Editor’s Note: Chris came to us during fall 2008. The Aggie asked him to tell UC Davis his story of how he came here and what his life was like as an exchange student.
My name’s Chris and I’m British. Now let me tell you a story. It was March 2008 and I was about to find out where I would be spending my year abroad. My choices had been narrowed down to the University of California schools, and I’ll be honest, UC Berkeley was top of the list.
Apprehensively I opened the e-mail with the results of my placement … UC Davis. My granny summed up the mood with a shrug: “Never mind Chris.“
The truth is I’d put UC Davis down as a filler option. Few people in the United Kingdom know much about UC Davis – unlike UC Berkeley its academic reputation is still in the making and it’s certainly no big city like Los Angeles, I couldn’t even place it on a map.
But before you get angry and smother me with an Aggie Pack T-shirt I want to tell you how all this changed, how I went from ignorant to Aggie.
I guess it started with the weather. The cliché of a bad weathered Britain is exaggerated but not entirely inaccurate. To have more than a few days of sunshine in a row was a revelation to me, and promised a change for my pale complexion.
Davis itself also made a good first impression. With its green and relaxed downtown area dominated by places to stop and eat I soon found any homesickness cured.
I was lulled into thinking that my problems were a whole world away. Paper due? Exam tomorrow? Just go for a stroll downtown and I promise you it won’t seem too bad.
The campus too felt less like a place of work and more like a recreation area. Soon on I had a relaxed routine of meeting friends at the Memorial Union, grabbing a drink at the Coffee House, playing a game of tennis on the courts and watching the ducks in the arboretum.
Soon enough classes became interruptions in a quaint life of socializing and duck watching. But they too played their part in my conversion. In Britain a degree program is relatively fixed; if you study a subject there is not much opportunity to dabble in another.
Yet at UC Davis, a new world of academia was opened up to me. I was able to take a creative writing course, a painting class, as well as investigate more obscure areas of my subjects of philosophy and English literature.
Even though it felt like a return to high school, with enforced attendance policies and daily assignments, it allowed for a flexibility of study that I had never been offered before.
For the most part UC Davis professors are experts in their fields. I found it particularly strange to be taught by a professor who wrote a book that had been a textbook of mine last year. I was something near star-struck.
Within a few weeks I had fully warmed to the campus and its weekly life. But to say Davis itself offers much outside of studying, genteel recreation and duck watching is misleading for anyone under 21.
Its strength here is in its proximity to so many amazing places and natural wonders, such as San Francisco or Lake Tahoe.
But too soon my return to the UK approaches and I expect it will come like an injection of reality. But after a year of study here it’s fair to say that I might just find Davis to be too nice.
This sentiment isn’t so much a criticism of Davis, but more a comment on the United States in general.
I can best analogize it to the feeling I had when I saw Britney Spears live in Sacramento this April. Sure she looked great shimmying about for all she was worth and the audience was loving it, but it was just a bit too fake.
The emphasis was on surface over substance. The same idea goes for a lot about Davis and its university.
In the midst of a water crisis the university lawns remain watered, during exam week the Activities and Recreation Center is still busier than the library, and when you go for a burger the cashier asks you how you are, but they don’t care, not really.
I heard a rumor when I first arrived that all the homeless people here are given a free bus pass to Berkeley. True or not, it’s clear that Davis is far from a diverse society and likes to keep things clean and orderly.
But for many people it’s this safety of Davis that makes it such an attractive city to live in.
It’s a semi-sterilized bubble that gives us time to study and grow as independent people without our parents having to worry. A place where cops have fewer murders and more bike violations to worry about.
I have no doubt that UC Davis‘ global reputation will continue its rise. In a few years I am sure I will be boasting of my year of study here.
But at the same time I am glad to return to the real world again; where grass goes yellow when it’s hot and the police don’t care if you talk on the phone whilst cycling.
So, all that remains to be said is this: Thanks for the memories UCD, don’t forget to stay in touch.
CHRISTOPHER BONE can be reached at email@example.com.