“Welcome to California!”
7 February 2019
Pablo arrives in America for the start of his year abroad at the University of California. Read about his first impressions of Santa Cruz.
My first day in the United States was interesting, to say the least. One flight, four coffees and three bus rides later, a sleep-deprived and jetlagged version of myself eventually reached San José, where my new flatmates had agreed to pick me up by car. So there I was, waiting by the bus station, wondering about all the things that could possibly go wrong: “What sane person uses Craigslist to find accommodation?”, “That’s it, I’m getting kidnapped by an Albanian mafia, just like in that film by Liam Neeson.” or “What if they don’t share my love for ABBA and we never get to form a deep meaningful connection because of our musical differences?”.
Needless to say, all of these fears and worries vanished as soon as the guys arrived. Blasting really loud hip hop through the car speakers and joking about our cultural differences like old friends, we finally made it to the bohemian town of Santa Cruz, my new home for the next ten months. With miles of pristine beaches, gorgeous redwood forests and a cute downtown area full of cafés, Santa Cruz felt like the right place for my year abroad from the first instant.
To my pleasant surprise (especially since my rent was much lower than the Santa Cruz average and the exorbitantly expensive university halls), my new house was not only liveable but also spacious, comfortable and conveniently located next to a budget supermarket and a massive charity shop - thank God for cheap, second-hand clothing! In addition to that, our living room had direct access to a communal garden, in which all of our neighbours grew their own plants and hosted evening barbecues every now and then. It all seemed too good to be true, like something out of the movies. I could not believe how lucky I’d been!
Shortly after arriving, I realised how badly I had been craving food so my flatmates advised me to go to this Asian place nearby called Charlie Hong Kong. Besides the aesthetics of the eatery and their mostly vegan menu consisting of noodle and rice bowls, everyone at the place was super kind and seemed genuinely happy to welcome me into their community. In fact, within minutes, I found myself immersed in a conversation with complete strangers. One of them, a girl who had just gotten back from a music festival, did not hesitate to give me her bike for free when she found out I was interested in buying one at some point. “It’s no big deal, honey” she said as she gave me her bike lock key “Welcome to California, you’ll love it here!”.
It has only been over a week since that day but I almost already feel like a local: I cycle everywhere, even across our hilly and beautiful campus; I dip into the Pacific Ocean every other day; and my social circle keeps gradually getting bigger and bigger. Yesterday, for instance, me and some friends went hiking to the mountains around Santa Cruz and even swam naked in the river. Classes haven’t begun yet but I have a feeling that they won’t disappoint either. As fun and enriching as my experience in California has been, this is only the beginning and I honestly can’t wait to see what the future has in store for me.