26 Jun SF Culture and Travel – 11/12
The main attraction of going to SFSU is obviously San Francisco itself – one of the most vibrant and fulfilling cities I have ever stayed in. There’s a few reasons as to why SF rents are so high, but I think the main one is that it’s just an extremely cool place to live. The hilly terrain gives you breathtaking views almost wherever you go; the parks bring masses of people together in weekly celebration; the cultural history leads you to new and fascinating places all the time – the list really goes on. Areas like Castro and the Haight are so iconic that you won’t be able to resist their charm (Haight less so now – it feels more like a commodified homage to hippy culture, which is contradictory for all sorts of reasons)
I believe California’s marijuana industry is also worth mentioning – following in the footsteps of other states toward full legalisation, the psudeo-legailty of weed in SF means that police officers can spend their time dealing with actual serious crime, rather than arresting young black men and perpetuating the (quite frankly) fucked up cycle of incarceration that destroys so many American lives. In SF, people are allowed to enjoy the medicinal benefits of marijuana (you will smell it literally everywhere you go) and it can be smoked mostly anywhere. I would advise using a little bit of caution here though, be discreet and no one will have a problem. Smoking outside a school at home-time might not be the best idea. To be eligible to purchase weed from dispensaries in SF, you must first visit a marijuana doctor (there’s plenty throughout the city) and explain why you would need it, and then you can buy an ID card which can be used to buy weed from any dispensary in the city. You must however prove that you are a California resident – any proof of address here in SF will suffice.
There is rising inequality in SF though, and this can be quite jarring when you see it firsthand on the streets. The emergence of the tech industry in places like Silicon Valley (Google, Facebook etc) means that many of their employees choose to live in San Francisco – the closest major city. With this wealthy, new-age workforce all settling in SF, landlords can charge increasingly higher rents and still get away with it. This prices out the local residents – many of whom are then forced to live in campsite settlements on the streets. And then people complain about ‘the homeless problem’, as if it isn’t a direct consequence of recent attitudes and social care policy. The tech industry then resists higher taxation by threatening to move away – essentially blackmailing legislators into financial complicity. This, for me, was the biggest negative about the city. It’s hard to believe that SF hasn’t lost its famously loving spirit, when you see cops arrive at camping settlements and clear the homeless away, thinking that it is an appropriate solution to ever-growing problem.
However much this undermines the 60s ethos of love and freedom that became this city’s cultural mantra, SF is still one of the U.S’s most liberal cities, and the achievements of the likes of Harvey Milk are still cause for much celebration today – The power of community is what makes SF so special and I urge you to get involved as much as you can during your stay. (Bearing in mind that we, as exchange students willing and able to pay for high rent accommodation, are probably also pricing out local residents out of their own communities…)
The travel opportunities that will present themselves are truly staggering. I travelled all along the west coast, seeing cities like Vancouver, Seattle, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego etc. My roommate is from Indiana originally, so I visited him in his hometown over Christmas and the trip turned out to be fascinating. The cultural divide between coastal and rural America is remarkable, and it is important to visit places in the heart of Trumpland to gain greater understanding of the current political climate. I also took a solo trip to Mexico City, my favourite destination so far – it’s truly an amazing place to visit (even without any Spanish whatsoever!)