Name: Henry Burrell
Degree: American Studies
Destination: San Francisco State University
Graduating: July 2013
Career interests: Journalism, publishing, broadcast media
Having spent a year in the mystical city of San Francisco, it has taken several months to really get a grasp on my experiences. The biggest cliché is true; it all went by so quickly. Yet looking back there is no time to regret what I could have done or noticed or been to or seen, because I did so much. The expected culture shock of arriving in American never happened to me, but now that I’m back in England I have begun to realise the enormity of what I actually did.
Within twenty-four hours of leaving Heathrow I was standing, camera in hand, outside City Lights Bookshop, haven of writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg. I was walking along the Embarcadero looking out at Alcatraz, Berkeley and Sausalito. Within a week or so I was at a brand new university, sitting in huge classes where I was the only boy without a MacBook or a New Era cap. To say you get thrown in at the deep end is an understatement.
Yet I never saw it as a hardship. I made friends with people from Australia, Sweden and Malaysia as well as America and before I knew it I was on a road trip down to LA to see Fatboy Slim and strut my funky stuff down Hollywood Boulevard. I see now that my confidence to do this came from the friends I came out with from UEA, the new ones I made, and the support given to me by SFSU upon arrival. Arriving in California without a home is pretty daunting and it took the best part of the month to find a house which was very stressful- but actually the most stressful part of the whole year and I’m glad it came at the beginning. There were people who went to other universities as the sole UEA student and looking back, I am very grateful for the fellow UEAers I had around me, despite the nature of the year abroad and the making of new friends. There are people who I would get remarking to me “I didn’t come out here to meet English people,” and to those people I raised a swift middle finger. I already knew my English friends, actually, and without them I would have had a worse year. I’m not scared to admit that.
As I sit here writing this I’m overwhelmed by memories. I don’t know what to put here to reflect my year, what experiences best capture how the year changed my life. Maybe the beauty of it is that you’re not meant to realise how. Maybe it was the coming together of so many people from so many countries, all of us in the same position. SFSU has what it calls an International Education Exchange Council (a typically American long winded way of saying ‘club’) that every year abroad student has to join and have a responsibility with. I was an officer in the music group and I am so glad I did it. Within a month or so I was jamming with a cobbled together band in a downtown bar. It was a shambles, we were rubbish, but it was amazing fun and I made some great friends that evening. I also met someone called Reggae Prime Minister, which can never hurt.
I had my first Christmas without my family, but I didn’t really get homesick (sorry Mum). I spent the week with about ten people in the same boat as me but we rallied together and made a huge meal on the day, swapped gifts, played football and watched the sun set. It was the best way I could have done it, having decided not to come home to England as some people did.
Being in America made me dare to do more and make quick decisions. Going down to Santa Cruz on the coastal highway on the back of my mate’s motorbike was a split second decision but ended up being one of the best weekends of my life. Pre-America Me wouldn’t have said yes so fast. I became much more aware of how short a time a year is. If something happened a year ago, I know longer think ‘where did all the time go?’ because it wasn’t that long. It just feels like it.
It was great to get a different style of teaching too (yeah, you do have to do a bit of work, apparently). I did a Bob Dylan module which was great as well as a hip hop module which strengthened my love of the music and encouraged me to write my dissertation on the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. I also got to meet one of my favourite rappers, Del, who was a guest speaker in that class. Incredible, but also, of course, he only lived a few miles away.
I also embarked with a friend on a 6000 mile road trip from the West to East coast over 5 weeks. I spent every single cent to my name doing it but I have no regrets. We saw about fifteen states in all, and places like Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Roswell, Houston Space Center, the Mississippi River, New Orleans, Route 66, NYC and so much more. To think that I sauntered in and out of these places steeped in myth and history still feels a bit surreal. I have seen a huge chunk of America but looking back all I want to do is see more. I can’t see myself living in England forever. I hope I don’t lose sight of the time I had in America. It feels like it was just the start.