“Of course, I’m not going on exchange to go to class,” I would nonchalantly announce to anyone who would ask me what I was hoping to do on exchange at UCSB.
Before I came here on exchange, I remember listening in awe to a student from my home university in Australia. She had just returned from exchange in America and boasted about how she had managed to strategically pick her classes so that she only attended class in the first and last weeks. For the rest of the time in between, she travelled around America.
But here I am, six months later, having arrived back in Australia just this morning, and I am suffering from a serious bout of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety from UCSB and, specifically, my UCSB classes. Who would’ve thought?
I didn’t think I would be able to get credit studying porn. And not just softcore porn. We watched porn involving people with sex changes (it involves a manual pump — that’s all I’m saying); amputee porn, obese porn, geriatric porn, you-name-it-we-saw-it porn.
Not only did Film Studies 150PG expose me to a whole world that would have otherwise, most likely, remained undiscovered for the rest of my life, but it also challenged my underlying assumptions more than any class I’ve ever taken. I guess that’s what happens when porn stars are guest lecturers in your class every other week.
I didn’t think I would meet UCSB students who were taking classes where topping a group project meant you got an immediate ‘A’ and didn’t have to take the final. Or a hands-on film studies class where filling up the whole theatre would bump you up one whole grade. Or classes where your weekly requirement was to consume delicious Middle Eastern food or grow your own small-scale garden. Don’t even get me started on sailing, water aerobics and racquetball!
I didn’t think I would take classes that would touch me so personally. As an Australian of Chinese descent, I am so grateful that I stumbled across ethnic studies classes and I am so envious that some people create whole majors out of them!
As far as I know, ethnic studies doesn’t exist in Australian universities, which is bizarre considering almost 50 percent of Australians were either born overseas or had one or both parents born overseas. For the first time in my life, I was provided with safe spaces to explore deeply vulnerable and important parts of who I am.
I didn’t think I would be delighted even by the classes my home university required me to take here. My teachers for both my compulsory and optional classes were refreshingly generous. They truly engaged with us in class, during office hours and even out of class. I had professors and teaching assistants who took me to coffee and lunch and even hosted end of quarter parties at their homes.
In a few weeks, when school in Australia starts up again, I’ll be sharing all sorts of exchange anecdotes and tips to the uninitiated at my university — students about to go on exchange at UCSB. I’ll tell them about the fun they’ll have living in Isla Vista (maybe even at one of the extraordinary housing cooperatives), the beauty of the beach and mountains, the spectacle of DP, the terror of the bike paths, the possibilities of travel and the amazing friends they’ll make.
And I’ll also be sure to tell them to go to class. It might just be an unexpected highlight of their exchange.
Sue-Lin Wong is an Asian studies major and former UCSB exchange student from Australia.