and the town seemed a bit more upmarket. It’s a very pretty beach and what’s totally cool is that there is a load of swings and gym bars on the sand, which means you can swing looking out to sea. I got taught to do the monkey bars by a random but very kind stranger.
The end of this week was pretty emotional. Partly because when we got back to San Jose we had to pack up and leave the accommodation which we had lived in for the past five months and move into the fraternity house across the road. The state of the Delta Upsilon showers is enough to make anybody want to cry. More upsetting than this though, was that I had to say goodbye to my two best friends who have flown back to England to be reunited with friends, family and a good old Sunday Roast. I’m really lucky to have met these girls and to have shared some amazing moments with them, I will see them ASAP when I’m back in London
For now though, I’m the last muffin standing and excited to be travelling some more of California, and making my move to the East Coast.
So in the stillness of the moment
Make sure you take a Polaroid picture
And keep it with you forever
To remind yourself that everything changes
But there was this one time
There was this one time
When things were okay
I’ve had a five-pound note sitting on the top of my desk since I first arrived here five months ago. I found it when I was replacing all my British money and unnecessary cards that had been cluttering up my wallet for my travel card, my SJSU ID and the crisp dollar bills that I had received as a Christmas present. I probably should have put it away, but it looked so alien out here that I couldn’t help but smile- it ended up living with all my cards and photographs, displayed on my desk as a little reminder of home.
It doesn’t make me smile anymore. That five pound note is taunting me, the Queen’s face eyeing me from atop my desk, a cunning reminder that my time in California is coming to an end.
Yes I know it’s stupid.
It’s a fiver Roslyn. It’s not alive, it’s got no hidden agenda and in a month or so it will be frivolously spent on makeup or a book or copious amounts of peanut butter which I will cry into with a spoon whilst watching back to back episodes of The OC.
It’s true though, that although we’re still having a great time out here, everything we do now is laced with a tinge of premature nostalgia. For me it all got a bit too real when we went to Yoghurtland and realised that we wouldn’t even be around long enough to try the next season’s specials flavours which were being advertised. It was an emotional Froyo.
The crazy thing is that even though it feels like I’ve been here forever, even though I’m leaving San Jose soon and counting down the days, the parties and the Whisper’s raspberry milkshakes in single digits, we’re still managing to experience a whole load of ‘First Times’ for things that are making our experience here that much more special.
Because when you study abroad in California no two days are the same.
The first of the Firsts is the Finals, somewhat ironically. We have end of semester exams in England as well, of course, although majoring in the Liberal Arts means that I tend to have no exams at all, only coursework and essays. Finals are more of a “thing” in America though, and everyone is seeming to take them pretty seriously. Classes finish for the term and “Finals Week” begins, which means Library, books, revision and the Delta Upsilon study room actually being used for it’s primary function for the first time of the year.
I didn’t really know what to expect from this week of madness. My Finals kicked off with a Monday morning ballet exam, closely followed acting assessments, and Salsa/ChaCha performances for my Introduction to Latin Dance class.
The American schooling system is very different to the European one. For one thing it seems to be much easier to get higher grades out here. It’s fairly easy to pass with an A as long as you turn up to the classes, and getting an A means getting between 90-100 percent. In England getting a first, i.e. 70 percent upwards, is much more difficult, but at the same time you can not turn up to any of the classes and as long as you write a good essay then you’re sorted (not that I’m advocating this- if you pay for tuition you should turn up to class).
Although American education isn’t as academically challenging, it’s good because it’s much more professionally orientated, and all of my classes at least have been very much geared towards actually getting you into the industry, and a career.
An example of this professionalism is getting the opportunity to have my first professional headshots taken. My acting teacher Amy Glazer is a director more than she is a lecturer. She has produced her own film Seducing Charlie Barker and is currently directing the play Seminar at the San Francisco Playhouse. Amy is a fantastic director and Seminar has already received outstanding reviews by critics. Luckily for us, Amy also has a lot of contacts within the performing world, one of whom happens to be Lisa Keating of Lisa Keating Photography, a professional photographer who takes amazing headshots for working actors. For those who don’t know, good headshots normally cost an arm and a leg- and then some, but thanks to Amy our class were offered a really good deal. Even if you don’t go into professional acting, headshots are a useful thing to have on file and it’s a brilliant excuse to get your makeup done by a professional makeup artist- the cost of whom was included in the package.
Similarly, my journalism professor only spends half her time teaching. The rest of the time she travels, researches, writes and reports for various newspapers and publications. Thanks to Professor Kazem we’ve had guest lecturers from the Wall Street Journal and CBS News. It was also thanks to Kazem that I had my first American School Field Trip excursion- to the NBC Bay Area News Studios. We were met by the reporter and journalist Scott Budman, who is quite known out here although his name went a little bit over my English head. He’s a very friendly guy though and a great journalist, and answered all our questions as he toured us around in time to see the 11.00am news broadcast live from inside the studios. It was really cool, and the sort of opportunity you just don’t seem to get in England.
Last Wednesday was what is known as “dead day” on campus, which is when everybody has the day off because classes have finished but finals have not yet begun. With this I experienced my first proper Pool Party. With loud music, free food and hordes of excited, tanned students cooling off in the pool from 37’C heat, it was precisely what you would expect; the epitome of California lifestyle. Clad in our USA bikinis, we spent all day at the pool swimming, sunbathing and joking around with friends.
Oh PD. Where to begin? PD stands for Pledge Dance, which is one of those bizarre little Fraternity traditions that us Brits are slowly becoming accustomed to. PD occurs every semester; it’s where each Fraternity goes somewhere for the night, puts on their best clothes, has a meal and a ‘dance’ and rewards themselves for being such a wonderful brotherhood. It’s the Greek Life Prom. Each guy takes a date, or a plus one, and awards are presented for those who have made the best contribution to the fraternity. Some of the awards were serious, such as the “Most Inspirational Brother”- others, for example “Cutest Blackout” were less so. That, essentially, is PD in a nutshell. It was loads of fun, and we were happy to be invited as the guys are some of our closest friends here and it pretty much draws together our whole American experience. Not many Brits can say they’ve been to an American Fraternity’s Pledge Dance, even if it is primarily an excuse dress up, have a party and cause a bit of havoc in whatever hotel was brave enough to accept you. That’s if you make it through the night mind you, which of course, not all of us do.
The week ended with a bang, seeing David Guetta perform live from our very own university. We bought the tickets as a bit of an impulse buy, but I am so happy we did because it was an epic concert, and half the school seemed to be going. The Event Centre, where they hold the sports games, was filled to capacity with students, lights and glow sticks. Guetta played a really good set and the opening performance from Nervo was amazing as well. It was hot and sweaty but it was totally worth it- as was the inevitable afterparty.
I’m so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to do all of these things. It has without a doubt been the best few months of my life. Although I’m not ready to leave yet, I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, returning London and the Yorkshire countryside. I still can’t quite ignore the ominous leering of that five pound note, but in the interest of remaining optimistic I’ve been thinking about all the things I can spend it on that I can’t get out here.
I’m thinking Costa Coffee and an M&S sandwich.
Anyone who has known me for a long time knows how much I love my birthday. One of my best friends, who I’ve known pretty much my whole life, has a birthday at the end of January, so as soon as hers passed, the countdown for my own would begin, leading to the incessant daily update;
“Only 99 days until my birthday now!”
With this came the inevitable task of party planning. With military precision, I would organize parties to the local bowling alley or swimming pool. One year my parents had to deal with the whole of Mrs Runcorn’s Year 2 class running around their back garden, hyped up on birthday cake and clutching cheese and pineapple on sticks. We had a climbing frame with one of these bad boys
which served to provide hours of entertainment.
I’ve calmed down somewhat now, and I have a much greater appreciation for other peoples birthdays rather than my own, a concept which was lost on me as a child. I’m not at all concerned with presents any more either, as long as I get to speak to or hear from the people I care about. For me the opportunity to come out travelling and exploring is probably the greatest gift I could have been given. I do still love a good party though, and although I may not have a climbing frame anymore, I was looking forward to celebrating my birthday with food, drink and friends.
Luckily, I was able to do exactly that. In America my birth date marks a nationwide celebration known as “Cinco de Mayo” (spanish for simply The 5th May). The date commemorates the victory of the Mexican army against France at the 1862 ‘Battle of Puebla’ during the Franco-Mexican War. Although supposedly a minor holiday in Mexico itself, in the USA the anniversary of the battle has come to be regarded as a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. The date became known as an established annual celebration in the 1960s. It is not a bank holiday, so we didn’t get a day off school, but every year there are festivals and parades with traditional music, dancing and food on the day itself and the weekend leading up to it.
That’s the tradition behind it anyway. When you go to college though, anything goes if it means there’s an excuse for a party or two. Nicknamed “Cinco de Drinko” the whole weekend was a blur of night parties, day ragers, flip cup, music and stick-on mexican mustaches. The sun was shining and I was able to spend the whole weekend surrounded by friends.
The day of my birthday, after opening my cards with a cup of tea and a morning skype with my parents, I went to my friend’s flat where I was surprised with cadbury’s chocolate, friendship bracelets and a homemade red velvet cake, candles and all. The three of us have become really close since moving out here, and I actually think they were just as excited about my birthday as I was- which is definitely saying something.
21 was a great year. The year I moved to America, experienced spring break in Mexico, skiing in Lake Tahoe, drove down the 101 on the Californian coast. With less than a month left in San Jose and my third and final year of university fast approaching, 22 looks set to be pretty eventful too.
“You WILL get homesick. Don’t worry though, it’s completely normal- you’d be weird if you didn’t.”
Or so we were told, repeatedly. By family and friends, teachers, tutors, study abroad officers, next-door neighbours, their gardener, strangers on the street. Everyone and their cat was convinced that they knew what we’d go through and how we’d feel;
“after you get over the honeymoon period, you will experience a downer- a result of the culture shock, missing home and life as you know it. It’s called the ‘culture shock W curve.”
Apparently, the “Culture Shock W Curve” is not based on scientific fact. I was completely expecting get a little bit homesick at some point, but the truth is that four months in and one-and-a-half left to go, the “inevitable” wave of homesickness is remaining as elusive as ever.
I think this is partly thanks to the overwhelming amount of social media that is available to people nowadays. The constant pictures, quotes and general online chit-chat provides an immediacy such that home never seems too far away. I laugh reading my friends’ day to day statuses, and I love that I can see how fast my beautiful nephews and nieces are growing up through my siblings’ instagrams.The other day I was able to facetime my best friend, over 5000 miles away and 8 hours ahead, completely spontaneously from a Frat Party- just because I felt like a chat.
It’s a double edged sword though, the world of social media. I am sure anyone who has studied or lived abroad will understand the conflicting emotions when you suddenly see or hear something which reminds you of home. It’s like deja vu, a fleeting snapshot, a blast from the past. You may be able to contact your friends and family at the touch of a button, but you are simultaneously bombarded with constant snapchats of empty boxes of cadbury’s chocolate fingers, instagrams of friends at Nandos, barrages of outraged tweets lamenting the latest Made in Chelsea scandal. Things that you never thought you’d miss provide a bizarre wave of nostalgia. It all got a bit too emotional when I got an email from Topshop saying they were offering free UK delivery which I couldn’t take advantage of.
Anyway, the reason I’ve been so busy for the past week or so is because home came to me- for real this time.
On Thursday I travelled across the Nor-Cal suburbs, on my way to San Francisco airport to surprise my parents, who had come to visit. Seeing the shock on my parents faces (my Dad likes to pretend that nothing fazes him) I realised how lucky I was that they were able to put the time, money and effort into visiting me.
Aside from love and support, parents come with an assortment of perks; paid-for meals, cocktails at dinner time and the rented SUV in which we spend our Easter weekend exploring my new home.
Up In The City
Easter itself was spent in my new favourite city: San Francisco. It was a beautiful weekend weather wise, so I was finally able to take a trip to see the Golden Gate bridge in all its glory. Opened in May 1937, the bridge connects San Francisco to the rest of Northern California. It really is a pretty impressive landmark, particularly when driving along it to Sausalito, a quaint, artsy boat town on the other side.
You get a particularly good view of the Golden Gate from Alcatraz, the island 1.5 miles offshore from SF which was once home to up to 300 of the most notorious criminals. I’d definitely recommend the Alcatraz tour to any visitors to Northern California, if only to experience the bizarre juxtaposition between the beautiful scenery and the rather ugly, if fascinating, history. You’ll be walking amongst the flowers and endangered birds and then suddenly remember that you are in what used to be a high security prison. After escaping in land, we stopped off to look through Ghirardelli square, taking true advantage of all the free chocolate which was on offer for Easter weekend.
Along the Coast
Going down the 101 south we spend a windy day discovering the bays of Monterey and Carmel. The Fishermans Wharf at Monterey is a bright and cheerful pier, sort of like Whitby except with Clam Chowder instead of Fish and Chips and Salt Water Taffy instead of Rock. It’s a nice place for a bike ride or simply to look along the coast. There are several whale-watching opportunities but if you don’t fancy the boat rides then you can see loads of seals lounging about on the rocks closer to land. Carmel is a bit more upmarket, a really beautiful white sand beach surrounded by quirky, fairytale houses.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
San Jose has been as eventful as ever what with classes, homework, parties and trips to the mall (hallelujah for the student loan). Disneyland Adventure Resort got some serious competition the other weekend when some of our fraternity friends hosted a disney themed party at their house. Although exciting, this provided us with a very serious dilemma. All thoughts of studying were put on hold as we decided what to wear. Jasmine is overdone, Belle gets boring. Pocahontas is good but quite a lot of effort and if you go as Jane from Tarzan it just gets awkward when everyone asks who you are. To make the task even trickier, my two best friends and I all wanted to go as the same thing- we’re the Brits after all, and as everyone here knows by now, we come as a package. Our dilemmas were solved by a shop called Hot Topic, a pretty awesome store out here which does specialised clothing from films, songs and general pop culture. It’s like an alternative disney store for adults. It was here, on a spontaneous trip to Valley Fair that we discovered these rather spectacular snapbacks.
which is pretty much our whole disney party summed up in one photograph.
So we went as minions, and applauded ourselves for our hilarity and genius. And yes, before you say it, we know that Despicable Me is Universal rather than Disney. We decided to live life on the wild side. The guys did a stand up job at decorating the house, although right now i’m 90% sure all that remains from the party is the toy simba dangling from the courtyard balcony (a recreation of the scene from A Circle of Life). Pretty much every wall got repainted and cartoon characters adorned every inch of space. Apparently the ability to copy well known disney characters is a highly respected quality in a Fraternity boy. Who knew?
We had a great night, made ten times funnier by the fact that we were running around in Minion hats and braces. There aren’t very many parties where you see Aladdins dancing with Ariels, Minions taking selfies with the Hunchback of Notre Dame or people attempting to take photographs with a life-size paper drawing of Grandpa from Up.*
I will forever and always call Britain my home. No matter how good my American accent gets (it’s coming along nicely- or so I tell myself) I will be a London/Yorkshire girl at heart. I have an unconditional love for tea, I wear hoodies, not sweatshirts and under no circumstances will I ever call crisps “chips”. I’m not even a massive fan of gravy back home, but when Alice, Becky and I used the granules Alice’s mum had sent in a care package to make veggie bangers and mash the other night (followed by apple crumble and ice cream, naturally) all three of us shared a sneaky tear of joy.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, no matter how far away you are, you can always find something to remind you of home.
*yes it was me. and yes, I failed epically.