Updated on Tuesday 5 March 2013
For the last nine months, Davis has been home to students from all over the planet. For many, their year living and studying abroad has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable, but also most challenging, years of their lives.
As if leaving a familiar way of life was not enough, Davis' international students have had to adjust to the unique academic, social and cultural challenges of living and studying in California. Meeting these new challenges has, for many, been the motivation and, subsequently the reward for coming to Davis in the first place.
For Daniel Waagmeester, an economics and political science major from Amsterdam, Holland, the last nine months have proven to be an overwhelmingly positive experience.
"It was fun," he said. "It was different. It was definitely worth it," You're out of your normal life for a year. Here, I go to class, hang out and do fun stuff. You can put off all those 'important' things in life."
Similarly, for Emma Harbour, an Education Abroad Program student from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, living abroad for a year is comparable to taking a "quantum leap" from normality. In taking that leap, Harbour has learned more not just about the U.S., but about herself.
"For a year, you get to see how your life could have been different," Harbour remarked. "Now, I know I can get up and leave, and the people that matter most to me will still be there. And, in return, I appreciate them more for that. I know that, when I go away, they'll still be there for me."
Adding to this, for Harbour, is a rediscovery of an almost childlike, uninhibited will to make the best of new opportunities and adventures. "I've been skiing and rock climbing while I've been here, which I've put off so many times," Harbor said. "It's made me want to travel a lot more. Now, I think I will, rather than just intending to, not just abroad but at home too."
For Masha Somi, an EAP student from Canberra, Australia, the experience has proven to be very important, more so personally than academically.
"This has been the best thing I have done with my life," Somi said. "I really looked at this year as being about finding myself. For me I needed to get away to be able to do that properly. And now, I have more conviction to go out and do what I think I always wanted to do. I think I now have a greater faith in myself, and I have discovered better what it is I can do as an individual."
Meanwhile, John Keane, an electrical and computer engineering student from Dublin, Ireland, found the last nine months in California to be an incredibly positive experience.
"I have gained a lot of self-confidence," Keane noted. "Whatever way you put it, it's a tough thing to do, to go away from your family and all your friends, and still do reasonably well and still have a good time as well."
One of the main challenges facing students like Keane and Waagmeester has been the adjustment to a new academic system, with all the differing expectations and priorities that goes with it. For Keane, the adjustment has been both challenging and rewarding.
"I think the school rewards an overall, continuous effort, and it took me a term to realize this," Keane recalled. "I think the overall level of academic standards weren't as high maybe as I expected. Even so, the material I'm studying is more interesting and specific to what I'm interested in, with much better facilities and resources available."
"This has been the best thing I have done with my life."
-- Masha Somi
Similarly, for Waagmeester, academic life in Davis has its ups and downs. "I expected that the classes would be of a little higher level," Waagmeester remarked. "What I really like, though, is that the professors are really here for the students, whereas at home, they are there mainly for their research."
One of the main motivations many students have for spending time studying abroad is to gain a better perspective and understanding of their country of choice. For international students at Davis, this seems especially true. Harbour, for example has had some less than positive stereotypes challenged.
"There is a preconception at home that American sincerity is somewhat fake," Harbour remarked, "but to me it has come across as being really genuine. I think, through Davis, I have gained a more positive image of America, because it has shown me that the U.S. isn't all 'big-city crime and social breakdown' but that it is actually built up from its small towns, like Davis."
This is a realization that is echoed to an extent by Somi, who stresses the value of experiencing the reality firsthand.
"I guess I had some misconceptions before I came here," Somi admitted. "I've found that just living and finding a reality has been a really good experience. It has taught me to be a bit more open-minded, in that there are actually a lot of really positive things about the U.S. which I'd not considered before." Waagmeester agreed with Somi.
"Being here has given me a more nuanced or balanced view, because, what do you really know about a country until you go?," Waagmeester wondered. "You hear a lot of the bad stuff. After being here, I think I now have a more positive view and a better understanding of California and the U.S. in general."
Keane suggested that perhaps Davis is a somewhat distorted taste of American life. Nevertheless, his abiding impression is that the similarities between the U.S. and his home country are what stand out the most.
"My view of the U.S. has maybe been distorted by living in Davis," Keane said. "Davis is very nice and has no real crime problem or any of the social problems that are hard for America as a whole. Even so, the similarities have been more impressive than the differences between here and home."
Nevertheless, Keane went on to illustrate how, despite these similarities, or even perhaps because of them, his own identity and background have become even more important. In many ways, as Keane remarks, focusing on their unique identity has been something many international students have used to their advantage in Davis.
"I think that being from another country means people are genuinely more interested in you," Keane said. "Personally, I think I have clung to this, and being Irish has never been as important to me as it is here."
As their year in Davis draws to close, these international students, one and all, recommend the experience of living and studying abroad. For Waagmeester, there was no question.
"Everyone should do it," Waagmeester noted. "It broadens your view. It's a lot of fun and you're really surprised about how easy it is to adapt. "Somi agreed, but was slightly more cautious.
"It's an opportunity to be who you are without all the constraints of everyday life," Somi stressed. "It's a fresh slate where you can really be who you want to be in life. But I wouldn't say it's for everyone. You have to be sure that it's what you want. It shouldn't be because you want to get away, but because you want to get something out of the place you're going to."
Like Somi, few international students would underestimate the greatness of the challenge of leaving every familiar facet of life behind for something so unknown and inconceivable as a year in a foreign country. Nevertheless, it is the greatness of the challenge that determines the size of the reward in meeting it. As they head home, the international students of 1998-99, would no doubt attest to value of their year in the life of UC Davis.
By Eric Mcfarland, The California Aggie - Univ. of Calif. (U-WIRE)