My flight to the States felt much shorter than expected and surprisingly, I was able to sleep most of the way - even with a crying toddler in the seat in front of me. Despite my rest on the plane, I arrived at LAX feeling physically exhausted but mentally ready to take in everything about my new environment. I expected there to be one big moment where I realised I had travelled halfway around the world to some strange foreign land.. That did not happen. Instead, since my arrival, I have had many moments where the social and cultural differences between the USA and NZ dawn on me. I must admit, however, that it is much more similar than I had expected before my departure.
During my stay in LA, I was lucky enough to spend time exploring the tourist hot-spots while my family where at work, but I also got the opportunity to get off the beaten track a bit. Venice Beach was certainly a highlight, it was exactly like it's reputation! I visited with my uncle and we cycled along the beachfront up past Santa Monica, which was incredible. I did note the difference between these affluent areas and downtown LA. I was very shocked to see the very obvious issue of homelessness all around me. It seemed that the places I enjoyed the most were simply sheltered from his harsh reality, but I am glad I got to see it firsthand before beginning my studies. I spent my last few days camping with my family and their friends at Jalama Park, which is a raw coastal area north of Santa Barbara. It was incredible, I have included photos so that you can see where I was staying. It was incredible to get away from the city and spend the evenings under the stars, searching for famous constellations and getting to see the milky way.
The culture shock didn't really kick in until I arrived at OU. Everybody has been very friendly and welcoming so far, so that has helped a lot. However, there have been moments where I have to remind myself that certain things are not wrong, they are just different. I've been able to travel a bit, I went to Atlanta for a music festival with my friends (where my phone was stolen unfortunately) and camping in Wichita Mountains - they are beautiful! Heading off to Miami next week for Thanksgiving break with some friends and then I will be spending Thanksgiving day with my OU Cousin (an American buddy up system) and her family.
My courses are very interesting. They don't necessarily have a Public Policy department, so my papers are in Political Science, Cross Cultural Management, International Business and Italian here. It's very different to home, as we have much smaller and more frequent lectures here. I am not sure yet which option I prefer, but I certainly seem to be going to my classes a bit more here! They are quite efficient and although they seem very strict in the first week, all of the Professors are really understanding and tend to change deadlines frequently. That was something that suprised me a lot, because at home my lecturers tend to be very strict on exact times and dates of hand ins. American students also seem to be a lot closer with their Professors, I suppose it is more of a student - tutor relationship like at home. As such, they often feel very comfortable arguing their grade even when they don't necessarily put a lot of work into the assignments! I suppose it is because the grading system is a lot harder here.. a 50% C at VUW is usually between 60-70% here depending on the class.
It's definitely very interesting learning about American politics and the similarities between their system and ours. I am focusing on Superannuation (Social Security) for my final paper, which is quite eye opening. I have to admit to having quite a clouded view on American politics, but as I learn more about it, the whole policy system seems to be very similar to New Zealand actually.
Hope you are all doing well and enjoy your Thanksgiving function! Thank you again for your support, without it I am not sure that this entire experience would have been possible.