UCLA Summer Study Abroad Program: Blair's story

23 August 2012

For many it's a dream to live and study on campus at a prestigious American university. The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, in collaboration with the United States Studies Centre, offered an unprecedented opportunity to turn this dream into reality with the UCLA Study Abroad Program.

Twenty-one Sydney students experienced life at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) over the June-July winter break. Placed 13th in the latest Times Higher Education rankings, UCLA is one of the most renowned universities in the world. Founded in 1919, "discovery, creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of UCLA".

In addition to gaining invaluable international experience, the students also received credit for the subjects they undertook abroad, accelerating their Sydney degrees.

Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the students came to be acquainted with living and learning in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Blair McVicar recounts how his time at UCLA gave him a chance to live his own "American Dream", witnessing the idiosyncrasies of the USA as it heads into its November election.

Blair McVicar
Blair McVicar, third from left, outside Royce Hall, UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance

BLAIR MCVICAR: 3rd year Bachelor of Political,Economic and Social Sciences student majoring in Government and International Relations and American Studies.

The UCLA Summer Study Abroad Program was my own 'American dream'. In essence, the experience created a microcosm of the greater United States, and confirmed America's values, the nation's greatness, and its contradictions. Being given the opportunity to study in the United States placed my understanding of the country on a whole new level. It provided a perspective that is not possible in Australia; one that comes from people who were born and raised in a country that everyone in the world looks to. Regardless of one's feelings on the United States, it is virtually impossible to not be affected by the decisions the country makes, and the economic, social and intellectual prosperity that it produces. To see how Americans themselves understand this was truly invaluable. The Americans that I met were very sure of what they stood for and why, and this was made clear to me during debates over healthcare reform. Very few Americans whom I met were willing to accept the idea of state-provided healthcare - 'a socialist notion rooted in all of the concerns that come with big government'.

Being placed in a city such as Los Angeles, the diversity of the United States became apparent almost instantly. It is a city that celebrates both the best and the worst of America. The contrast between the wealth and the poverty of the nation could not have been made more clear than what it was in L.A. It was not uncommon to walk down the street and see homeless people begging for money behind a row of Lexus'. Being able to study the United States and its political system from an internal perspective not only enriched my education more broadly, but has allowed me to be more critical of the democratic institutions that I have for years accepted solely as they are, without appropriate judgement. This was further fuelled by the critical and competitive nature of education in the United States, which is of high value to students. The constant strive to achieve to me was poignantly indicative of the nature of American people more broadly.

The pride of the American people, and the patriotism that they show to their country, is one of the most powerful things that I observed. The apolitical nature in which Americans show respect to their service men and women demonstrates a depth to the American character that entails an inherent sense of unity and pride. When we went to watch the L.A. Dodgers play baseball, all U.S. veterans in the crowd were asked to stand so that the crowd could applaud them - in situations like this, it was hard not to get a little emotional. In an overly critical world, where talk of America's inevitable decline is almost pandemic, Americans are a people who place value on what they have achieved, whilst continuously striving for further prosperity. To a world that wears their clothes, listens to their music, watches their movies and eats their food, we would do best to watch and learn. I was lucky enough to be able to do that, by immersing myself into the educational system of one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

You can read more from Blair on his blog

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Contact: Kate Mayor

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