By Li-Ann Smal
Hello everyone! I’m Li-Ann Smal, a Psychology student from Greystones, Co. Wicklow. I’m a third year student living and breathing in the fresh California air in Santa Cruz. I decided to come here because of the sea and the natural surroundings, for the laid-back atmosphere and the banana slugs!
Looking out of the plane window as I flew over the vast expanse of land that is America, I saw many things: roads, mountain ranges, canyons, rivers, lakes, oceans, a big purple splodge on the land that I’m still unsure of. All these places, all these things, all waiting to be explored – by me! Excitement began to take over nerves. My nervousness had been building for a few weeks prior to leaving (will I make friends? Will people like me? What will my roommates be like? What if I get lost? How do I work the washing machine? Mum?), but as the plane surpassed the clouds it really felt like all my worries were for nothing. After an over-expensive sandwich from Starbucks, getting my head trapped in the doors of the BART, a slight freak-out (What am I doing I’m half-way across the world with no one I know ahhhh?!), I arrived in San Francisco. We did some touristy things on Pier 39, saw the sea lions lounging lazily in the harbour, and ate some classic clam chowder (which comes INSIDE a bowl of bread!).
The next day, another girl from Trinity and I headed down to Santa Cruz along the ocean road. The further south we drove, the bluer the skies got, the whiter the sand became, the more the waves crashed. We were unbelievably excited. Driving up into the UCSC campus was like no other college entrance. Masses of parched land on either side of the road, cows grazing, the famous redwood trees began to loom overhead and we were in the forest. At first confused, we looked at each other and wondered “Are we in the right place?” As we continued into the forest, the campus buildings appeared. We are living in the International Living Centre, which is an on-campus apartment block designed for international and domestic students to live together. We are right at the back of campus nestled away into the trees with squirrels, raccoons, butterflies, hummingbirds and families of deer all at our doorstep.
With social mixers for new students almost every night, making friends was ‘hella’ easy (I have picked up some new NorCal slang). Within the first few days, I had made a wonderful group of friends, baked on the beach and gone on two hikes to a lagoon called the Garden of Eden. It being my birthday three days after I arrived, my friend kindly offered to host it in his house off-campus as we weren’t allowed to go too crazy on-campus. Birthday parties are ideal for making friends, which I was glad to discover as I had been worrying I would have to spend my birthday at home pretending it wasn’t my birthday so that no one would expect anything of me. Alas, it was a success; we tried our first taste of the infamous Four Loko and after that it really did get a bit loco.
Once classes began I started to realise just how big the campus is. While in Trinity you can get from Front Arch to the Science Gallery in less than ten minutes, here it could take you thirty minutes to get from one class to another. Luckily, there are many buses that go around campus but you just have to make sure to know where to go. First day of classes looked like a zombie apocalypse of lost souls with Google Maps as their only guide. Once these lost souls get to class, they are truly transformed. That’s how I felt after my class anyway. If anyone is ever thinking of doing Psychology in UCSC, choose a class with Ray Gibbs. Apparently all the Psychology teachers are lively and enthusiastic and Ray certainly lived up to this expectation. With his informality, passion and feeling, everyone wants to be inspired by him and will keep coming back to his fully-booked class. Choosing modules here is much more of a choice than in Trinity. Where at home I have either none or very few to chose from, here I have about 50 module choices, all as niche as you like. There was even a Psychology module on the Hunger Games!
Although the workload is a bit more intense, the whole experience of being here in this refreshing place, with people who revive and inspire me is fantastic! I have so many exciting trips coming up: to San Francisco, an American football game, Arroyo Seco river gorge, and Yosemite. Hopefully my next post will be filled with plenty more adventures!