San Francisco really does live up to the hype. I guess the best way to describe it is diverse. It’s a city made up of a lot of really distinct parts that all fit in together in a 7x7mile area and mesh in interesting ways. Because it’s such a small area, everything is pressed in together, which is firstly great because you don’t have to travel far, and great because everyone has to live on top of each other. You can be walking down Mission Street and think you’re walking down a street in Mexico, before walking a few blocks east down Valencia Street and think you’re walking down Crown Street in Sydney. Some of my favourite neighbourhoods are Mission, Castro, Haight and North Beach, which are all very cool places with great places to eat/drink/hang out in.
It is also just such a liberal city, which is fantastic. I’ve been to two Street Fairs (Folsom Street and Castro) where people were wearing and doing whatever the hell they wanted to – whether that meant being naked, or having sex right in the street. It was a little confronting at first, but the sentiment behind it – being able to do whatever you want – is brilliant. It really does feel like a city where you can find so many people like you and do whatever you want to do without fear of being judged or discriminated against. This is particularly true of the gay community, which is so vibrant here and Castro is an incredible area unlike anywhere else.
Plus, they just do really great stuff. Last weekend the entire city/Bay Area came out to grant the Make A Wish Foundation wish of this one boy who wanted to be Batkid. It involved turning downtown into Gotham City so that he could save the city, and it involved thousands of volunteers so that he could have his moment. Plus, the mayor gave him the key to the city which was pretty damn awesome. The San Francisco Chronicle also printed out special edition ‘Gotham City Chronicle’ papers. It’s stuff like this that speaks in volumes about this place and how amazing a city can be by being open to left-of-field ideas.
I’ve focused on the city itself in this post, but the exchange experience is also unmissable. You just have to do it. Like a lot of people, I was very hesitant to come on exchange because things were pretty comfortable back in Sydney. But as it turns out, that was the exact reason I needed to go on exchange – to test my limits and see what I could do independently. I came here without knowing anyone, without having a place to live and without being 21. And the fact that everything worked out better than I could ever have hoped just goes to show it’s entirely worth it and you will be a better person for doing it. Feedback from past students always said it was the best thing they’d ever done and they’d made some of their best friends whilst on exchange. I was always slightly worried that my experience wouldn’t be like that, but it turned out to be that and so much more. I’ve gotten everything I wanted to out of the experience and you will too.