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Here Comes The Summer

It is now officially April. Classes are back in full swing and the days are speeding along faster than ever. The last of the midterms has been and gone, and all that’s left of Spring Break is hair-braids and some rapidly fading tanlines. The first half of the semester has flown by in a blur of classes, dancing, parties, day trips and sunshine. With only ten weeks left of my California experience, the countdown is well and truly on.

rainbow

People never really acknowledge the idea that you can fall in love with a place. Usually, it’s all about the “who”; the husbands and wives, parents and children, boyfriends and girlfriends. When I came out here, although I had a sneaky suspicion that I’d have the time of my life (affirmative), I never really considered the idea that I would be able to completely and wholeheartedly fall in love with California itself. It’s partly to do with the fact that I have had such a great time so far, which is entirely down to the opportunities that I’ve had and the people I’ve grown close to, to experience them with. It’s also to do with the little things, fleeting moments that occur that can’t really be recorded, no matter how hard you try. In ten, twenty or even eighty years time, I have no idea whether I’ll remember how much I love seeing the mountains when I open my blinds in the morning, or how seeing a typically American yellow school bus, for some reason, never fails to make me smile. I’ll miss the stupid things, like being able to clip your flip-cell onto your skirt waistband on a night out, or taking a tea bag and a mug and the occasional cookie down seven floors in the lift in your pajamas so you can spend the evening lounging about with your friends.

newroom  campfire

There are parts of British culture that I do, of course, really miss. For one thing, any Yorkshireman(or woman) will appreciate my distress when I greeted an American friend with “alreet?” and they looked at me with such confusion, as if I had just started speaking to them in gibberish. Furthermore, it’s unfathomably strange that it’s so sunny and warm outside, but I am yet to see a group of students sitting on the grass drinking Pimms, as is a regular occurrence during the summer term at Roehampton. When the Pimms comes out on tap at the bar, you know it’s summer. Unfortunately, like my Yorkshire slang, “Pimms O’Clock” is gobbledegook here too.

pimms package

However, just as I was craving a taste of Britain, something amazing happened. I received an email from the Mailroom saying that a package had arrived for me. I went to collect it somewhat reluctantly, expecting a schoolbook that I had ordered. I thought I was going to cry with happiness when I recognised my Mum’s handwriting on the parcel. As I signed for it and ran back up to my room, I was like a child at christmas, ripping open the packaging to a shower of Cadbury’s chocolate, hobnobs and tea. I’m pretty sure parents are psychic sometimes.

 care

Now that I’m stocked up on English goodies, California seems sunnier than ever. It’s warm enough to go out in the evenings without a jacket, and it’s a right nightmare if you forget to put your sunglasses in your school bag for the walk between classes. You just don’t have to think about these things in England. We’re embracing summer to the full, rushing to the pool after classes and spending our evenings planning trips to Santa Cruz Beach, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Next stop is San Francisco (again) for a bike ride across the Golden Gate bridge.

colour run Guidebook
I’m certainly not mentally prepared to think about leaving quite yet. To whomever has to endure the ten hour plane journey back to England sitting next to my grumpy, tear stained self: I apologise profusely in advance. It’s not you, it’s me.

* On a slightly more upbeat note, I would like to say Good Luck to my rather amazing brother who is running the London Marathon this weekend in aid of Action for Children. I’m a very proud sister, you’ll do great Dan xxx

 

 

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The One with the Spring Break Special/Hola Chicas!

Like many people of my generation, I genuinely believe that I have learnt many of life’s important lessons from the TV show “Friends”. From Friends I learned never to get a spray tan, and to always say the right name at your wedding. I learned about the value of friendship and about the importance of going after a job that you love, rather than sticking to one that you hate. I also learnt that whacking out a choreographed dance routine in the middle of a club, despite generally being socially unacceptable, is totally, hilariously worth it. It was from Friends too, that I first learnt about the whole concept of “Spring Break”.

 

Joey: Sure! I was there! Spring Break ’81! Woo-hoo!

Monica: In 1981 you were 13!

Joey: So what? I drove down, sold T-shirts, had a blast. And y’know who knows how to party? Drunk college chicks.

 

This lesson was particularly relevant this year. One of the major differences between English and American University Culture is that whilst in England we get a two to three-week break to go home, see our parents, eat a lot of chocolate and have a perfectly respectable Easter holiday, in America you get about three weeks worth of parties, beaches, food, drink, drunk food, shots and clubbing crammed into the space of about four days.

clubbin

Because of this, on Monday last week, two of my closest friends and I found ourselves on a plane, flying into Cancun, Mexico for our very first Spring Break Experience. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened – we’d booked the trip about six weeks ago, spending a good few hours trying to find the best, cheapest deal. At the time it seemed like a dream for the distant future, but time flies out here and after a blur of parties, lessons, dancing, film shoots and midterms, it had finally arrived: our Mexican adventure.

airplane  seaview

sombrero

 

We had an amazing holiday from start to finish, enjoying so much more than just your typical Spring Break festivities. From sea turtles to hair braids, boat parties and midnight walks along the beach, we took in all that Mexico had to offer.

turtles2 starfish mayan raccoon

The Culture

xcaretchair

Nightlife aside, Cancun is an absolutely beautiful city, with an abundance of white sandy beaches and palm trees.  When we told people that we (three, very English-looking girls, all 5 foot 2 and under) were going to Mexico by ourselves, everyone’s initial reaction was “Wow. Be careful”. In the six weeks between booking the holiday and getting on the flight we heard so many countless stories of kidnapping, extortion, violence and drug trafficking that by the time we touched down in Cancun, our butterflies were just as much from nerves as from excitement. Luckily, although certain areas of Mexico may be somewhat daf, Cancun is a complete tourist trap; the scariest encounter we had all holiday was having to run away from the Mexican waiter for apparently not tipping enough Pesos for his service. Insane mexicans aside however, Cancun was pretty close to Paradise.natural pool

On Wednesday, the midpoint of our trip, we spent the whole day at an eco-archaeological park called “Xcaret”, on the River Maya outside Cancun. It’s the sort of place where parrots fly freely over your head, and around every corner there’s a waterfall.

waterfallbikinis We saw jaguars roaming on their own private island, sea turtles and sharks in the natural pools that were dotted around the park. We rented snorkels and swam freely through fresh water lagoons and caves.jag

It was pretty spectacular. The day was rounded off with a night show which offered a celebration of Mexican history and culture. As students of performing arts, this was the perfect way to end the day. The show was an amalgamation of singing, horseback riding, and cirque du soleil style acrobatics, which apparently derives from Mayan culture as a way of worshiping their Gods.

flying men

There was also a crazy game of what can only be described as “Extreme Fireball Hockey”. The Dancing was particularly spectacular; Mexican dance is the only technique I have seen which rivals Ballet for it’s fast and complicated footwork.

dancers

My amazing old Ballet teacher Mrs Robinson once told me that she always preferred choreographing the “ethnic” dances for our annual show; the Indians in Pocahontas, the Spanish Dolls in Coppelia, the Village Girls and Gypsies in Sleeping Beauty (and pretty much every other ballet show come to that, Mrs Robinson was a fan of Gypsies.) “Tutus can be pretty” she said, “but these are much more exciting no?”  Seeing the colourful costumes and the stamping feet of the Mexican Dancers, I couldn’t help but think that Mrs Robinson would have loved to try her hand at choreographing a “Mayan Village Girl” dance. The enjoyment of the dancers was palpable through their every movement, and the excitement was infectious.

show

 

The Food

veggies

Having so much Mexican influence in San Jose as it is, we couldn’t wait to go and actually try the real thing. From the giant plateful of nachos on our first night, to our traditional mexican breakfast before catching the plane home, it was a lavish holiday when it came to cuisine.

feast

Our day at Xcaret was inclusive of a free buffet, where we tried specialities such as Roasted Plantain, Cactus Salad and Chipotle Bread. We couldn’t say no to the mango ice cream afterwards either (it was free after all) although we did have to have a lie down in the beach hammocks for a while before getting back on with our day.

tortillas  pancakes

On our last night we went all out with a traditional Mexican feast at “Casa Tequila” where we sampled quesadillas and stuffed Mexican peppers. My friends also had beef and chicken tacos, whilst my veggie fajita was served still sizzling on a hot plate, accompanied with a basket of flour tortillas. We were absolutely loving life; probably putting on a stone of weight between the three of us.The food was all delicious, I would definitely recommend Mexico to any foodies out there. Nonetheless, I doubt I’ll be eating tortilla chips and guacamole for good few weeks!

proper nachos

The Nightlife

We went for Spring Break, and Spring Break is what we got. “The Strip” is the main street in Cancun, where nightclubs and bars quite literally line the streets. 24/7 you cannot walk down The Strip without vendors shouting at you prices for their clubs; “Hola Chicas! Where are you going tonight girls?! I’ll offer you the lowest price, open bar all night!” It’s the nightclub equivalent of  an EastEnd market seller. Just as with the food, Cancun really does not do things by halves, which is how we each ended up with a yard size cocktail glass, pretty much as tall as we are! We had some amazing nights, trying out pretty much all of the “Big Name” nightclubs; Mandala, Dady’O’s and the infamously cheesy Señor Frogs. That being said, a good night out is all about who you’re with, not where you are, and with these awesome girls, I have never yet failed at having a hilarious night.

 coco yards friendss

We sent our last night out with a bang, on a night time, appropriately named “Booze Cruise” to Isla Mujeres; “The Island of Women”. Dancing on a boat with a drink in hand is a tricky experience to say the least, but there was a definite sense of accomplishment when we docked at the Island to dance the night away.

 

 mandala
We all crashed on the plane journey home, completely exhausted, but satisfied that we’d experienced the true, Friends-endorsed “Spring Break, Woo-hoo!” experience. When our amazing friend came to rescue us from San Jose airport at midnight on Friday all he did was look at us and laugh: “I don’t need to ask if you had a good time. I think I already know.”

mum

25 First World Problems for British People in California

monterey

Walking back from class earlier this week, I was discussing with one of my friends whether or not we thought people could tell that we were British, just from looking at us. We came to the mutual conclusion that yes, they probably could. Coming abroad has made me notice certain quirks about British people which make us so wonderfully distinctive. Some of these are highlighted beautifully in an online article which was trending the other day; “21 Brilliant British People Problems” which includes anecdotes such as; “I sat down to watch a nature program that I’d recorded but when I went to watch it the narrator wasn’t David Attenborough” and my personal favourite; “A man in the supermarket was browsing the food that I wanted to browse, so I had to pretend to be interested in things that I didn’t even want until he left.”

For me, there is one thing in particular which really makes British People stand out from the rest, and that is, of course, The Sunshine. Here in San Jose, when the sun comes out, the general Californian attitude seems to be “well that’s nice, but nothing special. I’ll take a jacket just in case.” We brits aren’t having any of that. When the sun comes out, the jackets come off. We completely re-prioritise our whole lives in order to spend every possible moment basking in the heat. I will eat outside, sleep outside, study outside. I would probably shower outside if I could, in order to make the most of every single ray. The moment it’s sunny in England the barbeques get lit and the pimms gets mixed. It’s picnics and paddling pools galore, because it’s the hottest day of the year apparently, and if we have a summer like last year then we’d better make the most of it now.

sjsu

Making the most of it is exactly what we have been doing for the past week of glorious Californian weather, however it has resulted in some somewhat unexpected complications.

Because of this, and in response to the article I mentioned above, I have compiled a list of the typical problems that my English friends and I have faced over the past week.

Thus introducing:

25 First World Problems when you’re British Studying in California

yogurtland

1) Having to go and get Frozen Yoghurt because it’s too upsetting when the on-campus pool closes and it’s still sunny outside

2) Having to spend the weekend revising outside in the sunshine because you have midterms next week

3) Deciding that actually you have to prioritize your tan over revision because you’re going to Mexico in Spring Break

4) Having to buy more bikinis because you don’t have enough to last you through Spring Break

5) Having to go on a healthy eating spree so you fit into all your new bikinis

6) Buying a butternut squash so that you can be healthy and make a jamie oliver thirty minute meal…and then spend the whole thirty minutes failing at chopping up your butternut squash

7) Having to hide behind your yoga mat at the gym to avoid seeing all the people you know

8) Spending double the amount of time picking out your party clothes in order to avoid showing off your bright red face and stomach

ATO

9) Not being able to handle all the free drinks that you’re given

10) Being so hungover that you miss the bus to the beach

11) Not being able to go in the deep end of the pool because you’re trying to avoid all the people you saw at the party last night

Pool

12) The embarrassing mix ups because people here say pants instead of trousers

13) Being banned from the local bar because your best friends are under 21 and got caught drinking

party

14) Having to dip chips ahoy cookies into jiff hazelnut spread because they just do not do chocolate digestives in this country

15) Having to count and ration your Yorkshire teabags every day because your stock is getting alarmingly low

16) The gut wrenching decision between a milkshake or an ice cream cookie sandwich

17) Getting a numb behind from fitting one too many people into a Ford Mustang Convertible

convirtible

18) Not being able to eat your dinner because you’re already full from the constant refill drinks

19) Not being able to wear foundation because your face is too tanned

20) Having to explain yourself whenever you whip out your 90s style american flip cell

21) Having to avoid the local starbucks because the guy who works there asked you to marry him

22) Having to reject your first ever marriage proposal even though it could get you a greencard

23) Having to buy a whole other suitcase to fit all your new clothes because the conversion rate is just so good

24) Spontaneously bursting into tears because you are almost half way through the semester

25) Not being able to walk from one end of the party to the other without hearing a cry of “IT’S THE BRITS!”

 cancun

 Have a Great Spring Break Everybody!

Turning Boos into Yays

For the actors in life

yos

Any actor worth his or her weight will know exactly what I mean when I refer to the term ‘beats’. In the theatrical sense, a beat is some sort of change for a particular character in a scene. A change of thought, a change of objective, a change of tactic – just, a change. Actors use beats as a way of shaping a scene, as well as to get to grips with their character’s intentions.

We’ve been talking about beats a lot lately in my acting classes here. My teacher is a very eccentric, loud, jewish american lady, who insists that she is part-mandarin, part african american and part spanish. Amy is very blunt, she knows her own mind and she does not know the meaning of ‘politically correct’. I love her. She is one of those rare people who genuinely isn’t afraid of the truth, not to mention that her outbursts make me cry with laughter almost every lesson.

‘Yays’ and ‘Boos’ are Amy’s way of describing the beats in a scene. Yays happen when something good happens to a character, when they win, or achieve their objective. Boos, as you may have guessed, are the opposite. Simply put, it’s the ups and downs in life.

I don’t believe that anything happens for a reason, no matter how bizarre or coincidental the circumstances. I just believe that everything happens, full stop. However what I have learnt from my crazy, bespectacled, jewish acting teacher is that every boo, 9 times out of 10, will be succeeded by a yay.

This week, for personal reasons, has been pretty dramatic to say the least; and not always in a good way. Come the weekend, having already dealt with a mutual separation, some shocking revelations and, crucially, the angst of missing my first party, I was in need of a Yay or two. Stat.

mustang

1) Yay-maker number one: Yosemite

Fortunately, every cloud has a silver lining, and this one shone more than most, in the form of a shiny convertible Ford Mustang, in which my friends and I were driven to Yosemite National Park.

The most famous park in California, Yosemite’s forests, valleys and cliffs  reign over approximately 1,200 square miles. There’s no other word for it: Yosemite is spectacular, and being able to see everything, from the cliffs, to the waterfalls, to the giant redwood sequoia’s from the luxury of an open top car has to be one of the coolest ways to experience it.

backpacks waterfall mirror tree

2) Yay-maker number two: Pancake Day

As per the reasons above, this week was a week when I really could have done with a Cadbury’s fruit and nut, and a curly wurly or two. Unfortunately I have already discussed the distinct lack of Cadbury’s this side of the water. This would have been a major, almost incurable Boo had it not been for the beautiful tradition that is Shrove Tuesday, better known as Pancake Day. Few of the Americans that I have spoken to have known what this is, and even fewer know of its association to the religious holiday. It’s nowhere near as widely celebrated in the States, but my English friends and I weren’t going to go without, and we certainly weren’t settling for the thick American pancakes you buy here. American pancakes are great, in their place, but Pancake Day is a time for crepes, strawberries and nutella, as well as copious amounts of lemon and sugar. We devoted a whole evening to flipping proper British pancakes, and were thoroughly pleased with ourselves.

Alice Cave

3) Yay-maker number three: On Set

I don’t think I am the only one who has been feeling the pressure of the 6 week mark. With Spring Break fast approaching, teachers have been piling on the work-load for the dreaded “mid-term” exams. The Yay for me in this is that I actually love the work, and the lessons. For the past couple of weeks I have been on various sets acting in short movies for Amy’s acting for film class. Filming is a long process, which involves meticulous detail and countless takes. Luckily, the level of professionalism here is absolutely remarkable, proper cameras, light and sound equipment make the atmosphere exhilarating. Not to mention that I have made some amazing (extremely talented) friends in the process.

camera

There is something inexplicable about moving abroad that forces you to reveal a wilder side of your personality. It’s an ability to revel in this new-found freedom and take advantage every single opportunity that comes your way. My English friends and I have become inseparably close, and although we have only been here for two months, I feel like I have known them for years.

Part of this is because we are all in the same boat, they understand the need to go a little crazy. My friends and I have been challenging each other to try new things, experience new places, befriend total strangers.  Together we have experienced so many yays that the boos pretty much fade  into non-memory. I have always said that I would rather have a life filled with ups and downs than one that is simply monotonous. I will cope with the Boos in order to experience the Yays and so far? Well, it’s totally worth it.

So whether it’s cruising down the 101 in a mustang, having a picnic underneath a waterfall, or going out dancing and ending the night somewhere completely unprecedented (and unpresidented), my one piece of travellers advice, and the mantra that I now live by:

Turn Boos into Yays. Say yes. Do it for the story.

friends3

The British are here! An (English) Truth about Fraternities

*Clicking on the linked words will lead to my new page “Dictionary Corner”. If you’re as baffled as I was, it might come in necessary. Sometimes it really is like living in a different world.

campus

There is a strange thing that happens over the first few weeks of a semester across American universities. It begins as the sun rises over the palm trees and the first handful of dedicated students make their way to morning class, bleary eyed and armed with Starbuck’s cups. Tents are constructed, displays are arranged and from each corner of the campus people can be seen carrying large, mysteriously shaped, wooden cut outs. As the morning progresses, more and more students emerge from their beds, and as the hustle and bustle commences, there is one question to be heard echoing along the streets:

“Hi there. Are you interested in going Greek at all?”

Needless to say, I was baffled the first time a pristinely dressed female student approached me with this question, sporting handfuls of flyers and a beaming smile. Go Greek? Was she suggesting that I renounce my British heritage in favour of wearing a toga or smashing plates at restaurants? Apparently not. “Going Greek” or “The Greek System”, as I have been taught at numerous occasions over the course of the past few weeks, is a way of describing the boy/girl societies called Fraternities and Sororities, which can be seen in films such as Sydney White, Monsters University or Legally Blonde.

Over here, they are a pretty big deal, and when my English friends and I tell people that we don’t have this system in England, that we had barely even heard the term “Sorority” before moving to America, the typical response is “What? No wait- really? Wow!” What then follows is an enthusiastic rush to educate these poor, deprived Brits on the concept of Greek life. As an outsider, but also someone who has many friends (and possibly enemies) in Sororities and Fraternities, I decided my roommate would be the one to ask to provide a brief, unbiased description of what they actually are:

“Organizations that are made based on exclusiveness within the school society. There’s usually about seven to ten Fraternities and seven to ten Sororities per school, with about 80 members in each one. Basically”

I don’t yet know all that much about Sororities, the female version of the system. Each one is different, and it most likely varies all across America- the Alpha Phi of San Jose State might be completely different to the Alpha Phi of New York or Virginia. I have been told that the girls’ houses are big and beautiful, kept pristine by cleaners and that they are cooked for Monday to Friday by a professional chef. I know that every week there is a Chapter Meeting in which the philosophies, aesthetics and principles of the girls are discussed, and punishments handed out for those who have not adhered to the set of rules that deem to make the Sorority sisters adequately “ladylike”. This is a genuine quote from one of the Sorority girls who I met (who is absolutely lovely, by the way);

“Well on Monday we have to wear our hair either straightened or in a well done ponytail, and we have to wear shoes with heels.”

It hardly seems feminist- or even postfeminist, although having said that, cross-state Sorority meetings are supposed to be an amazing way to socialize, and network for potential internships and jobs. Like I say, I don’t yet know enough to judge about these strange sisterhoods that are so popular here.

upsilon

Having met a few guys in Fraternities in class and in bars around San Jose, I was intrigued to find out more about the mysterious tents that had been around campus for the past couple of weeks, and about the houses that they represented. The Fraternity houses that I have seen are certainly pretty impressive, although somewhat less concerned with cleanliness than the girls’ are. There are several floors, large living areas, courtyards and a piano or two here and there. Fraternities are slightly different to Sororities in that they don’t really care about being ladylike: they hold parties every week, typically on Thursdays and Saturdays.

monsters inc

The reason the past couple of weeks has been such a big one in the Greek world is because it has been, what is formally known as; “the end of dry rush.” This refers to the second or third week in a semester, after new students have chosen their preferred brotherhood or sisterhood and have completed the initiations required to become a fully fledged “brother” or “sister”. The end of dry rush culminates with one or two celebrations, held at one of the bigger houses along “Pledge Row”.

So this is how my friends and I suddenly found ourselves greeted with cries of “The British are Here!” in what was, without a doubt, the biggest, loudest, yet most hilariously fun house party that I have ever been to. I hadn’t really been to a house party since I was about 16, as the English culture, due to the younger drinking age, is to go to bars and go dancing instead. English house parties often tend to consist of an awkward gathering of different friendship groups, running out of drinks and heading to the nearest club. Not so in Greek America. There was hired security, dj decks and coloured lights swirling around a makeshift dance floor. Apparently, later in the semester, these turn into themed fancy dress parties, such as Hawaii, Cowboys and Indians and of course, the infamous “Greek Toga” party. We’re working on our friends to throw a British themed party by the time we leave.

friendsnice

It’s so much fun, and I doubt the novelty will wear off any time soon. Everyone is friendly and fun –  and the British accent never fails to be a good ice-breaker. Because of these parties, I have had two of the best weekends, possibly of my life. It will never get old walking into a best friends room on a Sunday morning and just laughing about all the funny things that happened the night before.

I said it here first kids, The Brits know how to party- frat style.

hannahrosfireball

5 Things You Don’t Expect to Miss about Britain

 All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey…

Atat

Something big happened this past week. Something huge and bizarre and completely unexpected.

 

It rained.

 

San Francisco trip number two on Saturday saw us battling the wind and the rain through the streets of Union Square and along the decking at Pier 39. In the distance, the abandoned prison Alcatraz stood as a menacing grey dot, veiled in cloud. We huddled together to protect ourselves from the howling storm, we sheltered in shops and cowered under our hoods. The bravest of us even unleashed the umbrellas.

alcatraz

Now, this shouldn’t be such a big deal. For us hardy old English lot, this Saturday was just a regular walk in the park. It seems hilarious that something I have always taken for granted can genuinely make front page news here. California is in a drought at the moment, so while for Britain, 2.31 inches of rain can be classed as “early April showers”, for the Bay Area, this is big stuff. Stop the press.

 

What I really wasn’t expecting though, is that the rain and the clouds and the gloomy grey sky actually made me a little bit nostalgic. Last weekend’s storm made me realise that there is something undeniably comforting about hearing drops of rain crash against your window, and changing out of wet jeans and into pyjamas is nothing short of a luxury. It was the last thing I expected to miss about England.

 

I’m rapidly approaching the one month mark of my stay, and there are bound to be things that I miss about home- the obvious things, such as family, friends, and my own bed. The day I run out of the Yorkshire tea will be a very sad day indeed. Other things however, I was not anticipating- which leads me onto:

 

5 Things I wasn’t expecting to miss about Britain

 

1) The Weather

 

(See Above)

 

2) The Water

                                    harrogate water

It may sound ridiculous, but growing up, I was always very privilged when it came to tap water. I was raised in Harrogate, a spa town in North Yorkshire. There are two things from Harrogate which have become famous enough to make a name for themselves in the big wide world. One is Betty’s Tea Rooms. The other is Harrogate Spa water. Having lived in London for the past four years, I always feel a little glow of northern pride whenever I see a Harrogate Spa bottle in the supermarkets and cafes. The point of all of this, of course, is the taste. Harrogate water just tastes good, although even the London stuff isn’t that bad. Not so in America. They add something to the water here which makes it taste suspiciously like the childrens’ section in the swimming pool. Even boiling it doesn’t help; I wanted to cry my first morning here when I made myself a cup of tea with tap water. Having a brita filter in England is a slice of middle class snobbery. Here, it’s an essential.

 

3) The Chocolate

 

Likewise, the chocolate. In a country so consumed by consumerism (sorry) it is unfathomable to me that Hershey’s is still the best they can come up with. We were able to introduce some of our American friends to proper English Cadbury’s when we happened to chance upon a British Import shop in San Francisco. I think it is fair to say that their chocolate eating routines were revolutionized by those crunchies and curly wurlys, the likes of which are never to be found in your average american supermarket.

curlywurly

4) The Tube

And London transport in general, even the night buses. I know I am guilty of complaining about it constantly; it’s too infrequent, takes too long, too hot, too cold, too busy, the destination has gone and changed again. However, moving to California has really made me appreciate London’s public transport system, for all its flaws. Everyone drives here, and that’s no exaggeration. Buses and trains and trams all exist, to be sure, but they’re slow, infrequent and absolutely no one that I have spoken to actually knows how to use them. My English friends and I got looks of absolute incredulity when we said we were going to get the tram to the shopping mall, and when I told one of my friends that I walked to the local train station, she genuinely didn’t believe me; “but that’s miles away!” (It took about 20 minutes, the same amount of time I used to take to walk to school.)

tram

5) The Pubscidersanjose

 

This nostalgia began when I went to visit my roommate at work. She’d told me that she worked in a “British Pub Restaurant” downtown, so obviously I was skeptical. We’re in California, how British could it be? I ate my yorkshire flat-cap the moment we walked in the pub, and were hit with that sort of musty, but sweet, tinged with alcohol scent of a true country pub. I don’t drink beer of any kind (usually, as a rule) but even I was impressed that they had more than one type of Ale on tap. Good, cheap pubs here are few and far between. I never saw myself longing for a Wetherspoons- but I suppose stranger things have happened. This coincides with how much I actually miss my job at home. I work in our student pub/bar at University and I really miss its buzzing busyness, it’s sociableness, and, of course, the extra income it provides. Unfortunately my visa says I’m not allowed to work, or I would gladly have offered myself up for a few shifts at the Brittania Pub in Downtown San Jose.

san pedro

In the interest of keeping the peace, to all my American friends, please don’t take offense at this list. I can assure you that I am absolutely loving life in the USA, so much so that when I leave, this post is bound to be followed with a corresponding “Things I miss about America – why did I ever have to leave?” entry.

And all my British readers? Never take the dreary weather for granted. So the next time you’re stranded in the cold on your way to work because the northern line is shut and the bus is half an hour late but you just can’t face the dreaded change to the jubilee line from the piccadilly at Green Park just stop. Take a deep breath. Have a drink of water (from a tap- any tap). Find your way to the nearest pub (it’s bound to be only a few metres down the road), take a bite of dairy milk and think about how lucky you really are.

cable car

Dancing in the streets of San Francisco

Giselle

The past week has been a bit of a reality check for the international students at San Jose State University. Having spent first two weeks here exploring San Jose, justifying our excess expenses on frozen yoghurt, yoga pants and day trips with; “it’s fine- we’re on holiday!”, we suddenly found ourselves checking emails, creating timetables, and getting early nights in anticipation for a day full of classes. Funnily enough, the aim of a study abroad program is not to shop, ski or sight-see, and in order for exchange students to maintain their visa status, i.e. not get kicked out of the country, there’s a minimum class requirement which must be met.

 

SFThis is what I remind myself every morning, Monday through Thursday, as I drag myself out of bed at 6.30. And no, that’s not a typo. One of the biggest differences between American and English university is their working hours. In England, it is dreadful enough to be faced with the notorious 9am lecture; even to hear those words makes the most diligent of students cringe in pain. To look around a 9am classroom is to see an exhibition of puffy eyed students, most barely out of their pyjamas, with smears of last night’s make-up smudged down their face, club wristbands still intact. Imagine, then, our horror at discovering that in America, or at SJSU at least, the earliest classes usually begin at seven o’clock- although half past six is not unheard of. To balance it out, we get Fridays off. Three day weekends all round, until you take into consideration the copious workload for midterms and finals. It’s intense, to say the least.

quidditch

That being said, I’m actually really enjoying it. As a dance student, when I get up at the break of dawn it’s usually for a pretty intensive dance class, which sounds like hell when you’re warm and cosy in bed, but by the time it’s over the physical activity has really woken you up, and by nine I’m ready and raring to go. Early morning ballet is a great way to start the day. The classes themselves are excellent as well, the standard of teaching (so far) at San Jose State has been really high. We’re pushed, to be sure, but in a good way. Dance teachers often come out with corny sayings like “the more you sweat, the better you get” and this certainly seems to be the mantra at SJSU.

This weekend marked the end of my first full week in the American education system. Having had Friday to recover (God Bless America), on Saturday some friends and I decided to take a trip to San Francisco. We spent the daytime checking out the remnants of the Chinese New Year celebrations in China Town, before wandering down to Union Square and Market Street – shopping district, for those who don’t know.

 

china town

 

There’s no other word for it, San Francisco is cool. It’s busy and vibrant, and completely beautiful. It’s full of quirky streets and unique shops, as well as the big names like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. Prosperous without being pretentious. Everyone seemed really laid back and cheerful, there was no sense of the urgency or cynicism that is associated with Britain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a London girl at heart, who gets adequately outraged when people stand on the wrong side of the escalator in the tube, but it’s nice to be somewhere a little more relaxing for a change. San Francisco is a hugely diverse and cultured city, and kind of edgy. It’s a bit like London for Thespians.

heart

 

Earlier in the week, my friend Hannah and I had booked tickets to see the San Francisco Ballet perform Giselle at the War Memorial Opera House. This was definitely the highlight of the weekend. Having spent the past few weeks adapting to the changes that come with moving countries, it was so good to be able to slip back into such a comforting and familiar place. The world of ballet is a bit bizarre for anybody who hasn’t been brought up with it. It’s a sort of unchanging, timeless void where it’s perfectly normal for fairies to attend your christening, or for the duke and duchess to turn up at your house and demand the villagers to dance for them- which they do, unquestioningly. In ballet, if a man jumps out of a haystack at you, it’s like the epitome of romance. Very briefly, Giselle is the story of a peasant girl who turns into a Willie (which in ballet refers to a cross between a fairy and a ghost, not a body part) after finding out that the man she loves is a prince and not a peasant boy. My description perhaps does not do Giselle justice, however the performance that the San Francisco Ballet gave on Saturday night most definitely did. I was blown away by the technique and, crucially, the presence of every single one of the dancers.

town hall

The ballet was spectacular, however Hannah and I came to the unanimous decision that American audiences, on the whole, clap rather a lot. Not just at a Coda or, obviously, in the curtain call, but pretty much at the end of every phrase. In the beginning of the performance, all Albrecht (Giselle’s love interest) had to do was walk onstage to be showered in a round of applause. It’s something that I’ve noticed in class as well, students tend to clap at the end of every class. The first time it happened I genuinely looked around, confused, to see what had just happened to merit this outburst of enthusiasm. By no means is this a bad thing, it can actually be quite uplifting, but for a typically reserved, keeps-her-emotions-to-herself English girl, it’s a completely random and bizarre thing to get accustomed to. Who knows, when I move back to London I might start congratulating students for making it to their 9am lectures, or clapping when someone gives up their seat on the bus to a pregnant lady. I might start a trend.

 

Then again, perhaps not.

tickets

A Taste of Ivy

It’s the end of my first week in California, and already I feel like I’ve been here forever. Get-to-know-you-Bingo is a distant memory (thank goodness), the airplane ride a whole world ago. So much has happened within the past week that I honestly do not know where to start!

Sunset, Lake Tahoe

I suppose the first really exciting thing to happen was that I finally met my room-mate. International students at SJSU arrive the week before the official start of term so that we can have our own orientation week and be shown around the campus, which meant that when I arrived the whole university was like a ghost town. It also meant that I spent the first half of the week on my own in my flat, leaving me to unpack my things and worry about who would occupy the already made up bottom bunk of my two-person room. Given my history of falling out of bunk beds (I was four years old – and carried on sleeping), I was somewhat nervous. Sharing rooms is a big part of American university, much more so than in England, and it seems to lead either to great friends or worst enemies, but nothing in between. I am very typically British in that I am a big fan of my own personal space. A hug too early on in a friendship can be lethal and if anyone dares sit next to me on the bus when there is more than one empty row of seats then there’ll be hell to pay (albeit a very British Hell, which consists of a withering glare and a disgruntled “hrmph”). Because of this however, the tension regarding who I would be living with for the next five months was steadily increasing. Thankfully, I seem to be one of the lucky ones. Alexis, from Sacramento, is friendly, funny and so far, we’re getting on really well. She seems genuinely excited to show me around both San Jose and San Francisco, I think she might feel it’s her duty to educate this alien-like British girl on the delights of “In and Out” and “Target Shopping” (I have no idea either, but I will let you know when I do).

Tram

My English friends and I also went on a trip to the “mall” last week. This was great fun, although the journey there was slightly haphazard. We got off the tram six or seven stops too late and somehow found ourselves in what can only be described as baron wasteland. After walking for about half an hour in the desert we admitted defeat, got back on the tram, in the direction that we’d just come from, and actually paid attention to the stops this time. We ended up having an extremely successful shopping trip!

Macy's

One of the best things about studying abroad is that everything is so new and exciting, you find yourself like a child in a sweet shop, desperately running around wanting to try everything. You’re expected, obligated even, to say Yes to everything. It’d be rude not to right? This is why, on Monday and Tuesday of this week, I found myself packed into a minivan with an overnight bag, about to embark on a two-day ski trip in Bear Valley, Lake Tahoe. It was incredible, one minute laying on a beach in glorious sunshine, the next wrapped up in copious layers of hired ski-wear, racing down the slopes. Lake Tahoe is beautiful, and the lodge we stayed in was completely secluded, in the middle of nowhere with no wifi, but a log fire and bunk beds. It was a bit like the camp in “Parent Trap”.

LodgeBear ValletRoadtrip

Nonetheless, what has really stood out for me among these new and exciting experiences, was my tour of Stanford University, given by a lecturer at the medical school who, luckily for me, also happens to be a family friend. All the Americans who I have met thus far have been extraordinarily friendly, welcoming and generous, and Julie is certainly no exception to this. I was met at Palo Alto Caltrain station and given brunch, along with a tour of the 8000 acres of land that Stanford covers.

Stanford

Now, as a rule, I disapprove of selecting universities just because of their league table rankings. I have studied at two universities in my lifetime, Roehampton and UCL. UCL is currently ranked 4th in the world whereas Roehampton doesn’t even make it into the top 100, yet I can say without hesitation that my experience at Roehampton has been one hundred times better than at UCL. Don’t get me wrong, I made some wonderful friends there, and on the whole I’m sure for some students it’s their ideal place to study. In my personal experience however, I have found Roehampton to be better organized, the lecturers more engaged and more passionate, and overall there is a really good atmosphere of closeness and connectivity among all the staff and students. What matters in selecting a university is that their system works for the individual student; just because something is ranked highly does not necessarily mean it will work for you.

Stanford Grounds

That being said, it is extremely difficult not to fall head-over-heels in love with Stanford. Founded by Jane and Leland Stanford in the late nineteenth century, the University is ranked alongside the eight Ivy League schools as being one of the top centres for education and research in America- and the world. The beautiful thing however, is that all thoughts of rankings, facts and figures melt away simply by walking through the tree-lined campus. If I thought San Jose was big, Stanford is like a city of its own: it has its own art gallery, bell tower, museum and countless libraries. Fountains and sculptures adorn every corner, yet it never feels forced or pretentious, everything fits in quite naturally.

Stanford2

Who knows, perhaps studying at Stanford is just a daydream, and for all I know it might not turn out to be all it’s cracked up to be; if there’s not a course that’s right for me then I like to think I’d stick to my guns and walk away. For the moment, I am more than happy at San Jose State University. Going to the first basketball game of term, it was easy to see that SJSU shares Roehampton’s close-knit patriotism. Everyone was cheering even when we lost 70 points to 35 to San Diego State (who, in our defense, are ranked 7th in California). SJSU is perfect for my semester abroad and excels in the one area where Stanford is found lacking: dance. SJSU’s intensive courses in Ballet, Jazz, Modern and Latin are among the best in the country, and I can’t wait for term to start properly.

Basketball

California Here We Come

                      Not quite where I started from…

“It’ll be just like living in The OC!” One of my friends was heard to cry upon hearing that I’d be moving to California for six months. The trials and tribulations of the rich kids of Orange County were a big part of my late teenage years, so when the opportunity arose to spend my spring and summer term of second year studying at an American university, I jumped at the chance. In my head I pictured driving along the West Coast in a fancy car (ideally with Ryan Atwood at my side), the lyrics of Phantom Planet blaring in the background, egging me on my journey. So I filled out the forms, ticked all the boxes, wrote the dreaded personal statement and a year and a half later here I am: about to start a Spring Semester of Dance and Drama at San Jose State University, California.

Now, I don’t have a very good reputation with diaries. My childhood is lined with half-empty notebooks, where two or three days worth of entries would lament the woes of my 6-10 year old self in the latest smelly gel pen, before being discarded into a desk drawer. For some reason I just couldn’t keep up with who got invited to whose party, let alone the playground politics of cops and robbers. However, I am now 21, a (questionable) adult, embarking on what is possibly the most exciting experience of my life so far. So I’m trading the gel pen for a laptop, and the humble notebook for the big bad world of social media. This blog is primarily a way for me to record my adventures without resorting to driving everyone I know and love insane with countless, constant Facebook updates. Through my writing and my (slightly unreliable) photography skills, I will keep track of the places I go and the people I meet, points of interest of studying and life in The Sunshine State. For whatever reason you’re reading, be it genuine interest, boredom, or if you’re desperately searching for some mindless procrastination when you really should be doing your dissertation, I hope my random observations and inevitable mishaps can be a source of amusement and enjoyment.

SJSU

I have been here for five days now, and am just beginning to settling in. America is BIG. It might sound stupid, or obvious, but I honestly can’t emphasize it enough. According to Wiki-answers, England would fit inside the state of California alone seven times. It’s crazy. So although I was fantasizing about an OC adventure, I am actually a good hour plane journey away from Los Angeles. San Francisco on the other hand, is just next door and as it’s one of the cultural capitals of the world, this is far from a disappointment. Even better, although nowhere near as hot as southern California (San Francisco is north, for those who didn’t know) the weather in January is still on a par with a beautiful English summer.

SFO

The shuttle from the airport, and the whole process of moving into my room is all a bit of a blur. I completely underestimated quite how overwhelming it is to move to a completely different country without your family – especially when exhausted from a 10 hour flight! The trip to Wal-Mart for bedding and groceries that first night was, without doubt, one of the most daunting experiences of my entire life. I thought I must be drunk or hallucinating from exhaustion because everything is so huge! A ketchup bottle the size of my head, and a bag of crisps that I could probably use as a duvet. Rows and rows of multi-coloured cereal and a bucket of sweets so big that it would probably be banned in England. Everything, in fact, was so bright and big that at this stage, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it’d all come to life, singing and dancing like the “Be Our Guest” scene in Beauty and the Beast. Needless to say, it was a relief to get to bed that night.

Ketchup

Thankfully, after a shower, a sleep and a cup of yorkshire brew, I was once again ready and raring to go the next morning. San Jose has such a beautiful campus. Everywhere you turn there’s a statue or a fountain or, my personal favourite, a long row of palm trees. One of the classrooms is even an old red brick church with vines growing all along the outside. Everything is bathed in sunlight and just makes you so happy and excited. The campus is pretty empty right now, as classes haven’t started properly yet, and I can’t wait to see what it’s like when it’s full and buzzing with people. This week is the orientation week for international and exchange students and the itinerary has been absolutely jam-packed. Some of it is really interesting; tours of the campus and downtown San Jose. We got taken for lunch at a traditional american diner, and last night went for a wander to the frozen yoghurt shop down the road. “FroYo” is one of my favourite things in the world, so getting as many flavours and toppings as you like for 3 dollars, I was in heaven. However, this week there has also been far too many of those awkward “get to know you” activities for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, I love people, people watching, and I’ve never been nervous making friends. I am honestly, genuinely a sociable person. But I absolutely hate ice-breakers. There’s something about that contrived “being forced to socialize with fun games and trust activities” that I just find so horrendously cringe-worthy, especially when you know that the majority of the people that you smile and tell your-name-age-and-one-interesting-fact-about-yourself to, you will never see again in your entire life. From an outsider’s view it’s hilarious of course, watching a bunch of people run about like headless chickens, each desperate to win “Get to know you bingo” (the prize was a pencil). Unfortunately, I was not an outsider, and Americans seem to be really keen on this sort of thing, so I gritted my teeth and got on with it.

Church

Luckily, we’re now being left to our own devices a bit more, which means relaxing by the pool, sunbathing and planning what to do with the rest of our time before class starts next thursday. A group of friends and I have already booked a Ski trip in Bear Valley early next week, which I’m sure you’ll hear all about in my next post. There’s so much that I want to get done over the course of the next six months and I’m so giddy for it all to begin. Patience has never been one of my strong points but for the moment, I don’t really have much choice but to take things one step at a time.

 Us San Jose

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