Hello! I'm Helen, a psychology student on placement working as a study coordinator at the Child Attachment, Relationships and Emotion (CARE) Lab based at Pomona College. In these blogs I hope to provide some insight on living in California, the research I'm helping with, general placement year advice and recording any other adventures I find myself on over the next year. Enjoy!
My visa had been approved, the flights were booked and my bags were packed, but I still felt unprepared when my alarm went off at 7am, August 18th 2018. That was the day I needed to say goodbye to my family and travel 5,418 miles to Claremont, California.
Excited to move to the Golden State? Land of sun, surf and In N Out? Sure. Kind of terrified? Absolutely. After a long and cramped flight with a stopover in Reykjavik (only managed to explore the inside of the airport) I arrived at LAX. Half expecting to see all the Kardashians at any moment, I joined the queue at immigration. Having been awake for over 24 hours by this stage, I felt bizarrely emotional when the officer stamped my passport and said ‘welcome to California.’ One of the postgrads who works in the same research lab as me came to pick me up, we met my flatmate’s girlfriend who gave me my own set of keys and I was in!
I had a few free days where I scoped out the local area, sorted out practicalities like a phone contract & bank account, then tried to brighten up my unfurnished room. This mostly consisted of putting up photos, buying fairy lights and pot plants – obviously – but making your living space more homey really helps to feel settled. It’s here that I also recommend just asking people for help. I was worried about being a burden or asking stupid questions, but your most valuable source of information in a new place is the people who already live there and can recommend the best stores/brands/companies for whatever you need.
Since I don’t have a car here - and yes everyone drives everywhere in California - getting around was a bit of a struggle in those first days. I grew up with the luxury of London public transport where waiting more than 5 minutes for a tube is outrageous, but the same colleague who picked me up very kindly drove me to Ikea. Embarrassingly, I ended up projectile vomiting the meatballs in the bathroom, but I got all the bedding I needed so there’s the silver lining.
At the end of the week I went to the International Student Orientation at the Claremont Colleges where the research lab I’m working for is based. This was sort of like joining Fresher’s Week again, except aimed at reducing culture shock for international students and less alcohol. It was great to meet other people in the same boat as me and hear a few familiar accents – I bonded with a Mancunian over our love for Marmite. It was reassuring to be with people from all over the world but find that we’re all pretty similar and go through a lot of the same emotions. I tried to be outgoing, add people on Facebook and organise to see them after the orientation was over, which felt a little corny at the time but I’m really pleased I did – it’s great to have friends on campus who can invite me to the infamous college parties…..
Next post – starting my placement.