05 October 2018
At least, that is what my current enrollment status says. Since late September, I am now officially a Master’s student at the University of California, Irvine. The institution runs on a quarter system, which gives me another winter, spring and summer period to look forward to. With about ten weeks each, the turnaround seems incredibly short. Certainly one of the many new things to get used to around here. Like the presence of palm trees, which to me communicate anything but fall.
After the first three weeks of settling in – including the three important B’s: bed, bicycle, and bank account – I decided to gather some of my impressions in this blog. The whole website itself runs on Jekyll, GitHub pages, and a great theme I spent way too many hours shopping around for. I guess that’s my way of virtually settling in. Yet, I also want to use this space to document my academic experience by covering events, literature and the occasional research fieldnote.
In the beginning, I was struck by the tranquility of the city. With roughly over 200,000 inhabitants, Irvine fulfills many characteristics of how I imagined suburban America at large. My first walks through along the wide streets, densely populated parking lots, and plastic-like shopping plazas seemed both soothing and unsettling at once. Only when I got a used bike off of craigslist and started exploring the surroundings, I began to develop a sense of place. Located in Southern California, Irvine is only a 40-minute bike ride to Newport Beach, a 60-minute train ride to Los Angeles and manageable driving distance to San Diego. But also within the city limits, one can find quite a number of parks, bicycle routes, and hiking trails.
A quick Google search spits out the Turtle Rock Trail, situated only a ten-minute drive away from my current apartment. Together with another exchange student, we decided to check it out before classes start and things get busy. Back then, over 30° Celsius and the burning midday sun accompanied our trip. Luckily, the hike turned out to be a perfect option for making a short but rewarding round. Already the first 15 minutes include a wide view over the nearby community and the wider cityscape. After roughly two hours of walking around, we hitched an Uber back.
Looking at the pictures a couple of weeks later, I find the no smoking sign on the top of the hill quite symbolic for my first days in Irvine. Of course, it points to the rather volatile area, riddled with drought and the danger of wildfire. At the same time, it serves a reminder for artificial, almost utopian (dystopian) atmosphere that can creep up in the town. An anecdote to close: during one of our orientation events, I wandered back home in the company of two other students. Both were smoking a cigarette, well conscious of the strict anti-smoke policy that the University enforces. With a large street to our left and college to our right, we eagerly discussed whether the law applies here or not. Only seconds later, a young man, dressed in regular clothes. came running down the street. He pointed towards the corner we had just passed. “Hey, was that a cigarette you threw there? We are a smoke-free community!”