084 - Chat with Jessica: College Life in Santa Barbara

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Listen to Jessica (my college roomie) and I talk about our college experiences at UC Santa Barbara.

The American English Podcast

The American English Podcast

By Shana Thompson

Hi, Everyone!

Welcome to this week’s episode. Today, you’re going to hear a chat with my college roommate and good friend Jessica Buenaventura. I’m really happy to have Jessica on this episode. And in it, we’re going to reminisce about our college experience at UCSB, also known as the University of California, Santa Barbara. We both graduated from there in 2011. So quite a long time ago now.

So the UC is situated about one hundred miles north of Los Angeles on the California coast and in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is a phenomenally beautiful city, which is commonly referred to as the American Riviera, because just like the French Riviera, it’s famous for its world class cuisine, boating, wine tours, art and beaches. It also draws in a lot of rich and famous people. So Santa Barbara is just north of Montecito, which is home to Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Martin and of course, the late Michael Jackson. A lot of other famous Americans also live there. It’s sort of paradise.

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Hi, everybody, my name is Shana and this is the American English Podcast. My goal here is to teach you the English spoken in the United States. Through common expressions, pronunciation tips and interesting cultural snippets or stories, I hope to keep this fun, useful and interesting. Let’s do it!

Hi, everyone! Welcome to this week’s episode. Today, you’re going to hear a chat with my college roommate and good friend Jessica Buenaventura.

I’m really happy to have Jessica on this episode. And in it, we’re going to reminisce about our college experience at UCSB, also known as the University of California, Santa Barbara. We both graduated from there in 2011. So quite a long time ago now.

So the UC is situated about one hundred miles north of Los Angeles on the California coast and in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is a phenomenally beautiful city, which is commonly referred to as the American Riviera, because just like the French Riviera, it’s famous for its world class cuisine, boating, wine tours, art and beaches.

It also draws in a lot of rich and famous people. So Santa Barbara is just north of Montecito, which is home to Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Steve Martin and of course, the late Michael Jackson. A lot of other famous Americans also live there. It’s sort of paradise.

And so the University of California, Santa Barbara, UCSB, we’re going to call it today, is in Isla Vista. Isla Vista is a very small town and it’s the most populated square mile of college students west of the Mississippi River. So within this square mile, there are a lot of people between the ages of 18 and 22 or 23, and it’s right next to the ocean. So it’s the absolute perfect college experience.

Isla Vista is where both Jessica and I lived during our senior year of college, and that’s what we’re going to talk about. So before we begin, I’d like to give you a little bit of information about our special guest.

So Jessica was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, L.A. She’s an adventurer, traveler, she’s lived abroad in Italy and in Germany. And in her free time, she likes to write. Recently, she was published in The L.A. Times, which is a very well known newspaper in the United States. She sings and plays the guitar and cooks well. All in all, Jessica is the type of person that you would like to talk to if you’re visiting L.A. and I’m sure in a later episode we’ll actually get to her tips on the city, but for today, we’re just going to chat. So let’s welcome Jessica!

Shana:
Hi, Jessica!

Jess:
Hey, Shana.

Shana:
How’s it going?

Jess:
It’s going good. How are you doing?

Shana:
Really well. Just a little bit tired today. I was just telling Lucas that I feel a little bit slow, so hopefully I’m able to talk and, you know, answer questions and ask you lots of questions and make this go smoothly.

Jess:
So, Jessica, let me ask you a few questions about yourself just so that the audience can get to know you a little bit. So where do you live?

Jess:
I live in an area called Echo Park in Los Angeles. It’s part of the northeast L.A. area of L.A. I used to work in Pasadena. So the commute from here is only about 20 minutes. And my family lives in the opposite direction in Burbank. So that’s also only like a 20 minute drive. So, yeah, pretty central.

Shana:
I hear a lot of people are from Burbank. Is that a suburban area or is it also very much city?

Jess:
Yeah, I would consider it suburban. And you know, Burbank is kind of like the media capital of L.A. You have a lot of studios there. You have Disney, you have NBC. So it is an entertainment hub for L.A.

Shana:
And also a place to visit? Or is it more just for people living in L.A. and who work in that field, in the entertainment industry?

Jess:
Oh, I would say both. I mean, I grew up in that area, so it is a great place to raise a family. It’s very safe. But we also do get a lot of tourists. There’s the WB studio there that a lot of people like to visit, and that’s where you can go and take a picture at… what is the name of that Friend’s cafe?

Jess:
Central Perk.

Shana:
Central Perk. Oh, I’ve seen that. So, yeah, I’ve seen a lot of people actually post pictures of that. How funny. Have you ever done that before?

Jess:
Yeah, actually, in all the years I’ve lived here, I had never gone to the WB studio until a couple of months ago. You should definitely take a tour there if you’re in the area. And yeah, take that signature picture at Central Perk.

Shana:
Very cool. Recently on Instagram, Jess, I saw that you posted a picture. I think it was a picture or a little video about your article in the L.A. Times. I was so, so shocked because the L.A. Times, for those who are listening, is a very prestigious newspaper. And she got in the L.A. Times. She got an article, article in there which was phenomenal, by the way. I loved it. How did you manage to get in The L.A. Times? Are you a professional writer now?

Jess:
Oh, you’re so sweet. Well, first of all, thank you so much for mentioning that. And, you know, Shana, it was really kind of like unexpected, I would say. I wrote this article last year, you know, just had time to do some creative writing. I submitted it and heard from the editor maybe six or seven months after I submitted it. And yeah, it was probably one of the best days of my life, just going to the grocery store, opening the L.A. Times and seeing something that I had written down maybe eight months prior in a published article.

Jess:
And yeah, I do have my regular 9-5 j-o-b job, and writing is something I do on the side. And I hope to make it as a freelance writer, like more professionally, maybe get more things published. This is the first article that I’ve ever had printed in the newspaper. So, yeah, it was pretty exciting.

And it was a phenomenal article. Really, I would like to actually get access to that article again, if you don’t mind sending it to me and I would really love to post it on the episode webpage so that some of the listeners can see Jess’s article. It was about her trip and sort of love that she met, I guess love affair. No. How would you describe your article? I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Jess:
Yeah. So the article is in a column called L.A. Affairs. It talks about love and dating in Los Angeles. It’s similar to the Modern Love column in The New York Times, but specific to L.A. So my story is about my trip to Colombia last summer and how I met someone who became someone pretty special. And it talks about our adventures in Colombia. And when we went back to L.A., we ended up dating there for a while. So it is kind of like a love letter to L.A. and the cool things you can do there. It’s a love letter to travelers and anyone who loves to meet people while traveling.

Shana:
So check that out on the episode webpage if you’re listening. Definitely a good article. Definitely a good read.

Shana:
Let’s start by telling everybody how we know each other. I think that would be a good way to let everybody into our lives a little bit.

Jess:
Ok, I met Shana in college, actually. I was studying abroad in Italy and I didn’t know where I was going to live the next year, so a mutual friend connected Shana and I, who was also studying abroad, to come and live in a house in Isla Vista, and actually we ended up sharing a garage in that house and we became roommates.

So that sounds kind of a little sketch. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with college life in actually in a lot of cities, but particularly in Isla Vista, which is right next to Santa Barbara and Goleta, it’s a very expensive area. It’s not uncommon for a lot of students to share rooms with each other. A lot of times on bunk beds, so one… one student above the other one, on a bed. It’s also common to share garages. So that was our situation, not knowing each other and getting put right into a garage.

Shana:
Do you remember how cold it used to get at night time? Because, I mean, being next to the ocean, the night air was pretty cold. I think that’s kind of characteristic of California beach cities, is having the warm days and the really cold nights.

Jess:
Oh, my gosh. Yeah, it was freezing in there. I remember we each had our own space heaters and I remember your mom attempting to help us with the insulation. We bought pool noodles to put on top of the door in order to keep warm.

Shana:
You could see the inside of the garage door. It looked like a regular garage. It wasn’t set up to look fancy or like something different, with our sketchy-looking pool noodles all around the outside of it to keep us warm, which didn’t really work. I just remember being very cold at night.

Jess:
Yeah, definitely.

Shana:
So funny.

Jess:
A pro would be we had plenty of space and they actually put a window in the garage and we did have like a mini closet. But like you were saying, it was a very expensive area to live in. Even sharing a garage, I think costed about six hundred fifty for each of us.

Shana:
Yes.

Jess:
I think because of the proximity to the ocean, just anywhere you live is expensive. I mean, totally worth it. We were basically a block or two away from the beach, which I will never, I don’t think in my life be able to do again. So very grateful for that. But yeah, it was crazy.

Shana:
Out of all universities in California – California is probably I would say we have more universities than most other states, I mean, California is the most populous state. It’s one of the largest states. And we’re known for having good schools. UCSB, UC Santa Barbara is one of many. So I’m curious now. So what made you choose UCSB?

Jess:
I knew for sure I wanted to go to a UC. I wanted to stay in California. I wanted to be close to home, but far enough where I had to move out of the house, you know? So Santa Barbara seemed like the perfect distance from home. It’s only about an hour and a half to an hour forty five away from L.A..

Jess:
The location is absolutely beautiful. You are right next to the ocean, but you’re also very close to the mountains. So it’s just a gorgeous environment.

Jess:
I remember taking the campus tour and learning that Jack Johnson used to go there and that’s how he got started. I’m a huge Jack Johnson fan, I don’t know about you Shana.

Shana:
Being in Santa Barbara I think so many people listen to Jack Johnson, him having gone to UCSB. So you went on a school tour and you heard that Jack Johnson went to school in Santa Barbara and that kind of perked your interests a little bit more?

Jess:
Oh, definitely. I think it was like a sign from the universe saying, hey, Jess, I think you’re going to be comfortable here, Jack, right here. You’re going to, you know, be able to blossom here. So I would say that was a big… a big factor.

Shana:
Definitely for me, too. Actually, when I went there, I didn’t really know much about Santa Barbara. I didn’t know much about the school or what they were famous for. But when I walked on campus and saw that it was right next to the ocean, it was just so perfectly located in a place that I could imagine myself going out after studying and spending time on the beach and you know, visiting nature, their nature reserve, the monarch butterflies that migrate there every year that you can visit. Or the Channel Islands right off the coast to just go out there and see nature and like wildlife and sea life and stuff. It’s so cool, that I think for me that was also one of the reasons why I chose Santa Barbara. It wasn’t actually for the education. It was more for thinking about my life outside of college.

Shana:
I mean, even the library had a view of the ocean. So I don’t think most school libraries have.

Jess:
Exactly, and no matter how stressed out you were, like studying for finals or writing a paper or whatever, you can just look out the window, see the ocean or see the lagoon and, yeah, that totally helped to just relieve stress and remind you that you’re in a beautiful place.

Shana:
Were you also intrigued by Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, the city, or just mostly Isla Vista?

Jess:
You know, I think, yeah, in college, you’re mostly in your little bubble of Isla Vista and the campus. But there is a lot to offer outside of the actual UC Santa Barbara campus. There’s State Street, which is a great place to go shopping. We would go there to go out at night after we turned twenty one.

I remember one time we went camping in the mountains and that was just really beautiful, like literally only 20, 30 minute drive from campus.

Jess:
There’s also a Montecito which is really close to Santa Barbara. And I remember volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. So we had a lot of donor events happening in Montecito, you know, where they had like pretty affluent donors, host like luncheons or fundraising events.

Shana:
Is that one of the highlights of your whole college experience?

Jess:
Yeah, I would say so. I mean, I’ve always wanted to do something where you give back to the community and Santa Barbara has beautiful houses, but it does take a lot of work and a lot of fundraising to fund that, to be able to build a house for a family there. So I think I was just curious as to what that process was. And yeah, I just wanted to, like, expand beyond the Isla Vista bubble and see what’s outside of it.

Shana:
Definitely different to have work outside of Isla Vista because you’re doing something like normal people. While you’re in Isla Vista you feel very much like a student, right? I mean, it’s connected to the university. And so lots of students ride their bikes into school. They get out of class and go to the beach. But it’s also known for lots of partying.

Jess:
Oh, yes. It was a very social scene. And I think I’m really grateful for that. I think before college, I was really shy, pretty introverted, and then you get to a place where everyone is just so open and friendly and always planning events together. There’s always something to do with someone.

Shana:
Yeah, you actually mentioned it was the dawn of Facebook when we started college.

Jess:
Oh my gosh. Yes. So I remember creating a Facebook account right after I graduated high school, not knowing what Facebook was. And I think I had a MySpace account, too, at the time.

Jess:
But Facebook was like the new social media. And while we were in college, you can only have a Facebook account if you had a college email. And I think, yeah, it was the time where Facebook became really big and it was a huge connector in the university life for like creating events. And, you know, you would just friend everyone you met in the dorms or in class.

Shana:
Or house parties. I mean, if you see that somebody having a party at their house, you can kind of say, hey, how’s it going? It’s kind of a free-for-all, honestly.

Jess:
Definitely. I mean, I remember more than one time you and I and our roommates, we would just be walking down the block and just strike up a conversation with someone. And, you know, they’re having people over in their backyard or even in their front yard and they just invite you to come and hang out, like everyone was just so social and friendly. And, yeah, that’s a great way to meet people.

Shana:
Yeah. And you meet them. And then a second later, even if your conversations are just fleeting, you know, a few seconds, then you add them on Facebook and then, I don’t know about you, but for me, I go on Facebook now and I’m like, who is this person? And it’s somebody that probably I met at a house party.

Shana:
So anyway, about party life. Do you remember Floatopia?

Jess:
My gosh, yeah. I remember my first Floatopia. That’s how I imagined Santa Barbara would be, like all the time. But it wasn’t. Floatopia was basically a day where everyone went to the beach, brought drinks, hung out. Everyone brought their rafts and their tubes and their coolers full of beer and just, yeah, it was like a huge beach party.

Shana:
Afterwards. Actually, I remember the environmental groups on campus got very angry because of the amount of litter that was left on the beach after that event. So I think I was kind of always that battle between, you know, keeping things clean and environmentally friendly versus having fun, you know, like can they go hand-in-hand? It was always the big question.

Jess:
Yeah. I think they eventually banned Floatopia and they came up with an event that was similar called Deltopia. So it was everything but the drinking on the beach.

Shana:
Right. The beach is kind of funny anyway, because I remember it being clean, generally speaking, like there wasn’t trash on the beach, it was a very nice pristine beach other than the tar that would get on your feet.

Shana:
In episode, number, I think it was number 24, I talked about oil spills. And there was a big oil spill in Santa Barbara, if I remember correctly, in the 1960s. Do you know the year, the 1960s or 1970s?

Jess:
It was somewhere in that decade. Yeah. There was an oil spill in Santa Barbara. And to this day there’s tar on the beach. I remember even if you go in to the shallow end, if you wade in for a couple of minutes, I remember returning to the apartment and always having some kind of tar on my feet. And that’s a result of that oil spill.

Shana:
Yeah, it’s probably not something that you think about when you think about Santa Barbara beaches. It’s just like the negative side of it. Right? I mean, just…

Jess:
Totally, I mean, I guess one good thing that came out of that is I think Santa Barbara invented Earth Day. And that’s a day where we bring awareness to the community about, you know, just being environmentally conscious and, yeah, trying to prevent something like that happening in the future.

Shana:
Yeah, I didn’t know they created Earth Day. That’s cool.

Shana:
When we were in the apartment, one of the things that I remember you and the other two roommates regularly doing, which I didn’t do, was hula dance.

Jess:
That’s, yeah, that’s right. Me and Caroline were part of the Polynesian dance club on campus. It was called Iaorana Te Otea, which means welcome to the drumbeats. And we would learn Hawaiian, Tahitian, all kinds of different Polynesian dances, and then we would perform it for different events across campus.

Shana:
And what is “hula?”

Jess:
Yes. So hula is Hawaiian storytelling through dance.

Shana:
Ok, and so each movement means something different, right?

Jess:
Yes. If you watch a hula dance, you can tell by the dancers hands like oh, they’re talking about the ocean or they’re talking about “ohana,” which is family, or they’re talking about flowers or what have you.

Shana:
So why did you join a hula dance group or Polynesian dance club in the first place? How did you get involved in that? That’s so interesting.

Jess:
Yeah, I think I saw the club perform at one of the cultural events going on on campus, and I was like, that looks like a lot of fun. I thought it would be a great way to meet friends and meeting one of our roommates, Caroline, through that. And yeah, I’ve always had a fascination with Hawaii. Like my family would go there almost every year when I was a kid.

Shana:
Did you actually learn a lot of the Hawaiian words also through the group? Like you mentioned, Ohana means family. But I mean, Hawaiian is actually a language, right? I noticed that you actually pronounced Hawaii, Hawaii, which is the correct pronunciation from Hawaiians. That’s how they pronounce it, right?

Jess:
So that was really good. Shana.

Shana:
Yeah, but did you actually learn a lot of other words in Hawaiian while you were in this group?

Jess:
You know, when we were practicing, we would yeah, we would use a few Hawaiian words, women are called wahine. Different dance moves, we used the native terms. So a fa’arapu is basically moving your hips really, really fast. And you’ll probably recognize that if you’ve gone to a luau and there’s like a Tahitian dancer on stage and that grass skirt is flowing just so fast before your eyes. That’s a fa’arapu.

Shana:
I remember you guys actually trying to, all three of you, kind of ganged up on me in the house and you were all moving your hips and stuff like “Shana, you can do it too.” “I’m like, no, you guys, I cannot do that. And I’m not joining the Polynesian dance club.”

Shana:
Honestly, what I remember I went to one of your shows and I remember Caroline’s a very tall, very white girl character. Angie, our other roommate, white girl. The rest of the group were like these small, cute – Caroline and Angie are both cute- but I just remember there being a lot of small, cute Asians and Filipinos and things like that, and then them sticking out like a sore thumb, not in a bad way because they both could dance. But it was very obvious that they were… they didn’t look native in no way.

Jess:
That’s funny.

Shana:
Yeah. Yeah. So there are a lot of clubs on campus at a university. It’s very common to be involved in clubs. I was involved in German club. I don’t really remember too much of what we did. We kind of just talked about Germany, spoke in German and planned small German events like Octoberfest and stuff like that. But I think that’s one of the perks of being at a university in the first place is getting in contact with a lot of these people that have similar interests.

Shana:
Or even if they’re very different interests. I remember there was a sadomasochist group in Santa Barbara…

Jess:
Oh my gosh!

Shana:
So I’m not sure if you’ve heard of that, but just anything that you can possibly imagine, you can find someone who’s interested in the same thing, which I loved about college.

Shana:
So just I don’t know if you remember this, but at one point after senior year after we had already graduated high school, well, our German friend came and stayed with us for two weeks.

Shana:
I’m not sure if you were actually in the room at the time.

Jess:
Heike! Yeah, yeah, I remember that.

Shana:
Yeah.

Jess:
She is a cool girl.

Shana:
Yeah. So she’s very outdoorsy, more outdoorsy than I would ever consider myself, which I consider myself an outdoorsy person. But she takes it to another level.

Jess:
She’s on another level, yes.

Shana:
And I think more than probably the majority of people in the world, actually.

Shana:
But Heike was involved in the Adventure Club and the Adventure Club was another club on campus that did a bunch of activities like kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, everything that you could possibly imagine that had to do with adventure. And they lived down the street from us. They had an adventure house, and I think technically you needed to pay a membership in order to use some of their equipment, but I wasn’t in the adventure club were you?

Jess:
No, I was not in adventure club. But I think you and I were like honorary unofficial members because I remember Heike dragging us out to go surfing and to go kayaking. And you could basically borrow some of the equipment at the adventure house and be able to do all those activities for free.

Shana:
For free. Yeah, five o’clock in the morning. Six o’clock in the morning. Her dragging us out of bed and pulling us into their backyard, because they left their gate open, and getting wetsuits on. And going down to the beach to go surfing. That is definitely something that was a highlight, I think, post senior year for both of us, probably, right?

Jess:
So fun, yeah.

Shana:
Yeah.

Jess:
Yeah. So Shana and I in college, we both loved learning languages. We both had studied abroad. And I remember both of us trying to look for a jobs that would entail, you know, learning languages or helping people learn languages. And there was a company in Santa Barbara called EF, which stands for Education First, and there would be international students coming to Santa Barbara to learn English during the summertime. And both of us were employed by EF. I think you were like a… I guess you can explain what you did.

Shana:
Yeah, I was a tour guide, educational… I don’t know what they called it, actually, like Adventure Guide or something.

Jess:
There you go, yeah!

Shana:
And basically I had I think three groups at a time of about 20 to 30 Chinese students that I would take around Santa Barbara to show them the life and the culture there.

Shana:
And so at times you could see me walking with about thirty people behind me down to the beach to go kayaking or on the little trolleys they have in downtown Santa Barbara to go to the zoo, which is another activity we regularly did, or go to the park and show them how to play Frisbee. Yeah, we just did a lot of activities together, which was really fun. And then when they had questions about English, they would ask me, which was great, because at the time I was getting my certification to become an English teacher. And so I got to use some of the knowledge that I learned in school to help them with their English, which was great. What was your role at EF?

Shana:
What did you do?

Jess:
So for EF, I was a resident assistant and I remember that the students had a choice between staying with a family who lived in Santa Barbara or they could stay with other EF students in the dorms. And there was a dorm in Isla Vista, I think it was called Tropicana, that would house some of these students.

Jess:
So after they would have an adventure filled day with you and check out the zoo and go to their English lessons, they would come back to the dorm, get an evening meal, study and be able to stay with other international students. And I think that was a great way for them to become friends with other students from around the world. For some of them, it was their first time away from home. I remember the students were anywhere between ages 13 and 30. People from Venezuela, from Kazakhstan, China, as you mentioned, so many other European countries.

Jess:
And yeah, I was basically like, I don’t know, the big sister or the pseudo mom or what have you, making sure that, you know, when it was lights out, it was lights out and helping them to find the bus and where to go eat breakfast, stuff like that.

Shana:
So essentially you were kind of a guide in a way also. Concierge/guide/friend/mom.

Jess:
Totally. Yeah. We both wore like a lot of different hats.

Shana:
Is that something that you would do again ever? You think? Or do you think or do you think that’s just like for after college sort of transition…?

Jess:
Yeah, I think it was a great job to have in your twenties right after college. You want to get a little bit of life experience, but you’re still, you know, kind of a kid still or you want to be around people who you can relate to. And I think, yeah, being around those international students was like the perfect fit.

Shana:
Yeah. Kind of makes you more interested in going abroad again, too, right? I mean, being around…

Jess:
Always. Yeah, definitely. I think you and I always had like wanderlust.

Shana:
Yeah. Yeah. This is one of the um, I guess loanwords in English from German, Wanderlust.

Jess:
Wanderlust, genau (“exactly” in German).

Shana:
I think that college in the United States, I mean, at least from my own personal experience, is so much more than just the education, it’s really about the social life, and I feel like if I hadn’t gone to college, I would have missed out on that and a very memorable time that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t gone.

Shana:
And I know that Lucas, one of his comments about college is that, oh, you don’t really need to go anymore. You can learn everything online. A lot of times you don’t need to have a college education or a degree in order to get a lot of jobs like, I mean, working in tech startups. But I truly think I couldn’t go without it just because it really developed me as a person. And I had so much fun that I look back on it and go, oh, I wish I could go back, you know, just for a day or two.

Jess:
I totally I agree with you, 100 percent. College is not just about the academic side. There was a huge university life outside of that. And yeah, you and I never would have met or become roommates. And it was really instrumental in developing, like social skills and event planning. And yeah, so many other things you would not be able to learn online or from not going to college.

Shana:
All right. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It was great to have you and hear about your experience in college and our experience together.

Jess:
Thanks for having me, Shana. This is a lot of fun.

Shana:
All right. Until next time.

Jess:
Bye.

Thank you for listening to this episode of the American English Podcast. Remember, it’s my goal here to not only help you improve your listening comprehension, but to show you how to speak like someone from the States.

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Shana - ESL Teacher

Hi Everyone! I am an ESL teacher from California and the host of the American English Podcast. Learn more about me and my teaching experience here.

Recent Episodes

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