Post by Samantha Brannan, year 3 BSc Geography Student
Choosing third year modules is never easy, but when faced with the choice of either 2 exams or a 2 week field class in California (with coursework) there was little decision left to make. From the moment I stepped out into San Francisco I knew I wouldn’t regret my choice. I took the opportunity to go out a few days early before the field class started, and my first concern was whether I would have enough time to visit each of the department stores that appeared on every corner, and my second was how much I could fit in my suitcase… Luckily I was only staying in San Francisco for two days. We recovered from jetlag and sampled the local food… burgers and pancakes, and had just enough time to take a trip to Pier 39 before meeting the lecturers and setting off for Santa Cruz (this is where the work kicks in). Just over an hour away from San Francisco, the city of Santa Cruz was a complete contrast to where we had just come from. Being from Liverpool ‘city’ to me means fast paced, high rise buildings and lots of traffic, but this place was anything but. Think sandy beaches, surfers, sea lions, California’s oldest amusement park and sunshine every day… suddenly the thought of doing the equivalent of another dissertation isn’t so bad.
The first day was quite relaxed, we toured the city and started to work out where we would be working over the next two weeks. As my group was doing a study on public perception of drought we had to set up interviews and focus groups, which proved less challenging than expected. People in local Government were really friendly and keen to talk about how their department had been involved in drought mitigation, we were even invited to the University of California’s Santa Cruz campus to speak with the sustainability department. Unfortunately the same enthusiasm was not felt by the locals we were hounding every day to complete questionnaires and it took a lot of perseverance to get enough.
For all second years who may be contemplating taking this module, do not be disillusioned, our trip to Santa Cruz was not all work and no play. At 6pm every evening we finished work for the day and took full advantage of the local bars and restaurants, attended a basketball game and visited the Boardwalk (amusement park) on the last day. Apart from the Thai restaurant along the beach (which we recommend you avoid at all costs) there were some really great places to eat out. If you’re planning on going to Santa Cruz for your final year at Liverpool both the Surfrider Café and Seabright Brewery are a must! In typical “Come Dine With Me” style, girls versus boys, we took advantage of the self-catering facilities and also tried eating in. On average, we managed to cook meals for a cost of around $4 per person so if you’re worried about budgeting whilst you’re away this is a good option.
Once our draft reports were handed in and the field class over, we also took the chance to stay on for a few days before flying home. We made the most of it by taking a night time trip to Alcatraz prison and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately for me, my adventure was then over, but others stayed longer and went on to Yosemite, LA, or continued sightseeing in San Francisco.
The Santa Cruz field class has been a trip of a lifetime, one filled with unforgettable experiences and great people. I’m glad I got to work on such an interesting topic and as a BSc student, glad I took the opportunity to do a project using human geography methods and gain an insight into the other side of the discipline. At first I was reluctant to step out of my comfort zone, and convinced that I was out of my depth arranging face to face interviews with city council directors, but that was before I arrived in Santa Cruz. After day one I was taken aback by the willingness of people to speak to students, they really make the time for us. , Even the local newspaper was interested in what we were doing and ran a story on us. Doing a project using human geography methods allowed us to see much more of the city than we otherwise would have and although transcribing interviews in coffee shops sometimes felt like cheating (whilst our peers were knee deep in rivers) we can now say we bridged the geography divide and broadened our employability skills – and having tried transcribing and getting people to stop to answer questionnaires, we now know that these methods aren’t as easy as they may seem. Santa Cruz has been a valuable trip as we have been able to put the last two and a half years of learning into practice, as well as it being a fantastic end to our course. I’ve arrived home with great memories, a list of skills to add to my CV, a suitcase full of banana slug memorabilia and one of the best reasons I can think of for picking a geography degree!