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Politics, Philosophy & Economics at Santa Cruz, University of California, 2006-07
People tend to go abroad for two reasons - either because over there has something they want, or because over here has something they don't. whether you're going abroad to sample the foreign lifestyle, travel, make lasting friends, and learn; or leave your current life behind and do something else for a while, there's nothing as limitlessly rewarding as disappearing off somewhere for a year. I went to the University of California, Santa Cruz. Built onto a hillside around a redwood forest, we're all total hippies. The university has plentiful dining halls, open spaces, glorious buildings and, being an American university, living, teaching, sport and leisure facilities that outrank English universities.
Waking up, I came out of my building and to my right I could see the Pacific. I found the way I wanted to live my life - sport facilities, clubs and associations and so on. I wanted to see what people do at university when they don't drink, and the opportunities are limitless. Paid students organise events every weekend, either involving ice-cream, movies, t-shirt making, sports excursions, travel, costume parties or even quidditch. During the college nights, we ate fine food and saw traditional Japanese drummers, fruit carvers, stand-up comedians and professional magicians (that was the Harry Potter themed one - I made a fool out of myself for asking what a muggle was).
Academically, you'll be working much longer hours than you may have gotten used to in the UK. The American system tends to involve much more face time and participation, with small, intimate classes where the professor will get to know you, and you'll often be graded on participation. At the end of each term, you'll be given the opportunity to choose your next term's classes, and it can be a wild and eclectic mix. You'll frequently meet economics majors taking classes in Tahitian dance and the like. Many of those who had come on study abroad schemes found themselves exhausted over the difficulty of the classes they often found themselves in - make sure you're confident and passionate about your subject! (It's worth adding, though, that Santa Cruz is one of the most academically demanding of the University of California sites.)
If that wasn't enough, at the end of your year you'll have a continent to explore. Even the small part of America that I saw was enough to catalogue as a valuable life experience, and the cheaper cost of almost everything you can think of makes it manageable. The Education Abroad Programme is largely affordable, manageable to get into, and represents an opportunity you may never have again. Do it.
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