I Left My Heart in Davis

An engrossing Fulbright’s pre-academic program experience

Davis, Personal Doc, 2016.

What are the odds of finding a sanctuary when you’re far far away from home?

I’ve always had a dream of flying high and soaring above the clouds aimlessly as the wind hauls me into a heaven-like dwelling inhabited by different creatures that savor the taste of fine wine like breathing, or watch rainbows as if something extraordinary happens which won’t come the next time around and a memory box is built based on each color. Creatures that would let the sun caresses its shine on their skin like a lover’s fingertips at a lingering night.

It is hard not to describe Davis passionately and fairytale-ish as it is one of the best place I have traveled to. As my Fulbright scholarship allows me to indulge a compass of 4 week-long journey during the sun-soaked days of August 2016, I embrace the lovely opportunity that will stay life-long with me. The word ‘amazing’ can’t do its justice to recount what I experienced in this beautiful small city located in the YOLO county (Yes, now you know why I love the city so much and riding on YOLO buses).

Rewind to May 2016, I got an email regarding my status as an upcoming screenwriting master’s student in the United States, that before I started the imminent two years challenging myself creatively, I would be attending a summer program at the wondrous University of California Davis as a pre-academic training in order to acquaint myself to be conscious of the American way of life. I trusted my heart and I trusted my gut, convincing my foolish self that everything would be okay. I would finally begin my adventure.

UC Davis via ucdavis.edu

When the day came for me to fly high and soar above the clouds, I clenched my fist, soothed my crumpled mind, sat as straight as I could in the waiting room of the airport. Of course, I questioned a lot of things before coming here: What will I eat? Will I sleep well? Jetlag? Will I be able to communicate with them? Are they all tall? Will I look like a hobbit? Is my English sufficient enough to order food there? Will they understand my accent? How will I go around? Will I be able to walk long distance? Will I get overwhelmed over small things? Will get excited over small things? Will there be toilets with bidets? Will I get homesick? Or instead, will I enjoy it too much and forget to call home? Will I be able to keep up with the class? Will the teacher recognize me? Are there Indonesians too there? How cold will it get in the Winter? How many winter clothes should I have? When can I see snow? Will I see snow? Why there’s no snow in Los Angeles? Will I find good friends? Will I find a friend? Will I make beautiful memories there? Will I survive? Will I be okay?

The idea of having to adjust to zillion of things at once scared my little heart a bit, but with every inch of my existence I decided to relish whatever transition I would face. In the hope of improving, evolving, and enhancing my new relationship with the land of opportunity, I tried myself to stop dribbling my confidence and instead just straightened my faith to walk with me right. So there I went.

The things I do while waiting for Davis to befriend me

My first long flight went successfully without me getting sick or lost or break down emotionally for missing my mom, so it was a pretty smooth journey. Although one funny thing happened at the airport as I encountered my first cultural discrepancy during my second layover at LAX. While waiting for my next flight and struggling to connect to wi-fi connection so I could call home, I ordered one turkey burger. I should have had guessed, that the portion would be humongous (Yes, this is huge for me).

via tripadvisor.co.uk

Totally different from what is usually served in Indonesia. It tasted amazing, yet my silly stomach was whining for me to stop shoving more food that I only finished a third part of this luscious buns and fries. Thinking to just take it in the plane with me, I innocently called the waiter.

Me: Hi, can I please take this away with me?
Waiter: Of course (Took away my plate)
1 minute passed. 2 minutes passed. 5 minutes passed. 8 minutes passed. I decided to bravely ask him with all the English I know.
Me: Hi, I’m ready to pay and take the food. (I know I spoke softly and he barely heard it)
Waiter: Ok, great. Just wait one minute (Went away and came back with the check).
Me: (Paid the check, put some tip — first time doing this, and waited for my food so I could bask in it later on).
Waiter: (Took the check) Thank you so much, hope you have a nice day (Left me with nothing)

Ok, what…? I was dumbfounded and was craving for my food yet the race against time couldn’t be denied, so I packed my things and proceeded to the waiting room. Later in Davis, a friend taught me that when you say “ʼtake away”, they will assume you don’t want to eat anymore. To take the food with you, you have to say “Can I have a box to go?” There goes my first cultural lesson in ordering food …and in losing great bucks of a fine burger.

That’s the opening of my journey to the bike friendly city and how I deeply realized that it was a part of my new adventure, my new normal, my new life.

Shortly, I found myself captivated by the chemistry of romanticism and freedom in Davis, a college town with a quarter of its total population inhabited by students at the Public Ivy, UC Davis. Its vibe resonates profoundly with my clumsy excitement and I was enamored with the the lingering kindness shown by everyone — literally everyone — there. The city is relatively small and all places are relatively in close proximity with the downtown which can be reached easily by bike, bus, or walking.

The things I grasped as I soaked in this stunning city

It is a comparatively common sight to see Americans walking alone on a sun-soaked day at UC Davis wearing t-shirts or tank tops, shorts, and flip flops. The idea of dressing casually at an academic environment is unfamiliar in my country. Though oftentimes I see similar views on American movies, but to experience and observe it firsthand has earned me insightful comprehension into the American culture of informality and individuality. I have learned that this shows a distinct cultural differences where Americans highly value informality whilst my country, Indonesia, and maybe most Asian’s cultures, value formality more. The most noticeable area of informality is definitely the clothing which extends to the liberation of each individual to express themselves. Women can wear very little clothing in public places during summer without being seen “immodest” or associated with morals. Professionals or academia can wear anything they want without the requirement of formal clothing or being worried about people perceiving their “images” differently.

Davis Farmer’s Market, Personal Doc, 2016

Also, in a social sense, teachers and students can act casually and informally toward each other. What interesting is, they usually address each other by their first or given names regardless of age, gender, and position. Americans tend to be expressive and can show their emotions without hesitance as well as smiling and talking casually to strangers. I can’t even remember how many strangers noticed me looking all lost and asked me “Do you need any help?” I believe that this mainstream culture is related to their value of equality or treating everyone the same way. I love it.

I have to start doing things for myself. Being independent is one of the most deeply ingrained beliefs in the US. Americans develop and teach independence and individuality since a very young age, as young as toddlers. American parents put their toddlers to sleep alone in a separate room and watch them through baby monitors. They encourage their children to be individual and independent in their thoughts and actions, and not to depend on others. I, on the other hand, am still working on that.

I believe the value of individualism has contributed to the society’s standard of communication. For instance, if someone has a different political stance than his/her colleague, they can debate and have a long discussion about the topic, however they will undoubtedly respect each other’s preferences without forcing their personal opinion and get offended with their disagreement. Okay, maybe it’s not in America only, but their straightforward and open nature is definitely what makes it different.

Old Sacramento, Personal Doc, 2016

One other thing I cannot get enough of is that the fact of their streets is in form of grids, which makes someone with a poor sense of direction — like moi- can easily be familiar with the city. Though Google Maps is still one of my bestest friend, but it’s definitely easier to wander through and get lost in the city.

Oh, how I will miss listening to the old people band at the Farmer’s Market. How I will miss all the sandwiches I haven’t got to try at UC Davis Coffee House. How I will miss biking through the straight roads and roundabouts at UC Davis while chatting happily with my friends. How I will miss all the kind teachers and the friendly people on every corner of the city. I cannot be more thankful for little pieces of sun that I collected and every soul that I crossed paths with during those summery days in Davis.

Because, what are the odds of finding a sanctuary when you’re far far away from home?