BY: JOE MATTHEWS
Editor's Note: This is the first entry of a series of essays from Joe Matthews, a foreign exchange student from England studying American Studies. In his essay, we've kept some words in their original English spelling out of respect for the writer's cultural background.
Waking up to a 30 degrees Celsius morning is a seldom seen occurrence in England; the moment the temperature creeps above 20 degrees, anarchy prevails. People abandon their responsibilities in favour of barbequing, sunbathing, walking around shirtless and displaying their lobster-like skin, gaily embracing the good weather in the inevitability that the next day will see a return to routine gloom and drizzle. Closing in on the 2-month mark of my year in California, it has finally become obvious to me that this weather is not going anywhere. In England I associate October with the days getting shorter, crisp autumnal mornings, and like every other month, rain. Here in California the months mean little, torrential rain on the 5th of October, 42-degree heat on the 9th – the weather has become a metaphor for my American life, unpredictable, foreign, sometimes frustrating, but mostly a welcomed change. Another thing that dawned on me approaching the 2-month milestone is the fact that, despite my initial enthusiasm, I have yet to write anything about my time here so far. Before delving into specific details, I would like to offer my initial observations as an English guy in America.
I’ll start by being brutally honest: Americans are a curious breed. For my English friends, the rumours you hear are true, people here really do love your accent and phrases, despite the fact that most people know little to nothing about England or Europe. When people ask where I’m from in England, I usually resign to the simplest answer of, “about an hour and a half from London” instead of enduring the inevitable furrowing of the brow and scratching of the head as I list off counties and cities that, to Californians, probably sound like something from a JRR Tolkien novel. While I still enjoy the occasional echoed impersonation of “trousers” or “bloody hell,” I’ll admit that I’m thankful the phase of having a camera shoved in my face, asking me to say “you what mate?” has passed. All this being said, being surrounded by Americans is a welcomed change to the misery and mild hostility of the average Englishman; while it was an initial culture shock to be approached by strangers and asked how my day was going, I’ve come to realise that, despite my inherent English cynicism and distain for random interactions, I’ve actually grown to like it – although I could still live without such chirpy interactions before I’ve had my morning coffee.
I would like to preface this by saying that I love England. In fact, my national pride has skyrocketed since living out here, but that being said, California makes our lovely little island seems rather dull. Sure, for us southerners, you can make the day trip to London or the cross country drive to the peak or lake districts, but it’s truly incredible living somewhere that, in an hour or so journey, you can be staring at a snow-capped mountain, sweltering in the middle of a desert, navigating the urban sprawl of LA, or laying on a sandy beach watching surfers ride the waves. Don’t get me wrong, England is a beautiful country, but in California there is so much to do and see that at times I feel that 9 months is not enough to see even half of what this enormous state has to offer.
My final, initial observation revolves around when the International department compared the CSULB campus to a city. They certainly weren’t kidding, but to me what makes it seem like a city is not its size, but rather its colourful and expressive community. I doubt there are many universities in England where you would see a religious preacher damning sinners to hell and a dreadlocked artist painting psychedelic interpretations of the university’s landmarks next to a sign reading “Make art not war” within a fortnight of each other. The expressionism, devotion and acceptance of CSULB manifests in everything from LGBTQ groups to the Quidditch club I saw running around during the introductory club fair. To cut a long story short, I feel that I have a lot to immerse myself in, communally and physically, to make sure I make the most out of my time in California – and I hope that writing about my experiences will encourage others to pursue a year abroad and break away from the monotony of their culture, if only for a short period of time.