Life in the Golden State: from the Undie Run, School Pride and the LA food scene, to patriotism and racism in the US…

Emmanuel is a Film Studies student at Queen Mary who studied abroad at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) as part of his degree programme last academic year. He is one of our Global Opportunities Ambassadors & shares some of his experiences with us below.

UCLA is a great university. It’s located in the amazing city of Los Angeles, in the amazing state of California. There’s a plethora of exciting things to do, and living and studying in a different country with different values gives you a larger and holistic view of the world. So, of what I learned, where I went, and what to do to make the most of your time abroad…

American universities are steeped in tradition, so don’t be afraid to participate. You’ll find school spirit quite pronounced as they have their own chants, school colours and mascots. UCLA’s mascot is the brown bear, with students known as ‘bruins’. Our school colour is blue and gold, clashing with the (poorly imitated!) red and gold of our rivals at USC (University of Southern California). The rivalry involves campus pranks, kidnapping mascots and events like the ‘Beat ‘SC Bonfire’ where old, red clothes are burned as a lead up to the games which cannot be missed! I went to the first derby at the Rose Bowl and it was an incredible night!

Other traditions include the Undie Run. In finals week, to offset the stress and anxiety of exams, thousands of students run through campus in their underwear. It sounds crazy and I was sceptical, even while leaving the house half naked. But as we got closer to campus, we heard noises and soon saw hordes of students in their underwear, running and shouting to campus. It was one of the most exhilarating things I’d ever done and thoroughly eased the stress of exams.

Because it’s so big, California holds nearly every climate imaginable – so take advantage. A beach is always nearby and yet if you drive a couple hours north of the state you can ski at the amazing Big Bear resort. Then in eastern central California, you have the amazing views of Yosemite, one of the largest national parks in the world and southeast you can see Coachella Valley near the beautiful, California desert. So, while the beach is a fun place, make sure to see all that California has to offer.

And now we get to the food where you’ll also be spoilt for choice! Because it’s such a melting pot of cultures, there’re so many great foods to try. But, instead of drowning you with the myriad of choices, here’s some restaurants that hold a special place in my stomach.

  1. THH Sandwiches and Coffee. This was one of the first places I visited and remains one of the best. My housemate, also my guide, greeted me to a banh mi sandwich and if you’ll kindly pardon the hyperbole, it simply changed my life. The freshly baked baguettes are topped with shredded pickled carrots, fresh cilantro, jalapenos and daikon radish and it’s these key ingredients, these unsung heroes that enrich the meat (and vegetarian options) selected.
  2. Howling Rays. Now, Howling Rays is more an experience. While they make an incredibly succulent chicken, it’s the ostentatious customer service that hooks you. Howling Rays is among LA’s most famous restaurants and so like any LA hotspot, we had to wait in line. A long line. We arrived in the morning and didn’t eat till evening! A truly grueling wait. But once we were in, and treated to delectable food, the wait was quickly erased from all our memories. The hosts were caring, energetic, supportive – they knew the wait was long and made it worth the while!
  3. The Original Farmer’s Market. Technically, I’m cheating cause the Farmer’s Market isn’t one restaurant but over 100 different grocers, and food stalls, but every single option will keep you wanting more. The market was a stop on the school’s LA bus tour, where we saw several attractions around the city.

However, more than just attractions and restaurants, LA is part of the bigger cultural system of America and so a few observations are worth noting.

However, more than just attractions and restaurants, LA is part of the bigger cultural system of America and so a few observations are worth noting.

First, patriotism pervades American culture. This may seem obvious, but it was interesting (to say the least) when viewed up close. On the beach, I saw a group playing football when one remarked, to a bad catch, ‘You call yourself an American?’. I don’t know whether it was a serious question, but I can’t imagine the British version of that remark. Another instance happened in school when my lecturer (unbeknownst to me) began questioning the patriotism of her students. Like school pride, national pride is prevalent and is not just vocal but visible as you can’t go far without seeing an American flag.

Second, racism in America is real. I didn’t encounter any racism on campus, but I was witness to a lot of situations with police. One night, while leaving a party, police showed up in droves, questioning three black students for no apparent reason. They were on the floor, hands on their heads, face to the ground, surrounded. Multiple cop cars and several cops stood over these black students. And after all the commotion, they were released. The students could not explain the third degree, and nor could any witness at the scene. For all the warnings of LA gang culture, the only threat I perceived were police.

However, despite the racial conflict, LA has an incredibly diverse community. It is a melting pot of cultures, races, identities and beliefs and the open-minded, liberal and progressive Angelenos enable this range of diversity. And this ethos is carried by UCLA. There are societies and clubs for every activity imaginable and you’ll meet people from every walk of life.

If you’d like to get in touch with Emmanuel, please submit this form here and we will put you in touch with him to discuss all things study abroad; from applications to living Stateside!

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