Sumana - University of California (LA)

Bachelor of Science
Semester 2, 2017

Academic experience

At UCLA, I only took general education courses that counted as electives. At UQ, I study Biomedical Science and initially I wanted to study 2nd year and 3rd year equivalent biology courses. The University of California restricts higher level biology courses and so you must have completed at least 1 year of physics, chemistry, biology and maths. Since I hadn’t done any physics, I decided to take general education courses instead. I personally believe that it was a great decision because it meant that I didn’t have to dedicate as much time to actual coursework as I would for subjects like physiology or anatomy. I took Psychology 15, Earth and Planetary Sciences 3 and Life Sciences 15. I would definitely recommend taking Life Sciences 15 if you want to do a fairly straightforward but interesting course. Professor Phelan is really engaging and challenges your thoughts on the way we live our lives. The other two courses were also introductory level subjects, with the all the exams being multiple choice and the only other assessment being weekly online quizzes or homework.

UCLA has a quarter system which means that it is a lot faster and more intense than a typical UQ semester. If you go in Semester 1 of the UQ year, you will be at UCLA for 2 quarters and if you go in Semester 2, you will be at UCLA for 1 quarter. It was a really different experience in that it was quite easy to fall behind in class and there was no SWOTVAC to catch up on extra study. I found that it was important to get to know your Lecturer or Teaching Assistant (TA) and to find a few people in each of your classes who you can discuss questions or homework with. Also, only one of my classes had recorded lectures so make sure you either turn up to lectures or have a friend who can send you their notes!

Personal experience

I definitely made a lot of new friends (some fellow Aussies too) that I will hopefully keep in contact with in the years to come. I think that it’s important to make both exchange friends and local friends. Your exchange friends will have similar ideas of what their time at UCLA will be like and will want to do more travelling and exploring. However, local people will help show you the bearings when it comes to life at UCLA – whether that is the UCLA traditions or just the local cafes or places to visit. Californian people are amazing and generous, and one of my friends was kind enough to invite me over for the Thanksgiving weekend and she was able to give me the experience of a true American Thanksgiving that I doubt I would have been able to have any other way.

As for places to see in LA, the list truly never ends. There are beaches like Santa Monica, Venice and Malibu, theme parks like Disneyland, Six Flags and Universal Studios (I would definitely recommend the Halloween Horror Nights even if, like me, you aren’t a fan of horror movies), museums like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), The Broad or The Getty Centre and just the classic neighbourhoods of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. Whether it is going to a concert or being part of a talk show audience, you will never be bored, which is something I definitely miss after coming back home. Public transport is not too great but Uber and Lyft are super popular (but can get expensive in the end). Also, the weather is amazing so you will never have to plan around it – it probably rained about 2-3 days the whole time I was there.

That being said, the UCLA campus and atmosphere itself is something you need to make sure you take the time to experience and appreciate. The school spirit and sense of community that they foster is truly unique and the campus is really beautiful. Make sure you go to a football and/or basketball game at least once. Also, join some clubs! If you are interested in volunteering, I would recommend Bruin Hope. This group visits an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico 2-3 times each quarter and you pretty much spend the day playing with the children. I don’t know any Spanish but that certainly didn’t impede on my experience and I really appreciated the opportunity to make the days of these children better. It was really insightful and I began to realise how much I take for granted at home, while these children have little or nothing to call their own. I also joined InterAxon, which is a club where you teach neuroscience to school aged children. I met new people during these events, it wasn’t a very big time commitment and it even helped me revise for my psychology subject, so overall was a positive experience.

As for other travel, I went on a California Coast Trip conducted by the UCLA Dashew Center before the quarter started. Although unexpected, I made some of my closest friends before classes even started on this trip and was able to explore some of the unique places in Cali. I also went on a ski trip after the quarter to South Lake Tahoe. I also visited Vancouver, San Diego, Tijuana (again), and other places in the US to visit family like Dallas, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Washington DC and North Carolina.

Accommodation

I lived on campus in the dorms at Sproul Hall. I stayed in a classic double residence. This involved sharing a room with one roommate and sharing a communal bathroom with all of the people on the floor (about 40-50 other people). If you are interested in the deluxe residence halls, they have a little more space and are air-conditioned unlike the classic halls but this wasn’t too much of an issue especially during Fall quarter. I had a 14P meal plan which basically meant that I could have 14 meals a week but that these meals could be spread out throughout the whole quarter. So, I could swipe into the dining halls or cafes multiple times in a certain meal period (e.g. lunch, dinner) or if I skipped a meal, it would carry over to the following week. I picked this meal plan because I planned to eat food from other places or not be on campus during the weekends so I only needed 14 meals per week. I also organised to buy a small fridge with my roommate so I could have milk in my room and eat cereal for breakfast. 

I really enjoyed my time at the residence halls because I had easy access to campus and I was able to go visit the friends I had made really easily over a meal. You get the true “American college experience” which you wouldn’t be able to normally have at home. It also takes off the pressure of cooking and cleaning for yourself, which allows you to have more time to go and explore LA! The food itself is really good with a lot of options on campus. If you don’t want to stay on campus, I had other friends staying in a co-op or in apartments in Westwood, which they enjoyed and was cheaper.

Costs

Overall, I believe that my exchange cost around $12 000 - $13 000 (all in USD). Staying in the dorms itself cost about $5000. Travel and shopping cost around $8000. This includes all the flight tickets as well as other transport, entertainment, trips and food. California is not cheap and you’ll find that most things will be a similar price to home. Even eating out can be pretty expensive. I used a Citibank account so that I could just use the same account in the US and in Australia. Also, take advantage of all the scholarships and loans made available by UQ!

Professional Development

I believe that as a result of exchange, I have been able to develop a more well-rounded view of the world. UCLA has a world class reputation for everything from its research department and medical school to its athletic programs. This really opened my eyes to the opportunities that I have all around the world and taught me to look more globally for future educational and career options. The slight cultural differences between two relatively similar countries, Australia and the US, were also really brought to light through the conversations that I had with different people. Whether it was the education system differences or just lifestyle aspects that were unique, I have a greater appreciation for the small things that make both countries so special. 

Exchange was also the first time that I had lived away from home for such a long time and this taught me independence and confidence in myself. Putting yourself in a new country with no friends and not really understanding how everything works is really daunting and I was surprised with how well I dealt with this challenge. I learnt to embrace these difficulties and met new people who I wouldn’t normally hang out with at home. This being said, I also learnt more about patience and how to interact with different types of people. Exchange really pushed me out of my comfort zone but I don’t regret a minute of it and am so glad that I was fortunate enough to have had this experience. 

Highlight

Easy. The people that I met. Without them, my exchange would have been completely different and I am so glad that I was able to make such amazing friends. Secondly, just the experience of living in LA was something that I will never forget. It is such a special city that is like nowhere else.

Top tips

• Just go for it! I know that in my first semester of uni I had the idea of going on exchange in the back of my head but I never expected it to be as amazing as it was
• In saying that, don’t have any expectations of what you think an exchange will be like. Take it all in as it comes and try new things
• Save up your electives! The last thing you want to be doing on exchange is spending all your time studying and it is much easier to get electives approved
• Do your research before and make a list (or Google doc) of all the things you want to do because time will run out pretty quickly
• Try to rent your textbooks from Amazon which will be much cheaper than buying them (especially if you are not going to be using those textbooks again). As a UCLA student, you will get free Amazon Prime membership for 6 months (and Hulu as well), which includes free 2 day delivery
• A lot of UCLA classes have extra credit activities which can be as simple as turning up to class or visiting one of the many Los Angeles Science Museums (which you should do anyway because they are amazing) and they can definitely help bump up your grade
• Use Bruinwalk to look up course/professor reviews for your classes
• Go shopping! Outlets are definitely cheaper and Black Friday sales are great
• If you are planning a road trip, I can recommend using the app Turo for car hire and of course AirBnB for accommodation
• Get Yelp to find restaurants nearby
• Get the UCLA Mobile App for dining hall menus/activity levels, a map of campus, events on campus, etc.