University of California - Santa Barbara

In the UK I studied at University of Manchester, a huge institution based in a bustling city where the 'campus' is really just a loose conglomeration of buildings along a main road that merges into the adjoining Manchester Metropolitan University.  Along with the University of Salford, the city is full of students, as well as being second city to London in the country and a hub of media and business.  So the University of California at Santa Barbara was an entirely different academic setting to get my head around.

The first thing was the campus itself, green and luscious and self-contained, a separate entity to the adjoining town of Isla Vista where all the students live.  I'd almost call IV a village it's so small, except that connotations of a quiet idyll could not be further from the truth (but that's a post for another day).  All of the university buildings are on site, except for Embarcadero Hall and IV Theater which are situated amongst the food and drink hub of IV and used for extra-curricular purposes as well as lectures.  So every day, you and every other student makes their way through IV to campus, and almost always on bike.  The cycle path that leads down the main strip of campus from Pardall to the library can get in-fucking-sane at peak times when people are rushing to and from lectures.  I've seen a fair few collisions, and as a pedestrian always kept well out of everyone's way.  But the campus itself is beautiful, I think it's actually been voted one of the most attractive campuses in the States.  I mean come on, we've even got a lagoon.
Yeah bitches
In terms of contact hours I guess the US is not dissimilar to the UK, at least in terms of a Humanities degree like I was studying (I did American Studies at Manchester so while studying abroad picked courses from within the social sciences & literature).  A common set-up is a lecture, generally 2 hours, and a seminar of 1 hour, just like in the UK.  BUT a huge difference is that the course structure, content and assessment style is entirely at the discretion of the lecturer.  A friend took a course that was three hour lecture and no seminar (or tutorial as it's sometimes called) and ended at 9.30pm.  That shit was not for me.  Also, unlike the UK, you have free reign to pick your classes - your major may have some required classes (the dreaded 10A culled a couple of my friends from Economics) but it's more about getting a well-rounded education, so you pick different stuff from upper or lower division, depending on your year.  The best way to decide is to go on Rate My Professors to see whose class is most popular...and obviously try not to sign up for any 8am's.

Engineering buildings - faaaar, but nearer the beach

At UCSB terms are divided into quarters: Fall is September-December, Winter is January-March, and Spring is April-June, and these are the three regular terms.  Summer quarter is like optional summer school if you need to catch up.  There are midterms about halfway through each quarter (duh) and finals in the last week, and shit can be intensive.  It might be an in-class test, or a take-home exam/essay, but all your classes have their assessments at the same time.  You are also required to provide your own exam booklet, as if the University of California's budget can't fucking stretch to that, which for me always meant waiting for IV Books to open so I could panic-buy blue books and Scantrons* before running to class (respectively the lined essay booklets and multiple-choice sheets used in exams).  In between terms you have a few weeks off for Christmas, which I much preferred to the English system where your winter break is spent revising for exams.  And of course Spring Break (another post which I'm afraid yes, will make you crazy jelly).

'Soccer' game
You can even take sports classes for academic credit, although obviously they aren't worth as much.  UCSB is best known for its football (no American football team there) and basketball teams, and shit man, go to the games.  They are free for students and the basketball particularly is fucking mental.  I'll write about it some other time, because sports culture is a big part of American college life.  Oh yeah, they'll always call university 'college' or even 'school'.  I think you find that Americanisms become less grating as you get more assimilated, and in fact I've been frequently lambasted since returning home for the corruption of my own speech (although you can see my natural British pretentiousness was unharmed).

I think I've covered the basics of American university life, or at least the UC system, although obviously every institution is different.  As always I'm happy to answer questions but there will be more posts forthcoming on non-academic aspects of studying abroad (a.k.a the real reason you're there).

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