Alice - University of California (Santa Barbara)

B. Science
Semester 1, 2016

Academic experience

Spending 2 quarters at UCSB was the best decision I've made in my college career so far. All the UCs are renowned, and being able to experience world-class education and American college life is something I'll be forever grateful for. As a BSc Biomed major, I took Immunobiology (MCDB133), Introduction to Global Studies (GLOB1), and Introduction to Sociology (SOC1) in the winter, and Medical Immunology (MCDB138), Critical Thinking (PHIL3), and Introduction to Economics (ECON9) in the spring. 2 quarters and 6 courses may seem like a lot, but it honestly went by way too quickly, and taking a lighter load of 3 courses per quarter made things quite breezy.

I loved all of my classes, especially SOC1 and MCDB138, and enjoyed learning different things that I usually wouldn't be exposed to at UQ. For example, SOC1 introduced to me a lot about America that isn't highlighted in mainstream media, and in MCDB138, I was able to diagnose hypothetical patients with immunological disorders every week in labs, and approach immunology through a clinical lens (perfect for premedical students). UCSB also offers some very unique courses including wine-tasting, Yosemite exploration, acting, sailing and ballroom dancing; you can really go wild here with electives. Classes are highly interactive, and professors openly welcome student interruptions and suggestions; I would never feel lost in any class because all my professors and teaching assistants were incredibly enthusiastic and willing to help.

The only thing about the UC system is that course availability often exceeds demand, and "crashing" courses is a common practice. Because I didn't meet the prerequisites in the UCSB database for both of my upper division immunology courses, I had to convince my professors at the beginning of each quarter why I wanted/needed to take their particular courses. Although it was stressful, I'm thankful that everything worked out; in lower division classes, however, one might not be so lucky.

Personal experience

I went on exchange not knowing anyone and was honestly worried that I wouldn't be able to adjust. Now, I am so grateful to have a long list of international friends, and condensing the experience I had with them into mere words is so trying. Staying optimistic, and being open to anything and everything really helped me to establish a family of great mates. The people I met had the greatest impact on me, taught me a lot about everything from life lessons to current global issues, and made me realise that academics alone is far less important than being open-minded and reaching beyond your comfort zone. With them I've made overcome some tough moments but also made heaps of incredible memories, including jet-skiing around Lake Tahoe, camping at Coachella, and watching mesmerising Californian sunsets from Isla Vista.

I feel like personally I've matured and become a lot more socially and globally aware, and am able to understand things from the perspective of different people better. Also, being in California where the music scene is huge, I found myself exploring different genres of music from various artists. In order to divert people from the 'party culture', UCSB would throw many free/ low-cost concerts for students, and while I was there they brought in Odesza, Jai Wolf, ILoveMakonnen and The Chainsmokers, among others. Snoop Dogg even played a gig in 2015 for Halloween! A lot of students DJ or play in bands, and there is nothing more relaxing than listening to live music by the ocean. The handiest trick I've picked up while on exchange is probably some conversational Spanish, thanks to a week of Spanish classes and spring break in Mexico. Your personal exchange experience is really what you make of it!

Accommodation

Monument Valley
Monument Valley

I lived on campus in Manzanita Village and shared a small room with 1 roommate. Manzanita houses mainly internationals, sophomores, and athletes who prefer a quieter residence. While it’s not the most social of residence halls, it definitely is conveniently located, being right next to the dining commons and ocean, and very close to classes, campus point, and Isla Vista, the lively student community next to UCSB where most non-Freshman students live. Being able to walk outside in the mornings and hear the sound of waves was the best part about living in Manzanita.

However, to incoming students, I would recommend you find a house or apartment in Isla Vista or Santa Ynez. They're much cheaper than Manzanita because there's no obligation to purchase meal plans, it would be easier to meet people if you have more housemates and fun neighbours, and it's always great to have a lounge room in the house (Manzanita only has a shared lounge space). Isla Vista is always vibrant and loud, especially along the beachside street Del Playa. Santa Ynez is quieter, and lots of exchange students and transfer students choose to live there.

Budget

Living on-campus in Manzanita Village and having a meal plan was very expensive, and with the atrocious exchange rate (1AUD = 0.7USD), I quickly found myself in a financial rut. Eating out is also expensive than you may think, because you must add tax onto everything, and tips if you're at a restaurant. UCSB health insurance is also mandatory, however, instead of purchasing it directly from the university, you can instead waive it with iso.org insurance, which is also approved, for about $500 for 6 months instead of $2000. Public transport within Santa Barbara is free with a bus sticker that you can get from UCSB. Also, a lot of students are part of a rideshare group on Facebook and offer long distance rides to LA, SF etc. for much less than a bus (Greyhound) or train (Amtrak) ticket. Road trips are really the best way to get around and see California and the neighbouring states, where there are so many nation parks and gorgeous highway sceneries. With flights, I would recommend you find a ride to LAX, which is about 1.5 hours from UCSB, and fly out from there. Spirit Airlines is a lifesaver. Overall, budget more than you think you'll need. I spent in excess of $20K because I chose not to hold back on travelling, eating, and music festivals.

Professional development and employability

I think being on exchange really helped me to become more open-minded, socially aware, and tolerant of others, and these are all things that I believe will help me in my career as a prospective MD. I'm also stunned by how much I'm able to squeeze so much travelling into a very short amount of time while also maintaining my studies and social life. While I was there, an often discussed topic, besides the presidential race, was Obamacare. It was interesting comparing how different nations tackle public health according to what their population needs most, and understanding health from a global perspective is something that I'll no doubt have to do in the future. Now, I also feel more confident and definitely a lot more adventurous, and that makes it easier to meet new people in unfamiliar circumstances, succeed at interviews, and stand out in my career.

Highlight

Chichen Itza, one of the New7 Wonders of the World!
Chichen Itza, one of the New7 Wonders of the World!

I loved everything on exchange, and even now it's so hard to condense my experience into words and pick a favourite moment. Near the top of the list though is definitely my whirlwind tour around America after exchange. I saw a lot, learnt a lot, and got a really good taste of how diverse life can be in a single nation, a nation that I love. There's nothing as insane as booking last-minute flights, buses, hostels, and car-rentals with a bunch of crazy mates. Also at the top is definitely a spontaneous weekend at Coachella - that's one more thing off the bucket list! I bought a ticket from another student a week before the actual event and scrambled to get transport and camping sorted afterwards. I'm so glad that everything worked out, and honestly, the stress was absolutely worth it! One more thing off the bucket list was spending spring break in Cancún, Mexico. I had one shot at this phenomenon called 'spring break', and I wanted to do it the American-college-student way. The trip was just incredible, and seeing Chichen Itza, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, was magical. Would recommend 100/10!

Top tips

  • Join the student-run UCSB excursion club. Free trips, camps and hikes every day for members, and free tent, sleeping bag, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, and surfboard rentals!
  • Do travel as much as you can, but don't forget that while travelling can be done over a lifetime, you'll only be an American college student once. Make the most of college life while you're at it! 
  • Budget more than you think you'll need!
  • Join the UCSB Free and For Sale Facebook group for housing options in Isla Vista, cheap second-hand books and other goods, and the UCSB Rideshare page for cheap rides throughout California
  • Get a bike! 80% of students bike around campus, and 20% use a skateboard. The campus itself contains around 14 miles of bike track, and there are bike racks everywhere. Bikes even get priority over cars and pedestrians! You can buy cheap bikes off other students on the Free and For Sale Facebook group.
  • It might be smart to buy a cheap second-hand car while you're on exchange, then sell it after. I had friends who did this and went on mad road trips, and I was begging them for rides all the time!
  • You've got nothing to lose by going on exchange and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone!
Alice - University of California