Last year I wrote an article for The Mancunion’s ‘All Abroad’ feature, discussing the beginning of my year at the University of California, Los Angeles. I was lucky enough to spend one year basking in the sunshine, taking a plethora of classes and socialising with an amazing group of people.
Then in June 2012, it all came to an end, by September I was back in Manchester for my final year. While I enjoy life up North, returning to Manchester has been a bit of a come down. Yes I have missed the Northern honesty (everyone in LA was uncontrollably happy to meet me even though they knew nothing about me) but listening to my lecturers talk at me for two to three hours just does not have the same effect as it did in LA. In the ‘City of Angels’ I was able to take classes on the history of African American music, black freedom narratives and one of my Professors, Reverend James Lawson, had worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.
At the neighbouring University of California, San Diego Riccardo Monfardini took a public speaking class and Josh Malkinson found his digital photography class ‘refreshing’ as it was so different from his Psychology degree. I can definitely see where Josh is coming from, as the limited choice of classes I can pick for my American studies degree means that I am always left disappointed with one or two of my selections.
On top of that, my UCLA lecturers were always passionate and enthusiastic about their subjects. I enjoyed Professor Dale Tatum so much that I picked his class every quarter (of course they were all on different subjects). Tatum was so unafraid to speak his mind that he caused one pupil to storm off during a heated debate, something you would never see at this university. This outspoken nature of American students is almost alien to their Mancunian contemporaries. I have been in more than one class where the pupils seem completely disengaged and the lecturer is struggling to even get an answer to a simple question, let alone stir emotion. I am not sure if it is the depressing weather, or if people just do not find the classes that interesting but I miss the boldness of that guy who just walked off when he felt that Tatum was not letting him make his point.
You are also able to build much closer bonds with your teachers. Now this all depends on whose class you take (so if you are heading to California this year and you end up hating your teachers please do not blame me). However, I was lucky enough to be asked to join a class on Black Power ideology during my final quarter. Professor Mary Corey had hand-picked fifteen students from her Winter American History class based on our grades. After our final session together she invited us all back to a party at her home in Beverley Hills and it was so amazing I actually cried when it was time to leave. Now while that may have been due to the five Coronas I had drunk that night, I was genuinely upset that not only would I be leaving for London in a few days but also I would never get to go to another of Corey’s lessons or see all of my classmates together again. Think of the last time you cried because the semester was over, and I do not mean tears of joy.
However, not everyone has such great memories of studying abroad. My friend Michael was ‘robbed at gunpoint while studying in the US’. Although this must have been traumatising, Michael told me that he was ‘moving to Chicago next year to start [his] PhD’. His experience highlights the importance of keeping safe while in another country and recognising that the American culture is very different from British norms and values. A lot of large American cities have areas that are a no-go for tourists, for example Skid Row in Los Angeles. But if Michael can get over what happened to him then his year abroad must have been worthwhile.
So just to clarify, I’m not bashing The University of Manchester or the city itself. Some of you may even be questioning my patriotism. But I do recognise that Manchester definitely has its plus points: a great night life, charming people and a comforting familiarity. Living and studying in Los Angeles, on the other hand, gave me the chance to discover exciting things every day. We do not have beaches a mile down the road, the Hollywood sign a hike away or a very attractive football and basketball team on campus. So if I was forced to choose it would be UCLA all the way, but Manchester, I still love you too.