Study Abroad Program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, California USA
As seen through the eyes of Andrew Beath
Hello my name is Andy, I undertook a one semester exchange program at California
Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, California, US of A during the 2008 Fall Quarter (Sept
– Dec). My mission in writing this brief essay is to inspire any reader that may have a slight
desire to go on exchange to jump on board and go for it; you will not regret it!
Why Cal Poly?
I had previously done my IBL year in the UK; with a lot of travel that was the Europe box ticked
for me. I had North America as my next destination on the to‐do list. I think there are around 6
unis to choose from in the US for Swinny students and a Californian college town 15 minutes
from the beach was a very easy choice for me. I may be a little biased but San Luis Obispo (or
SLO as I’ll now refer) is an amazing place to live for 3 months. NOTHING could top it, well not in
the US for that matter.
Some quick facts: 20,000 students go to Poly, there are approx. 40,000 residents in SLO,
Californian kids account for well over 90% of the student body and international students
come in at under 1%... believe me you’ll be the token Aussie wherever you go!
San Luis Obispo sits in the middle of a 7 peak small mountain range in between Madonna and
Bishop Peaks, it’s a photographer’s wet dream. You can hike up both peaks, ride your bike to
Laguna Lake, go for a surf at Pismo Beach (15min by bus), catch some fish at Morro Bay or
even camp at the top of Madonna as I did (damn freezing at night!). Basically if you like a bit of
the outdoors you’ll love it here and never want to leave. The weather is great up until
December; I only copped a week of rain in November and wore my havianas to class 90% of
the time. HIRE A BIKE from Joel Westwood when you arrive, my bike ‘Killer Mike’ got me
around everywhere in SLO.
Where to live?
If you only take one tip from me, remember this one: stay at VALENCIA APARTMENTS!! Simply
put, it is the best, there are many, many accommodation choices but believe me if you stay
somewhere else, you’ll be missing out. WHY? On campus has a strict no‐alcohol policy,
meaning there’s no parties…what are you going to do all the time? Mustang Village may sell
itself as a good off‐campus option but I crashed there a few nights on mates’ floors only to
wake up, go downstairs and find my bike seat missing…dodgy!
Valencia is a 5‐10 minute bike ride to campus (try and break my 4min20sec record when you’re
late for class…), it’s a minute walk to Albertsons, the local supermarket, and 10min bike to
downtown and the bars. 2nd hot tip: write on your Valencia application form you want to live
with Americans… not other internationals and do NOT live with Aussie mates from Swinburne!
You’re not travelling halfway around the world to do what you do at home. I had a housemate
from Maryland, and New York State, sound blokes. We threw one party every weekend as did
next door on a Fri/Sat rotation, good times. The Americans love having someone from down
under around so be prepared to pull out all the rhyming slang and Aussie sayings you know. If
you can, bring over a jar of vegemite to pull out after your beer pong games, they all say they
hate it but I always wondered why do they ask for a 2nd serving??
Another advantage of Valencia is that a lot of other international students stay there. Through
living there I’ve made a bunch of awesome friends from Germany, Sweden, Denmark and
Norway who I will definitely be visiting in the next year or so. I’m actually writing this 2 months
after I left SLO and in 3 wks times I’m going back to sleep on a Valencia floor for one last party
marathon before I return to oz.
Last Valencia tip: sunbake by the pool while the sun is still hot to check out the current Scando
talent…that’s for guys and girls.
Any time for study?
Doesn’t sound like it but yes, you’ve got to fit in a heap of time for college. There are 16hrs of
contact and the way the Americans study it will make your Swinny degree to date seem like a
walk in the park. I was studying a Civil Eng/Business degree and was lucky enough to go to Poly
on the last semester of my degree. I only took business subjects over there (BUS402 ‐
International Bus Mgmt, ECON330 ‐ International Trade & BUS302 – Internl Cross Cultural
Mgmt); I had one elective up my sleeve so I took Spanish 101 as well. My advice would be not
to take 4 subjects that are 3 stream or higher (i.e. BUS301) it’s just way too hard, I was under
the pump that was for sure!! Try to mix it up with subjects from diff. faculties, use your
electives and at least one hard subject to get an appreciation of how bloody hard Americans
If by chance your studying International Business you must take Colette Frayne for a class, it
will be the hardest class you’ll EVER take but she’s worth it! Colette’s the only teacher I’ve ever
knocked back a lot of beers with at the pub and only teacher that I’ve added on Facebook.
Class was interesting as I was the only international in 3/4 classes. In week 1, as soon as I
opened my mouth I had 40 sets of eyes on me. Try and have an input in every class, the
American classroom is all about interaction and they want to hear your unique point of view.
Also think that the networks you make may come in handy later on after your degree. I had
dinner at a group members house when we where working on a final assignment. She was in
her 30’s and her engineer boyfriend had just flown in from doing a business deal with the King
of Morocco! I made damn sure I got them f’book and they’ll be getting a nice postcard from
me when I get home.
Final study tip, bring a laptop, it is a necessity. I went over without one and went running for
the shops in wk 2 when all my assessments were online.
Did someone say party?
Right, so this is why you’re really going for isn’t it? If your not 21, you’re going to struggle to
get into bars downtown and they were a highlight of my time in SLO…just one highlight
though. Check out Mother’s Tavern and the legendary Downtown Brew, my regular! Coming
from Melbourne the bars aren’t anything to write home about so keep expectations low, it’s
more about the college atmosphere and the regular faces you see. Say a big G’day to people
and they’ll want to chat. See a live gig at DTB and whatever you do, DO NOT take an 8am
Friday morning lecture…it’s painful with a capital P!!
Bars in SLO are fun but they are only a fraction of the fun. College parties are where it’s at. If
you’re living in Valencia, there’ll be weekly parties all around the complex (130 apartments).
The rooms are small so they don’t get that wild. Try to sneak into the big frat house next door
to Valencia for a true Animal House experience.
Enough Blue Moons already…
Some extra‐curricular activities that don’t include boozing it up every weekend would be to hit
up a Mustangs football match…out of this world and just like you see in the movies, marching
bands and all. We only lost 2 games last season, hopefully we can go one better next year. See
the very good Poly Soccer team and their not so good basketball team in action. For some
Californian bronzed bodied talent head to the on campus gym. And how could I nearly forget
the farmer’s market every Thursday night on Higuera St, downtown, another must. Finally bike
night the last farmer’s of each month is awesome and something you won’t get to see again
Right this is my favourite part, I could write a book about my travels so I’ll try and keep it brief.
Travel as much as you can because when the hell are you going to be living in the Golden State
again?? I arrived a week before classes started and jumped straight in a hire car and went to
Yosemite National Park with a Danish friend that was on exchange, well worth it. Spent
Halloween down in Santa Barbara probably the best place to party in the states for Halloween,
70,000 students crammed on one street…crazy. Hearst Castle is definitely worth a look. By
week 7 I had bought an 8 seater GMC Safari Van (basically a big ppl mover which I’ll explain
about in a sec). We took the van which we nicknamed Pamela Vanderson up along the Big Sur,
to the beach regularly, Solvang and to Vegas for a 5 day stint over Thanksgiving.
The reason I purchased Pamela: at the end of my exchange 3 mates from back home flew over
to join me and 2 Danish girls that were also on exchange. The 6 six of us shared the cost of the
Pamela and tried to drive her to NYC on a 2 month road trip (We crashed Pamela in Colorado
and made it to NYC by car #5 but I’ll leave that epic story for another time…).
The point that I’m getting at here is that there are SO, SO many amazing travel opportunities
out there and your Swinburne degree opens the door to a lot of it, you just have to be wiling to
go for it. I’ll leave the money break downs and costs for the Exchange Survey, I just want to say
that I did all that travel and partying on the cheap, it is very possible if you play it smart.
I’m sitting here now in a Nicaraguan internet café by the beach reflecting on my amazing time
in SLO, getting by on the minimal espanol that I learnt at Poly. I’m thinking, damn, I’m very
jealous of YOU, the reader, because you’re about to embark on a trip of a lifetime…I’d do
anything to be able ALL OVER AGAIN!!
P.S. If you want more tips and advice, or like to know what happened to car #3; Van Wilder,
drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or add me on the book. If you do make it over to SLO
get in touch I’d love to hear some of your fantastic adventures!
R.I.P. PAMELA VANDERSON