California is the stuff of dreams.
My guess is you either sighed in longing or rolled your eyes in annoyance at the above statement. Either way, bear with me.
How many times have you heard someone talk of “running away to California,” and how many songs have been written about doing just that?
Even its name bears the remnants of fantasy. It’s been said the name comes from an old 16th-century Spanish novel in which there exists a mythical island called California, where Amazon women dwell and gold is the only metal that exists.
And then there are the real historical facts: people fled to California for the Gold Rush, then during the Great Depression, and then during the Dust Bowl, all hoping to strike it rich, or at least hoping for a life better than the one they left behind (and anyone who’s ever read a John Steinbeck novel knows how THAT can end).
Consequently, California is also the USA’s most populous state. Anyway, for those who don’t know, I recently moved to California—Silicon Valley, to be exact.
While researching how I would make the seemingly impossible move from Florida to California in less than two weeks, I came across this blog post: “Moving to California With no Money.” I don’t think it was meant to be taken entirely seriously, but please take a look at the comments it generated! People from Puerto Rico to New Zealand were entreating others on the internet for advice and assistance as they desperately tried to get to California. It’s a great display of just how crazy the California Dream can make people.
Now that I’ve been here for five weeks (wow, time flies!), I feel I can speak a little bit about what it’s like to live in California, particularly in Silicon Valley. I hope you find this helpful, but I also hope you don’t take this too seriously. I’ve been working on this post little-by-little over the past four weeks, during any few moments of time I could spare. Free time is scarce these days.
What you will find below is blatant sarcasm and a list of sweeping generalizations that you may or may not agree with—that’s fine! I do not claim to be an expert AT ALL.
What it’s like living in California
The People and Culture
- The most talented, brilliant people are here. I walk around in constant awe of the people around me. They are so humble that, at first, nothing in particular stands out about them—and then bam! You find out they used to work for Google and now have three of their own businesses—at age 27. Or they’ll say something like, “Yeah, I dabble in design and photography…” and then you ask to see their work and it’s incredible. I’m learning so much from the people here.
- They replace normal words with techie ones. This point is particularly just for the Silicon Valley area, but what would you expect from a place famous for housing almost every major tech company in the world? People in my office use the word “bandwidth” instead of “time.” For example, I got an email from someone saying, “I’m expecting to have a significant narrowing of bandwidth this month, so do you think you could help me with this project?” Translated into normal people’s talk, it meant, “I’m really busy and don’t have much time this month.” Or, more commonly, people in my office will say, “I just don’t have the bandwidth for this!” No, they don’t mean their internet connection is slow; they mean they don’t have TIME for this. But doesn’t “bandwidth” sound so much cooler?
- Geeks Galore! Once again, this is just a Silicon Valley thing, and I am BASKING in it! I love geeks. So. Much.
- The “cool kids” live in San Francisco. I’m in love with the Valley (natives call Silicon Valley “the Valley,” and they call San Francisco “the City”), but a lot of the young, twenty-somethings around me want to live in San Francisco. Why? Not really sure. I think it has something to do with the “super cool nightlife” and other “fun” things I don’t really care for. A surprising amount of people in my office live in San Francisco and commute through some of the nation’s worst traffic for an hour (on a good day!) each way every day to come to work in Palo Alto. I guess it’s not so bad though because they don’t really complain about it. I complain about it for them though.
- Technology reigns supreme. Well, duh, it IS Silicon Valley, but it still amazes me how technologically forward this place is. I’ve never seen so many iPads before. The other day at church, the priest read notes for his homily off of his iPad! The local public library rents out Google Chromebooks! People are constantly cracking techie jokes about Internet Explorer and other things they like to make fun of…and I just laugh and pretend I get it.
- It’s much more culturally rich and diverse. Walking around, it’s not uncommon to hear three different languages being spoken around me. There is such a great mix of all different ethnicities, which is just awesome. It prevents close-mindedness; it encourages us to realize that people exist outside of our little bubble, that the world is vast and waiting to be explored. It also means that I get access to my favorite Filipino places, like Goldilocks bakery and Jollibee (which I had previously thought existed only in the Philippines).
- Everyone is “working at this really cool new startup.” That’s one reason I love it here! Everyone thinks they have the newest, greatest idea; everyone thinks they’re about to launch the next Facebook or Google_and that’s GREAT. I love being in a place where great inventions are born, where creativity and innovation are encouraged.
- Everyone else is working at Google or Facebook. I seriously need to stop acting like I’ve just met a celebrity when I meet someone who works (or has worked) at Google or Facebook. Because that’s pretty common around here. But STILL—isn’t that awesome?
- Everyone loves it here. I have yet to meet a Californian who dreams of leaving this place. Even the ones who were born and raised here, wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve even met a few people who used to live in California, and they always say some variation of “I can’t wait to get back there.”
Scenery and Weather
- California has a little bit of everything. Deserts, beaches, mountains—you name it, California’s got it. I especially enjoy the Bay Area because there is such variety within driving distance. Want to feel the rush of a crowded, big city? It’s 30 miles to San Francisco, or just 16 miles south to San Jose. Want to relax in the open space of farm land? Drive 45 miles south to Gilroy. In particular, I love being able to see the mountains and the ocean. It’s absolutely breathtaking here.
- It’s surprisingly cold. Now bear in mind this complaint is coming from a girl who was born in Florida and lived there for 22 years…but my goodness, the Bay Area is cold! During the day, the temperature is perfect, but at night it drops down to the 50s. I keep thinking it’s Christmastime.
- It’s also sunny and never rains. I went from experiencing torrential downpours every day to not seeing one drop of rain for four weeks! Glorious.
- No one uses A/C. No one needs to. People just roll down their windows when they drive. I haven’t been to a house yet that has central A/C.
- My hair looks fabulous. Every day. One advantage to no longer living in a place that can be best described as walking continuously through a water mister is that my hair looks amazing. No more frizz. Okay, I lied; there are still days when I walk out without so much as blow drying my hair, and let’s face it, no amount of beautiful weather can fix that.
- Fruits and vegetables are fresher. A lot of the fruit you buy from the grocery store is actually from California. Now that I’m right at the source, I can definitely taste the difference in freshness. Farmers Markets are on nearly every corner too.
- My avocado consumption has skyrocketed. Before moving here, I didn’t even like avocado. Now I eat it every day, and I have to consciously stop myself from eating more than one serving of it. (It’s like BUTTER! Yummy, rich butter!) And California just keeps feeding this addiction—there is avocado in everything!
- Organic is all the rage. Everything here has an organic option. The other day I saw organic Heinz ketchup for the first time in my workplace’s kitchen. Really? As though making ketchup organic could change the fact that it’s laden with sugar and sodium.
- Gardening is popular. You should see the landscaping of houses around here. No one has just regular, boring lawns with grass. People have hydrangeas, fruit trees, and other plants I’ve never seen before. The other day at work, a coworker said, “Hey, I harvested my basil this morning.” Apparently he brought some in to the office to give to people. I wanted to laugh, but then I realized no one else found this funny. I grew up in a place where people my age don’t garden, and no one ever says the words, “I harvested.” Unless you’re a farmer. And there were definitely farmers where I grew up.
- Everyone is vegetarian. I’m becoming a vegetarian simply by association. A lot of people in my office are vegetarians, so I find myself eating the same food they eat. Almost every restaurant you go to will advertise vegetarian options too. I can’t complain much though; the food is still really awesome, and I’ve never been much of a meat eater anyway.
Healthiness & Environmental Friendliness
- Walking, running, biking are encouraged. Bike lanes are enormously wide, and there are several special bike paths and pedestrian bridges. I live just 2 miles from work, yet I still choose to drive, and people keep asking me why I don’t just bike. Well, if you MUST know, I’m really clumsy, and I’m afraid I’m going to get hit by a car.
- Is that recyclable? Believe me, I am a huge supporter of recycling…I just never do it myself. Back in Florida, recycling was such a hassle. They didn’t make it easy. They made you drive out to a random recycling bin on some dusty road and sort out your own recyclables. But here, recycling is the ONLY option, and I’m confused by it all. The other day, I had just finished eating lunch at a restaurant, and I had crammed my trash into a plastic cup, which I then placed on top of my paper bowl, which still had some food left in it. But when I went to throw it away in a trash can, I was confronted with TWO bins labeled “Recyclables” and “Compostables.” I didn’t know how to separate these. I didn’t even know “compostables” was a WORD. I knew the plastic cup was definitely recyclable, but I had stuffed trash into it, some of which was paper napkin, which I thought could be categorized as compostable. Then there was the food which was all mashed into the paper bowl, so would I have to take that out separately? I pondered this dilemma for about five minutes. I then walked halfway across the parking lot, found a regular trash can, and threw everything away in there. Problem solved. (I’m a horrible person, I know.)
- Say goodbye to plastic bags. At the grocery store, baggers don’t ask you “Paper or plastic?” because paper is the only option. Because, you know, recycling.
- Houses are 50% windows. While searching on Craigslist for a place to live in Silicon Valley, I kept coming across ads that said “bright room,” “plenty of natural light,” “lots of windows.” I found it odd that windows and natural lighting were major selling points here. Now that I’m actually living in an apartment that has windows all over the place, I get it: the weather here is so beautiful, Californians want to feel as though they’re ALWAYS outside! Genius. Also, I never have to turn on lights because of the natural sunlight being let in, which is beautiful.
- Rent is ridiculously high. I had major sticker shock while searching for a place to live here in the Valley. I mean, I KNEW California was much more expensive than Florida, and I KNEW that Silicon Valley was much more expensive than many other parts of California, but I was still shocked by the cost of living when I came here. The whole cost of living and rental situation deserves an entirely separate blog post. Stay tuned for that one.
- Scarves. I love scarves, and so do Californians. Now I finally get to wear my favorite clothing item without people asking, “Why are you wearing a scarf when it’s 80 degrees outside?”
- Layers. I come from a place where we try to wear as few layers as possible. But here, layering is a necessity. The weather is perfect and slightly warm during the day, but I’m freezing at night.
- Boots in the SUMMER? I didn’t bring my boots with me because I thought, “Now why would I ever need boots in sunny and warm California?” Big mistake. Everyone wears boots. I look silly in my flip flops.
- Turn signals optional. My first week here I had the joy of driving behind someone who never signaled—not once!—during the five or so lane changes and turns he made. I thought maybe his turn signals were just burnt out, until I realized this is a common California driver thing…
- Luxury cars prevail. Everywhere I turn there’s a Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, you name it. In fact, driving through Palo Alto was the first time I’d ever seen a Tesla dealership because only in Silicon Valley would there exist a person who can afford to buy an all-electric car that starts at $60,000. My Nissan Altima is the lone “economy car” among a sea of Mercedes and BMWs that line the street outside my apartment.
- Traffic is a way of life. I’d just like to say that the traffic here is NOT as bad as everyone made me believe before I came here. The 101 in California is notorious for being one of the worst commutes in the nation. But I really don’t think it’s as bad as people who don’t live here make it sound. I guess I was just prepared for it. Plus, I chose to live about 2 miles from work, so I don’t even have to take the freeway. But it’s an accepted way of life here. No one questions it. They just grin and bear it.
- The Toyota Prius is everywhere. In a state where gas is well above $4, this totally makes sense.
- There is
sotoo much to do and see! They have the most quirky, awesome attractions and events around here. There’s a Computer History Museum nearby (I have yet to check it out); the other night my church hosted a talk by one of the physicists who discovered the Higgs boson, and there’s a huge Literary Festival going on in San Francisco this weekend! I’m having a hard time prioritizing the things I want to see.
- It’s everything I dreamed and more. Okay, not to get all sappy, but it truly is an amazing place. I’m so very thankful to be here and to everyone who supported me in my decision. I’m soaking it up, not just the location, but all the people I’m meeting, the work that I’m doing, and the knowledge both of those things are imparting to me. It’s unlike any place I’ve ever been before. If, however, you’re one of those people who’s itching to sell all your belongings, ditch your loved ones, and escape to California with little money and no job—don’t do it! Like, really, don’t. It’s not worth it. Places do not define your happiness. Don’t think that the sheer awesomeness of a location could ever outweigh what it feels like to be around people who know and love you.
So there you have it—life in California, in a nutshell. I give it two months before I’m on some gluten-free, vegan diet, driving a hybrid car, and building a multi-million dollar tech company in my garage. Oh, life.
Want to learn more about life in California? Check out my other posts:
I’m sure somebody has replied to this already, but I can give you some info about California.
On your question about California kids and parents, a LOT of teenagers have overly nice cars, but it really depends on where you are. I go to a private school in the Silicon Valley and the number of BMWs in my school parking lot is insane! Never fear though, I drive a Toyota Camry that belonged to my grandmother for ten years before she passed away, then to my brother, then to my sister, and then to me. As I am sure you’ve guessed, it is quite an eye sore compared to my classmates’ cars. Luckily for me, however, nobody cares what car you have and you will fit in no matter what.
As for life as an international student….nearly everyone is international and everyone is super welcoming. I’ll let you in on a California secret, everybody is kind of in love with British accents, especially younger people. I’ve only been to the UK a couple of times and they are very different, but it is NOT a bad thing. The UK is beautiful in all the ways California isn’t, and vice versa. It’s a pretty amazing place is all I can say, and I’m sure you will have the experience of a lifetime.
I can’t give you too much information about student accommodation, because I don’t know the particulars myself, but I’m sure the Internet will help!
You can buy some of the same products and some stores will carry specific things from other countries. I honestly don’t have any idea how to judge tea, I prefer coffee, but basically every other person I know loves tea insanely. Good luck and I hope your studies are spectacular.
While much of what you say is true it’s not utopia here. I just moved to San Jose from the Midwest and in six months I have had my car broken into, bikes stolen and my new Audi looks like people are chasing it around with a hammer. Taxes are off the hook and while culturally diverse the negative side is that finding a critical mass of people with similar values is difficult. I am pretty sure that’s why everyone is so offended all the time. You need a degree in political correctness to avoid offending someone here. I live in a new apartment with rent over $3500/mth so I’m not in the slums. I’m not sold on Cali despite all there is to do with a jacket on in the middle of summer. I’d say think twice before selling everything and heading west. If you do decide to make the move, buy everything you need before you get here as it will cost you twice as much if you wait.