Little over a year ago I decided to apply for a year in California through Lund university’s partnership program with University of California. It was a spontaneous application by a recommendation from a friend, however I am happy I took the chance because my year in San Diego was on of the best times in my life.
The process from the application period in October until my trip in September the following year, was a long and drawn-out period, but well worth the while. For me it felt like it was a huge burden in the beginning, because it was a lot of administration and documentations that had to be sent in, in a short time. One of the first steps was to take an english proficiency test, either IELTS or TOEFL, both tests are equivalent and not much difference, the only thing worth mentioning is that IELTS is possible to take in Lund while TOEFL is not.
A good thing Lund university does is they divide the people they will send into smaller groups, where you can discuss and help each other with the application which I felt was really amazing because you knew you weren’t alone in the application djungle.
The hardest part of the application I would say, was the documentation of all that you needed before entering the US. An irritating moment was the translation of your high school grades into English and match the American grade system. Some high schools are more compliant, while some are really reluctant and slow to act. Another annoying this was to find all your vaccination documentation, many schools or hospitals didn’t keep any records or did not record all the vaccinations. It took a while to track down all the right people and to get the right documents, I started in the winter and wasn’t done until August, one month before I left.
I feel like I’ve lost some readers by now, but the time I had in California was amazing, one of my biggest dreams have always been to go and live in the US. So as soon as I exited the plane, and gazed out in the heated night (yes, I arrived at 2 in the morning), after leaving the September cold, and saw my first California palm trees, I felt this was just right. The thing that attracted me the most about my exchange program, was the heat, naturally, and the possibility of being away for an entire year, while most people travel for one semester. For me it felt like a long vacation, with studying alternated with many trips to the beach which was about a ten minute walk from campus.
One of the best things about California is it got something for everyone, do you want the city life you got LA, San Francisco and San Diego, but if you want to experience the smalltown USA you got Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara. Even the schools have different characteristics, Berkeley is a prestigious school, UCLA has an amazing campus with the more typical college experience with crazy football matches and marching bands, and with Venice beach and Santa Monica within driving distance it’s a pretty compelling choice. San Diego is more of a smaller version of LA, with more of a surfer paradise thing going on, they have a lot of beautiful beaches and view spots. Besides the city and student life there are plenty of nature to see, I recommend a trip along the Pacific Coast Highway that got some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen, like the picture below show. California also has a lot of national parks and hiking trails not too far away from the cities, like Yosemite and Joshua tree national parks.
In California I think you should try a lot of new stuff, many of the universities have great selections of activities to choose from, like surfing, sports, hiking and other fun stuff. To try out surfing was one of the most fun things I ever tried, it was incredibly hard but is a must in SoCal, and the surfer culture is very present in the south.
Another thing that characterize California is the Mexican cultures presence here, most notable the amazing Mexican food. Swedes in general (including me) love tacos, but the first time I tried fried shrimp tacos at Oscar’s taco shop in Pacific Beach was incredible. I feel in love with the food and after that day I wanted to try all the Mexican food I could get a hold on. I tried anything from burritos, chimichangas to carne asada fries. My two favorite burritos have to be surf n turf and breakfast burrito. Surf n turf has both meat and shrimp in it, it does sound good but trust me it is to die for. Another food you have to try is California burrito, it is with meat and fries. My absolute favorite food is christian fries at Vallarta, a lot of student are possessed by it. It is like a Swedish kebabtallrik but with beef, fries, bacon, eggs, cheese and a lot of sauce. At first it sounds weird but I love it.
So, no matter if you just want some warm weather, to relax on the beach, enjoy good food, watch beautiful landscapes or the pulsing city life, California got something for everyone and every taste. I hope everyone will experience the same things I did during my exchange year, and I hope you as a reader apply straight away. So what are you waiting for, next year it could be you who are lying on a sandy beach!