I studied for a year at the University of California Santa Barbara. All the myths are true; the streets are lined with palm trees, the sun shines from dawn to dusk and everyone looks like they just emerged from a modelling catalogue. However, what made my year at UCSB unique was the time I spent living at the Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative.
The SBSHC consists of five houses and provides low-cost cooperative housing regardless of gender, race, social, political, or religious affiliation. As we own the house, we are responsible for the running and upkeep of it and the community. The best part is that we had no landlord!
As I manoeuvred myself and my numerous bags out of the taxi on arrival, I was struck dumb by the sight of Newman, the oldest and largest co-op. I was confronted by a yellow two-story beach house, painted to look like cheese. The outside patio was covered with student mess: empty wine beer bottles, plates, ashtrays, and each window had a different flag; the pride flag, the Mexican flag, the Egyptian flag, and the Albanian Flag. The inside was decorated with multi-coloured murals made by the residents. I fell in love with the house instantly standing there on the pavement. I was lucky enough to walk straight into a ready-made community and found myself a second home, halfway across the world.
Every day was a new adventure. In my first week we climbed up on the roof of the Social Sciences building. A few weeks later we all ran to the beach at 5am, dressed for a Mad Hatters Tea Party. Days were spent camping in El Capitan, 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara, with nothing but sleeping mats and blankets. We played frisbee on the beach as the sun set and cooked burgers and hot whiskey on an open fire. Coming home from class everyday never disappointed.
I lived in IV which was an exclusively student town. You would rarely see someone younger than 17 or older than 29. There were a few bars, many restaurants and a house party on every street. The party street, DP, was constantly buzzing from “daygers”, beer pong tournaments, backyard gigs and toga parties.
I often took day trips into Downtown Santa Barbara. It was 20 minutes away on a free bus. State Street was lined with shops and restaurants, leading straight down to a long, white beach lined with palm trees. The majority of my year was spent travelling in Southern California (So-Cal). We were only a few hours from Los Angeles, a sprawling metropolis, diverse to say the least. On one hand, you have Hollywood Boulevard, thronged with tourists, failed actors in superhero costumes and aspiring rappers selling their CDs. On the other hand, you have the arts district, with beautiful murals, quiet streets and old warehouses turned into cafés, restaurants and art spaces. My favourite journey was through the mountain ridges to get from Santa Barbara to Ojai. Twisting roads through a massive cavern of blue, black and yellow rock, majestic against the orange sun. Ojai was a tiny Californian town, with sandy-coloured, low-lying buildings, an outdoor book shop and my favourite café The Farmer and Cook. We would then travel on to Ventura, a busy town where all the houses were set into the side of the hills. This is a trendy, young person’s town with bars, restaurants and the best thrift shops for miles.
Every evening I walked to the look-out near our house and watched the sunset, pink and orange exploding over the skyline, bringing with it excitement for the next day in paradise. It truly was the most bizarre yet affirming time of my life and I would recommend it to anyone.