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.
The places I consider home are Berlin, Hamburg, and Richmond, Virginia. My BA Media Culture program brought me to my most recent home Maastricht and it has been treating me wonderfully since I moved here in 2010. Things I am most passionate about are loud and depressing music, boycotting parties and alcohol, being a global citizen, and building meaningful human relationships. Trying to keep up my PMA.