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.