There are certainly some things worth considering when deciding where to live when studying abroad, and these are definitely some things I didn’t consider when I made my decision. Coming from Manchester we are lucky enough to be at a university that is so amazingly integrated right in to the city centre that at time we often take for granted how easy it is for us to get around and see the city itself. When coming to America, and having chosen to attend a campus university I completely forgot about this as a factor when deciding where to live.
I applied, and was lucky enough to be accepted to live in the I-House in UCSD. I-House has been really great for me in terms of finding friends who are also on study abroad, going through the same experience and want to explore as much as I do. It’s handy being so close to campus that I can literally roll out of bed 10 minutes before a lecture and still make (albeit, even if I am a little late). There are however some drawbacks to living in I-House that as a student coming from somewhere like England, to American I hadn’t anticipated.
Socialising – I-House is great for finding a group of people to socialise with, however it’s not the best for actually providing a space in which you can socialise. The apartments are nice, however there are lots of rules in I-House that are heavily enforced by the RAs. These include policies where under-21s cannot be present when alcohol is being consumed by over 21s, ‘quiet hours’ which start at 10pm and are heavily enforced even on weekends and policies on how many guests a single person allowed. Though many of these are reasonable, the way in which they enforced has at times created toxic atmosphere being created between the residents and RAs. Coming from a lively city like Manchester it constrains socialising in the way that I’m used to and is at times incredibly frustrating.
Distance – though I-House has the bonus of being on campus it does mean it’s far away from the younger, livelier student areas and can be quite isolating at times. Having made friends that live off campus I’ve been lucky enough to experience both sides and can see how living off campus can create a completely different social experience. That said, living off campus without a car can also be challenging at times and is also something worth considering when deciding where to live. Even if you do live off campus its worth taking time to discover areas such as Pacific Beach where many students live and hang out to create links there. Coming from Manchester, commuting is something that as students we are used to, and though it may take a bit of time, can be worthwhile when integrating yourself in to the city a bit more.
Overall I would say take some time thinking about what sort of uni experience you want while studying abroad and what matters to you. If you like going out and want that as part of your time abroad, living off-campus if definitely worth considering as it gives you greater access to the city at large. If you really want to experience the ‘American university lifestyle’ and want to find friends easily then living on-campus is probably a better option!