UCSB stands for the University of California, Santa Barbara, but other interpretations of this acronym include University of California, So Blessed and U Can Study Buzzed. A renowned US party school located in the square mile student town of Isla Vista (IV), 80 miles north of LA and 13 miles outside of downtown Santa Barbara, the school is the ideal study abroad location.
Arriving at the campus in September 2015, I never could have imagined a more beautiful space in which to spend a year, or a place more different to the areas in which I have lived before (London and Norwich).
Not only is the UCSB campus surrounded by glorious beaches and the Pacific Ocean, providing the ideal opportunity to surf and stand up paddleboard, but it is also overshadowed by the Santa Ynez Mountains, creating a university setting unlike anything known in the UK. Streets lined with palm trees and a temperature that rarely falls below 16 degrees Celsius (temperatures were reaching the high twenties until mid December) provides an environment where studying is the least tempting activity and raises questions about how any American students studying the full duration of their degree at UCSB ever reach their graduations. Having said that, it may help that their library has ocean views.
If you’ve ever envisaged yourself at a college or high school party from a movie such as Project X or American Pie then UCSB can certainly fulfil this version of the American Dream. Likewise, if you’ve ever listened to Asher Roth’s 2009 hit ‘I Love College’, the song could have been written about the residents of Isla Vista. Because at least half of the 23,000 students living in IV are underage, the drinking culture is significantly different to the clubbing culture in the UK. Instead students have ‘kickbacks’ (small gatherings) ‘ragers’ (large house parties) and ‘dagers’ (day ragers), where you will party to music played by a hired DJ and the accompanying roar of the ocean below. The height of daytime partying is Deltopia, an annual festival of dagers that takes place just after spring break on the oceanside street of Del Playa. This street is infamous in Isla Vista and surrounding neighbourhoods, and on weekends is more like the Strip in Malia or Magaluf than an area of student houses.
Santa Barbara itself is also a gorgeous city with vibes more comparable with a Spanish town than any other California city. It is also ideal for anyone with a burning wanderlust as its location provides perfect access to California’s other must see locations. LA and San Francisco, for example, are easily reachable, so iconic sights such as the Hollywood Sign, Venice Beach and the Golden Gate Bridge are easy to tick off your bucketlist. Outside of the cities, California is home to amazing areas of natural beauty; Big Sur for example is just over 3 hours from Santa Barbara, with its incredible jagged mountains and cliffs, and ocean views providing a perfect area to roadtrip and also camp.
Moreover, studying at UCSB is the perfect opportunity to attend perhaps the worlds most famous music festival.
Although tickets to Coachella are admittedly expensive the weekend was by far one of the best of my year. Sets from perfomers such as Major Lazer, Purity Ring and Sia can only be added to by a desert backdrop where tall palm trees are silhouetted against the rugged San Jacinto Mountains.
My year abroad has ultimately made me see that the California dream is a cliché for a reason. West is definitely best, and UCSB is the greatest way to see this.