Six weeks came and went by in a flash during my summer at UC Davis. As a requirement for my Masters programme in MIT, I had to take a module on Fluid Mechanics. As I graduated only in June back in Imperial College London, UC Davis was a place that offered the course in the best possible timeframe. Moving from London to Davis was quite a change. Going from the hustle and bustle of city live to a quaint, little farmland (well, at least people in Davis call this place a farmland of cows!) that houses a large university campus, I would say the change was quite drastic. But at the end of the 6 weeks, I took away fond memories of this place together with friends that I met during my time here.
Back in London, I was blessed with a large Singaporean community where I could just talk to a lot of people in my most comfortable language, Singlish, otherwise known as “Singapore English” (some call it a form of bastardised English, but we leave that debate for another time). In London, I also had access to supermarkets and other amenities within walking distance. Everyone drove on the same side of the road, the same electric plug head, the same electric voltage, the same use of metric units, the same English spelling… the list goes on of things that I was used to. Knowing that there wouldn’t be anyone I’d know in Davis made me feel highly apprehensive, but I could only take things one step at a time. Coming to Davis was a leap of faith to explore things on my own outside my comfort zone.
As I eased myself into the environment in Davis, I began to find out differences between the UK/Singapore and the US. Driving on the other side of the road felt odd, having to think for a while (and eventually still not getting it) when people talk in Fahrenheit and inches and feet instead of Celsius and meters. These little differences made me feel a little out of place.
For example, the very first time I ordered a meal with rice from a food truck (yes, the food truck that parks outside the Silo; a must-try for all Davis students!), I was looking for a spoon for my rice. However, it turned out that everyone uses a fork to eat rice here! That took me a while to get used to.
With that said, it didn’t take me long to feel very well-settled into the environment. I was blessed to have met the entire UC Davis International Summer team, especially Kathy and Emily, who had been very helpful in my transition from an urban city campus to a university town. Activities organised by the summer school team also played a big part in making me feel at home by meeting new friends. The bowling session in the first two weeks (seriously, bowling alley in a university?! Where else would you find that?) allowed me to be acquainted with two of my friends, Paul and Yuri (see picture at the top of this post!). It was not long before I started hanging out with Paul on a regular basis, who introduced me to some of his other friends who happen to be doing their graduate programmes in Davis. Paul, Yuri and I even went out to San Francisco on a road trip together (and another picture below)!
Lessons were very different from the way it was in the UK. Apart from the smaller class size because of the summer sessions, the classes placed less emphasis on the traditional closed-book final exams. It was quite a shock to me when I first found out about take-home exams (don’t judge; I know you secretly are). I was pleasantly surprised by how much take-home finals and student presentations helped me meet new people. It was a refreshing change from the UK educational system!
As I embark on my graduate programme in MIT this coming Autumn (it is the end of the second week of class here in Cambridge as I am writing this!), I am truly appreciative of my time back in Davis as it prepares me for 1) life in the US in general and 2) stepping out of my comfort zone, mixing with non-Singaporeans. I can just go on and on about my experience at UC Davis, but I suggest coming and experiencing something here on your own!