Some differences between UCSD and Edinburgh

Once again, doing my best impression of a broken record, another week has flown by! We are now four weeks into the winter quarter, and that is something I find very hard to believe, possibly because in comparison to last quarter the work has not been set at a consistent level. One week there is homework, another week the lecturer doesn’t feel like it, and so on. Now, since I’ve possibly digressed a bit these last few weeks from the task of being informative about UCSD, here are just a few bits of practical interest that might be worth knowing so there are no surprises about the American experience.

One of the nice things about UCSD is that the gyms on campus are free for registered students. Now, I haven’t made anywhere near as much use of this as I should have done, but it isn’t too late. I finally made the effort for the first time last Tuesday when I went for a quick session with Nicole. I was pleased to see that I could still run a 5:45 mile, on one of the running machines making up an impressive array along the mirrored wall. I almost fell over a few times though, due to being distracted by the volleyball game going on down below. I don’t have much interest in building up my upper body on the weights (this is dead weight in endurance road cycling) but you would be more than catered for in this department also. One of my primary stumbling points to going was that I assumed it would be insanely crowded, but at 7pm on a Tuesday it was very quiet indeed. There were only a handful of other people there so it was nice, relaxed and not too hot and sweaty. Of course, there is also the benefit that it isn’t freezing when you step outside to walk home!

The weather this past week has been fantastic. There has not been a cloud in the sky all week, with the brilliant Azure blue skies that we come to expect from the California that Hollywood wants us to see. The temperature has been consistently somewhere between 20°c and 28°c during the day (even at 8am!), and at night it remains warm, just dropping to a balmy 16°c or so. Long may this continue! Although I joked that I would be going on an 18 month summer holiday, I didn’t really think this would come true. How glad I am that I was wrong though!

One thing that I have which is quite frustrating though is the drinking age. I understand why they do it, as for the freshmen and sophomores things can be more easily controlled, particularly in comparison to some things I remember from Pollock Halls in 1st year.  Although I am by no means a big drinker myself, and apart from the odd one every now and then I’m quite happy without it, I find it frustrating that it makes things just a bit quiet on campus. It’s not just on campus though, even in La Jolla, unless you want to go to a shady sort of club there are very few options. It’s particularly annoying as I am now 21. For instance, in Edinburgh clubs and societies can meet up in Teviot, or one of the many bars in the city in the evenings. At UCSD though, there is nothing like that. We have one bar right out in the far corner of campus, and this is always empty as very few people on campus are over 21.  There isn’t really any sort of replacement for the bar as a place to meet up, and so people don’t really meet up in the evenings. If you like your parties, this is where I-House probably comes into its own, as they seem to have several things going on each and every night that need to be broken up by the campus security. I would venture to suggest that outside of I-House, it is far more like a slightly lenient boarding school than what we would consider a university experience.

Although everyone is very kind, friendly, open and seemingly laid back here, (things that I will really miss next year) there is no doubt that everyone is also very selfish in their desire to do well. Work always comes first, and more often than not they know exactly what they want, whether it be course admission or information, and they will do anything, occasionally to the point of being awkward, to get it. I get a bit uncomfortable if this ever happens because it seems rather pushy, and it “isn’t really cricket”. The ‘hanging out’ culture also takes a bit of getting used to. People you hardly know will act like your best friend for a few hours, and then you won’t see them again for at least another 6 weeks. This happens a lot!

The urge to demonstrate ones intelligence is also very evident. I may have mentioned before about the ridiculous questions that get asked in lectures, to use but one example of when someone can’t help digging themselves a hole as they try to justify a confusing and outrageous comparison of vibrations with Taylor series. Well, this is something you need to be prepared for, and not thrown by. I spent the first few months here in awe of the intelligence of some people in my Aerodynamics and Heat Transfer classes, since they asked questions that went completely over my head. Now I’ve got to know these people a bit better, I know that they have no more of an idea of what they were asking than me. There is just the need to try and demonstrate, erm, ‘one-upmanship’, and I guess this has been drilled into them from school and society. Just a heads up.

As a student from Edinburgh, not only will you on a par for all the fourth years here, but if you work hard you’ll also prove it by getting some super marks!

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