By James Billingham
One of the first things you do when finding out you have been approved to study abroad is preparation. However, the one thing you can’t prepare for is when your full proof plans go out the window immediately, whether its finding out that you can’t check into your accommodation or realising you have no idea where you are in a city as vast as Los Angeles and this was just day one of a semester long study abroad at UCLA. Adaption is key as you find that the more memorable experiences are the ones that happen by chance.
If you are lucky enough to be doing the program with a group of students you’ll very soon find that time to yourself is no longer an option especially when you are all in the same building and realise your apartment has become the hub for everyone. To put into perspective in my experience the first thing you would do after waking up is unlock the door before a morning shower and nine times out of 10 you’ll come back out to a room of 5 or 6 people who have let themselves, something you don’t miss until its gone.
Attending an American college such as UCLA is more akin to joining a club. Every student has a sense of pride of their college which is otherwise a missing cultural aspect in Australia. You don’t need to be a genius to pick out students as you’ll find every student is consistently adorning apparel with the UCLA logo or the bruin bear mascot. To be recognised by other students whilst wearing the UCLA gear automatically makes you friends and lets you join the club.
Being a ‘basketball college’ the UCLA team are seen as somewhat of celebrities of whom everyone idolises, an outstanding contrast to the invisible university sports teams of back home. Attending a game on campus really puts into perspective what it means to be a UCLA bruin, a packed stadium jeering the apparent sworn enemies of the college USC and within minutes you are cheering as loud as you can as the vibes of the UCLA marching band are impossible to refute. The famous UCLA 8-clap is the highlight of these sporting events where an entire stadium chants and claps in time creating an electric atmosphere to the point where you don’t even realise your team has loss.
A tip for any Australian student travelling to America is to be sure people know you are Australian as for some unknown reason this grants you an all access pass to any event you wish to join. With this being said you will find most people in California although inflated egos are the friendliest people you will meet to the point where you find yourself laughing with complete strangers on a regular basis and this is before they find out you’re Australian.
In regards to the city of Los Angeles you’ll find that there is always a new place to go or experience to try. There is nothing like making your way to breakfast at Denny’s to find every road closed as you watch the president Barrack Obama drive by waving to people even though he’s made you late for breakfast. Every suburb has its own culture and you find it impossible to be bored or to stay in one place. A few places I will recommend include The Last Bookstore – a labyrinth of books, Beverly Hills, Fairfax avenue – the city hub of street culture and art, The Grove – a slice of new Orleans within LA, The Museum of Death – not for the faint of heart, Venice Beach – LA market culture at its peak and naturally the UCLA campus. These are a highlight list of a couple hundred other unforgettable places.
UCLA and the city of Los Angeles is an experience I won’t soon forget and hope to get back to eventually. My program was made possible by CIS Australia who consistently strived to ensure we had the best experience possible whilst also fixing problems we had whenever needed and therefore always maintain professionalism and overall care. I recommend any student who has the opportunity to take advantage of their programs do so and to feel free to get in touch with me for any questions/stories about UCLA.