Mariah Furtek is a staff columnist studying abroad in London until winter quarter. In this column series, she analyzes UCLA’s study abroad program and examines from afar how Bruins live in their beloved Los Angeles.
Gleaming skyscrapers rub shoulders with museums and shops, each jockeying for a position in the crowded skyline. This city is a birthplace of culture, a space where fashion, technology, finance and tourism intersect.
No, I’m not describing London. I’m talking about Los Angeles.
Despite all LA has to offer, though, I’ve done more city exploration in London during the three weeks I’ve been living here than in my two years as an LA resident.
Right now, it’s all too easy for Bruins to get stuck within a 2-mile radius of UCLA, trekking from their dorm to lecture hall, from Powell Library to the gym and then from a dining hall back home. This limited loop can become a student’s entire world, with the rest of Los Angeles melting out of focus as the quarter wears on, to-do lists increase and motivation decreases.
This deprives students of an important cultural learning experience.
More routine exposure to the city gives students a better sense of the kind of environment they want to live in after they graduate, and informs their graduate school and job applications.
More regularly organized trips into the city with classmates provide students unique opportunities to compare perspectives with peers from different backgrounds who they might not socialize with outside of class. After all, most of the current city outings UCLA hosts are organized through residence halls where people would mostly explore within existing friend groups.
In all fairness, the closed-off nature of college campuses is not a UCLA-specific problem.
“At the beginning of every year at Northwestern I tell myself I’m going to explore Chicago, and then I never do,” said Audrey DeLong, a fourth-year English student at Northwestern University who is spending fall semester at King’s College London.
Regardless of how endemic this issue may be to college students in general, UCLA should still take a greater initiative to give students a more dynamic and holistic experience.
The university should incorporate more field trips into course curricula to help students break out of the Bruin bubble and explore the greater LA area. Urging students out of stuffy lecture halls and into the bustling city streets forces them to consider the world outside of Westwood.
KCL, for example, offers a multitude of courses with field trip components where several classes take place off campus in sites relevant to the coursework.
DeLong, for instance, is enrolled in the “Museums of London: A Cultural History” course in which half of the lectures are field trips to museums throughout the city.
“Going to a museum and seeing what I’m learning about in class gives a new dimension of significance to what I’m learning about,” DeLong said.
KCL also offers a Shakespeare class that meets in the historic Globe Theatre itself.
These kinds of field trips allow students to develop deeper connections to both the course material and the city they’re living in. Seeing these abstract concepts play out in the local community adds a new dimension to classes and is more likely to have a lasting impact on students even after the course ends.
And KCL students see great value in these trips. Beca Williams, a second-year geography student at KCL, said the university’s geography department incorporates field trips into first-year classes. Williams took a course last year where she and her peers explored a London borough being redeveloped as part of a lecture on gentrification.
“To see how the processes you’re reading about actually affect people makes you think more critically about your environment,” Williams said. “Field trips help take the global or theoretical problems you’re learning about in class and make you think about them on the local scale.”
UCLA does a great deal to make the greater LA area accessible to students. This commitment is evident in programs run by department like UCLA Residential Life, Volunteer Center, Center for Community Learning and Transportation.
And while the university does offer classes with field trips, most of these are service learning classes offered within the Center for Community Learning. Requiring field trip components in courses from a wider range of disciplines would expand the impact of this program.
These great programs make it more affordable for students to leave campus but it is clear Bruins also need more of an incentive to utilize them.
Last year, for example, the Westwood grocery shuttle run by ResLife served 15,638 people. The weekly shuttle service designed to take students to points of interest in LA, however, was only used by 4,215 people, according to a UCLA statement.
The tremendous disparity in these numbers suggests that while students are going off campus, not many are exploring the greater LA area. Incorporating field trips into the core curriculum would give students the incentive they are lacking. Exploring the city with classmates would also make them more comfortable with venturing out into the city on their own and more likely to utilize the transportation services UCLA provides.
And by requiring field trips in a wider range of classes, Bruins wouldn’t have to travel across the globe to realize the value of exploring the city just outside their college campus.