Why my semester abroad in San Diego sucked

So a couple of weeks ago I came back from my semester abroad. Never in my life have I been this happy about returning to Europe, and I didn’t think I would ever qualify as a person that wanted to leave their exchange destination. Especially when said destination is San Diego, CA.

Just to clarify, I swear there is no typo in the title. It s-u-c-k-e-d. I didn’t expect to get a spot in San Diego when I put it on my list of partner universities last year. Honestly, it was an intuitive thing to do, I mean who the hell wouldn’t want to live in Southern California? Also, my logic always goes “The further away from Europe the better”- thanks to my European passport I can move to different countries freely without having to go through a bureaucratic maze or applying for visas. So- it didn’t make sense not to put San Diego on my list.

In retrospective, I had been the only person I can remember that hadn’t been nervous about their semester, and it had never occurred to me that it could potentially suck. All the things people typically worry about, from finding a place to finding friends to becoming homesick, I absolutely had no doubt that I would be fine. Things always work out. I did expect some difficulties but considered them surmountable, like not having a car or living far away from campus. But in theory these are problems to which there are alternatives. I really wasn’t worried. But… I should have known better. Apparently I hadn’t considered the downsides of moving back to America at 22.

My semester abroad consisted of being surrounded by kids my age who, upon turning 21, finally got to break loose from the shackles of their homes, leaving behind their over-protected lives, and live life without mommy and daddy telling them what time to get home. Kids in the U.S. can’t wait to graduate from high school just so they can go loco in college. Meaning, the top priorities for them are getting high, getting stoned, getting drunk, and getting laid. True story. I know, I know. It’s a cultural thing. It might even be an East Coast-West Coast- thing. But this is why San Diego was a poor pick. San Diego State University, as I found out shortly before my departure, is proud of its reputation as number-one party school in the United States. Student life is literally being reduced to drinking, smoking, doing drugs, having sex, and playing beer-pong (Have you ever played it? Did you manage to play it for longer than 30 minutes? If yes then I admire your endurance and your tolerance for boring things. You’re a brave one).

Now the problem was, I don’t drink. Which, apparently, made me ineligible to have fun in the presence of most people. “What do you mean you don’t drink?” “Why not?” “You mean you don’t drink… a lot?” … I also have a boyfriend. I am not interested in hooking up with random frat boys, or anyone for that matter, the whole pretending I’m all cute and interesting, and acting like I am special, or “different”, or “not like other girls”. Usually I get along better with guys because they are less serious than girls. But in San Diego most guys that talk to you have some kind of ulterior motive. They don’t want to get to know you. They don’t want to listen to you. They don’t want to talk to you. Then it typically goes like this: “So… do you have a boyfriend?” “Yeah.” “…then what’s the point of talking to you?!?” …-thanks.

Basically what sums up my semester in San Diego were nights out with people willing to spend stupid amounts of money just to get hammered, and then do things they pretended they’d regret the next day. But in reality they don’t, because they want to have crazy stories to tell. After a night out my housemates would brag about how much fun they had the night before because they couldn’t remember anything. Which is exactly what I don’t understand, because I prefer making sustainable memories I will remember, without people having to tell me what I did, and with whom. So my only regrets after coming home from a night out were having set foot out the door in the first place. All that was left for me to do was to quietly mourn the loss of precious time wasted and dollars spent, weeping myself to sleep in the early morning hours. (This is not precisely what happened but an accurate description of what it felt like.) Also, drinking and driving obviously became an issue. My alarm bells definitely went off when an acquaintance bragged about the fact that he wasn’t able to remember driving home the night before. Needless to say at some point I decided not to go out at all anymore.

What I experienced in San Diego is the epitome of everything I hate and have no understanding for. The student life I was confronted with was without any form of substance (no pun intended). The “friendships” I observed from afar rested solely on who has the sluttiest stories to tell, who can get the cheapest weed, and who can put you on the guestlist of the new club. People in Southern California seemed to me like they use each other all the time. There are so many kids our age that are so reckless and lack decency it honestly made me wonder what our generation has come to. And my semester abroad is not the first time I noticed this about people my age.

Among the highlights I count leaving San Diego and going back to Virginia. I mean fair enough, I went on road trips which definitely were worth their while, saw dolphins, got to go to a couple of good shows and I made three really good friends. But this just isn’t what you’d expect from your semester abroad.

I know that your semester abroad is what you make of it. And it’s not that I wasn’t motivated to meet people. I am extremely approachable. It’s just that at some point you notice you don’t click with many people. And I don’t like faking interest, or fun for that matter. That’s when you start appreciating the hell out of your current friendships, and relationships. I always feel overwhelmed when I think about just how huge of a miracle it is to have met my best friends, not to mention my boyfriend. It is an extremely rare phenomenon to really, and I mean really connect with fellow humans. But if it happens, it is so pure and wonderful and I just think we need to hold on to it.

So in the end, looking back, I really wouldn’t have changed anything I did given the situations I was put in. I can’t say I have regrets about how it went. It just didn’t work out for me and I know why. For now I am done with the West Coast, but I am also aware it could have gone differently had I met different people. When it comes down to it, and we all know it, the people are all that matter. And that’s why I am in no way attached to San Diego, CA but will always have reasons to go back to Richmond, VA. And right now there is no place I’d rather be than Maastricht, Limburg.

14 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    Great post, it’s nice to hear someone who recognizes the stupid culture here, it’s not just San Diego, it’s nationwide. My wife and I don’t drink, do not like bars or clubs, and don’t do drugs, and that’s rare here in this generation especially. We have friends in Berlin, and we were there for a wedding, and I would have to say that drinking is toned down a bit more although I had to drive a few drunk Germans home from the wedding, but they were not belligerent by any means, it was a good thing I used to have a 78 Mini Panel Van with right side drive and stick though! Anyway just glad there are other good people out there that value solid friendships and meaningful sober experiences 🙂 Happy 2014!

  2. AN
    AN says:

    Very accurate. And if you think San Diego is bad, try Chico. Chico is where all the college kids who can’t afford Southern California end up. And to make matters worse, there’s absolutely *nothing* to do in Chico except party (unlike SD which has the beach, outdoor recreation, and the amenities of a city). It’s become so bad in Chico that little gang banger high school punks from the Bay Area will drive three hours to Chico because of the open house frat parties.

    Thanks for the perspective on Virginia and Europe. I feel like there’s something extremely wrong with the social environment in California, and that unfortunately conflicts with the desire to want to live there for the good weather and industry.

  3. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    I’m sorry that you had such a bad time in San Diego. Life is hard for any of us young adults pretty much everywhere in the United States who want to have fun without alcohol involved. I’m a San Diego native currently living in Savannah, Georgia, and it seems like all my roommates want to do is drink and party. It’s definitely not just a San Diego thing. Anyway, I think you would have enjoyed your time in San Diego more if you did your study-abroad at UCSD. It’s definitely a more academically-minded campus with much less of a frat-boy mentality.

    I personally love San Diego, and it’s for the same reason that you love Richmond: the people. I love hiking and water sports too, so there’s that.

  4. MMN
    MMN says:

    I must compliment you on your very well written and thoughtful dissertation on San Diego. Although I am of a different generation, I am stuck in San Diego and baffled at how I cannot find anything worthwhile about this place and the people. You beautifully articulated the shallowness of the people and mind set. Those who seek
    a deeper perspective in life and pursue personal growth and integrity will be sorely disappointed in San Diego.
    This area lacks charm and connections between people are rare and shallow. Thanks for exposing this and perhaps others may be saved from having wasted time here due to your expose.

  5. Jeremy Westbrook
    Jeremy Westbrook says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. I have many of the same feelings. I do indulge in cocktails but I have do so with restraint; I do not like feeling out of control. San Diego seems like an island sometimes, not the nice sort either. If you don’t drink, you’re left with a few minor museums, so dusty trail hiking and beaches polluted with sewage from TJ (and probably some of our own too). The weather is alight but the cost of living is so high that one must cling to that to justify living here. I’m more of a cold weather person myself so, San Diego just sucks. My partner and I are hoping to leave the city soon. Another note, I recently welcomed a medical student from Germany, he’s doing an observation rotation at the medical center where I work as a program coordinator. I warned him about many of the things you describe in your post (this was before I read your post). I told him about how people here drink too much, behave very poorly, are rather poorly educated and have vulgar manners overall. I had to tell him that a 24 year old San Diegan is not his equal in education or maturity. I meant every word and having lived in Europe myself for 5 years, I know what I’m talking about. There certainly are some good people in San Diego but they are few and far between (typically isolated in the suburbs). And public transportation? Don’t get me started, it’s just more suck. My summary of San Diego: It’s great for rich people but it sucks for everyone else. 😉

  6. Joey
    Joey says:

    I am so glad I found this post, I am a transplant from NYC, living in SD now 12 years. My career has blossomed out here, but nothing else. I find myself increasingly isolated because of the lack of class. I am gay in Hillcrest and if you want to see shallow, spend a night at one of the many clubs on University Ave. Lots of pumped up muscle queens with about 3 words in their vocabulary. You can stand in a crowd and feel like a lamp post. I was wondering why no one was talking to each other and realized the amounts of drugs that they take, and that is just to get out the door. No one has money or motivation to be better. No culture, no follow through with anything. I am saving up to get out very soon. Thankfully I make great money, maybe I can tele- commute from a friendlier city with substance, even Detroit is looking good at this point.

  7. Visitor
    Visitor says:

    Wow!! I 100% agree with you. I moved to San Diego for a new job and it has been one of the worst decisions of my life. I’ve lived in a variety of cities and, unfortunately, San Diego has the worst people I’ve ever met. It’s kind of sad because this could be an amazing city, but when you’re constantly surrounded by superficial idiots, it tends ruin the entire experience. I’ve even lived in Orange County, CA, and the people there have more substance than San Diegans. Who knew!?

    I never thought I’d miss living in the south (or midwest) but I’m counting down the days until I can return and be surrounded by “normal” people. And, for the record, your experience would not have been any better if you went to UCSD. SDSU may be full of drunks but UCSD is full of competitive, overachievers with no personality. Seriously, I walk around their campus sometimes and it seems like everyone is in a daze; no one talks to eachother. So weird!!

  8. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    San Diego is the most superficial place on earth. I was there for 5 months and left with absolutely no friends at all. That is not like me at all. I’ve never been in a place where I absolutely did not connect with anyone. It’s like a black HOLE. It was the worst place I’ve ever lived. There is a little gem called Poway about 15 miles north of San Diego, and that place is neat, but do not risk going outside Poway, because you will be killed by the drivers going about 85 miles an hour, in road rage, ready to kill u. San Diego needs to be eaten by the Pacific Ocean. There is no GOOD there at all.

  9. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    I actually saw the dazed look in people’s eyes. I call it, “The lights are on but no one is home syndrome”. When I drove away, I felt the peace come back around Arizona and New Mexico. I believe San Diego is a little piece of hell. Also, I call it the DisneyLand mentality. These people think they are in the promise land and better than everyone else. You know what happens to them? Earthquakes! That should wake them up!!!

  10. Max
    Max says:

    Unfortunately, you failed to address several issues. San Diego is a crappy city. Let’s just be honest. The same way you have crappy cities in Germany, India, Japan, Brazil, and other countries throughout the world. You picked SDSU BEFORE doing any research. This is your mistake (I did the same mistake coming from Pasadena City College) I picked SDSU because I did not get into UCB or UCLA. All I got into was UCSB, UCR and SDSU. At the time, I believed that SDSU was going to be my best bet since UCSB is a big party school, and UCR is just crap. So why not SDSU. I would save money and get a good education. hahahaha what a naive person I was. Until today, I regret that decision. You think that the students are terrible? The faculty is just as horrible as the student population. The only good thing about SDSU is….. nothing. There is nothing good about that school. It is a legal scam. It should never be called a university. I am graduating next year, and I am extremely worried about my future. What is a potential employer going to think if he/she sees SDSU on my resume? How many graduate programs are going to accept me knowing that I am coming from SDSU? I don’t know. All I know is that I would not be surprised if one day a student goes on a shooting spree because he/she was mistreated by the administration and the drunk, strung out, and half naked “students”. I am sorry about your experience at SDSU. Most of my friends from LA go to UCB, UCD and UCLA. It is different. Completely different. You can sit down next to a stranger and have a philosophical conversation without getting called a creep or a weirdo. It’s just San Diego as a whole. This city is douchebag town.

    • Peter Davidson
      Peter Davidson says:

      WARNING WARNING WARNING: Having moved from England to San Diego to take up a job offer I was very excited. It was a beautiful warm environment with the beach. About 2 months in I noticed the following major drawbacks:

      1. Complete lack of manners from most of the population
      2. Complete lack of respect for spacial awareness
      3. Complete lack of dress sense and slovenly appearance
      4. Majority of young people my age think getting stoned and drunk is the priority in life.
      5. Major racism of white people to blacks and Hispanics and vice versa.
      6. The road network is full of severe potholes
      7. Thousands of homeless begging everywhere and urinating etc.
      8. Impossible to have an intellectual conversation with most people.
      9. Most women here think its acceptable to wear yoga clothes 24/7
      10. Most men think its acceptable to go around in cut off t-shirts or bear back
      11. Impossible to make friends, people are so fake.
      12. No real men despite their muscled appearance. Most guys are flakes.
      13. A man to man handshake means nothing here
      14. A complete lack of respect for the elderly by most young people.
      15. Most women in bars want to see how much net worth you have before even having a civilized conversation.
      16. The only place I liked was Cardiff by the Sea where people are educated and have money OR are deeply in debt and keeping up appearances. However so many loudmouths in the affluent areas. The people may have money but have no class. Millionaire will drive a raised F150 truck about 15ft off the ground and still come off as trash rednecks.
      17. The road manners are appalling and people speed everywhere and cut you off.
      18. The beaches are dirty with a lot of fowl smelling seaweed rotting and plastic debris and cigarette buts.
      19. Impossible to find healthy organic restaurants bar one or two.
      20. Congestion, not as bad a LA but impossible to find parking at the beach cities.

      I could go on an on. Give me Europe any day where most people have manners, class and are educated. My God I will never go back to S. California. The people are flipping miserable and fake.

  11. BlueRose
    BlueRose says:

    I have lived in San Diego for 15 years yet went on another night out where no one can make conversation. I was born in the Midwest USA and lived in Europe, but have never lived some place where the majority of people did not know about current events, politics or even drop an interesting observation into a conversation. I will make jokes, but no one will catch my references, so I dumb it down and they still will not laugh. They think “wit” is making a weed joke. I have met so many people who never finished high school or barely did because they smoked pot and drank all the time, even in middle school. Many do not go to college or even want to. I will say I have met smart people here, but they are usually college educated and in a science field. I just feel so out of place and it has been so hot, in the 90s and people act like I am odd I want an AC unit for my house. And yes, people here dress like slobs. It is the weather. I have seen people wear yoga pants and flip flops to weddings. I rarely wear short, even nice ones, out. I liked Europe because of that. People dress up and do not just wear badly cut jean shorts with the pockets sticking out and a stained tank top with flip flops everywhere they go. But the worse is just not being able to hold conversations. Most topics are over people’s heads here. It gets really boring. I spent a lot of time alone here because trying to talk to these idiots and have fun sucks the life out of me. Then the heat takes the rest of my already low energy. So I get where everyone here is coming from. I mean, I know people who are from East County and Santee and that city is called “Klantee” for a reason, because it is backward and awful in every way imaginable. Those people never want to leave or experience life anywhere else and that is probably good since they upset people with their ignorance and redneck stupidity anywhere they go. I get embarrassed going out with them. I mean, San Diego is a city of over a million people. Where are the smart ones? They have to be here, if only due to sheer numbers, right? I have been here 15 years, yet the number of people here I consider good friends wouldn’t even fit on one hand. And I have made long term friends in the Midwest, the East Coast and Europe. This area is just really strange, backwards and filled with people who are dog and pot obsessed. Maybe it is because their stupid conversations are tolerated by dogs and not the people around them. But treating dogs like kids is really weird and if you go anywhere dressed up, be prepared to be jumped on by dogs without leashes on because dogs are everyone’s little darlings here and people take them everywhere, even the big dogs and if you have a dog attack in your past, too damn bad. If you say anything, people snub you. I mean, people here bore me to death. They never seem to have any hobbies, any dreams, passions or interests, except drinking and partying. To me, partying gets really old after awhile. I do not mind kicking back, but eveyday? Doesn’t anyone here have goals or observe life at all? There’s no deepness here and a lot of fake caring. It blows.

  12. Joe Svatcheem
    Joe Svatcheem says:

    Well I couldn’t have said it better! The only reason I stay is my salary. I have learned to stay in and read, watch TV, and hang out with the 3 people I have managed to meet in my 16 years here. I haven’t dated in about 5 years. It does not seem anyone wants to get to know you or knows how to get to date. I can’t wait to make my money and leave. The place could be so awesome, the people are horrific. So dumb, every day I see something that qualifies as the dumbest thing I have ever seen. People all have a dazed look, no motivation, shallow beyond belief. No one sticks to their word, a deal is not a deal in Blan Diego. Usually the intelligent people move out in a year or so. I want to milk every cent out of this dump. Idiocracy is based on San Diego, they hit it on the head.

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